The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Toyota ShareLunker program is unique in that it has been selling Texas bass fishing while helping create the product at the same time.
Since 1986 a total of 587 bass 13 pounds and larger have been donated to the program from 78 lakes. Whether they come from one of the 40 that have one entry, the nine with double-digit entries or somewhere in between, the program has shown fishermen there is great big bass fishing from border to border. To be more precise that means ShareLunker producers from Toledo Bend in the east to Amistad in the west, Meredith in the Panhandle, Falcon in the south and just about everywhere else in between.
The program got a movie script start when Lake Fork guide Mark Stevenson caught a then state record 17.67-pound bass. When Stevenson caught the fish the program actually had not been defined or officially approved, but with Stevenson willing to donate it the program was off and running. Already this year there have been two entries. Travis Moore caught a 13.44 on a Carolina rig fishing a Bass Champ tournament on Sam Rayburn Jan. 9 and five days later CJ Oates caught a 13.02 on Lake Austin. It was the first ShareLunker from Lake Austin since 2014.
Since then fishermen have continued to donate their big fish that have resulted in the broodstock used at state hatcheries, helped in a variety of scientific studies concerning trophy bass and just as important advertised the quality of fishing in Texas.
In 2017 the collection of ShareLunker fish was truncated to a Jan. 1-March 31 season. The reason was not to reduce the number of entries, but to increase the spawning success rate.
“Through analysis of our spawning data throughout the program, that specific timeframe provides us the greatest opportunity to obtain good candidates for spawning. Since that adjustment, our overall spawning success has increased. For example, overall spawning success from 1986 through 2017 was 12%. Since making the change, spawning success has increased to 30%,” said Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker program leader.
The spawning is important. Only pure Florida bass entries are retained for spawning and a portion of their male and female offspring is retained for the department’s hatcheries. The goal is to have all the hatchery broodstock ShareLunker descendants. For that reason, whether a bass is pure Florida or a cross with native northern bass is determined by DNA testing.
“Genetic testing began in 1993 and techniques have continued to be refined. Based on our analysis at the time of entry using the available genetic technology, 47% of the Legacy class fish have been pure Florida bass,” Brookshear explained.
Housed at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens the program is able to house 16 ShareLunkers at a time. Once their DNA is determined, the fish are placed in an indoor spawning tank with a single male. If either the female or male does not seem interested, the male is swapped out.
“The time will vary dependent on observed activity, do they appear to be interested in spawning, and condition of the female. Provided the female’s condition is good and appears to be interested in spawning by maintaining a presence close to the spawning mat we may attempt to spawn her three to four weeks,” Brookshear said.
When a spawn does occur it can result in anywhere from a couple thousand to 100,000 fry. The average is 22,000 fry. The most productive fish for a single spawn was a 13-pounder caught on Lady Bird Lake in 2014. She produced 117,425 fry that resulted in 86,852 fingerlings.
Raised to fingerling size, the offspring not retained by the hatchery system are stocked in lakes including the one the donor fish came for. The ShareLunker is also returned to the lake.
While the program has had entries up to the current state record 18.18 caught by Barry St. Clair on Lake Fork in 1992, the average weight of all entries has been 13.79 pounds going into this season. Before Moore’s entry the total weight of all entries through the years has been 8,065.23 pounds.
Although there are dozens of ways to catch a bass, there seems to be a pattern for catching ShareLunkers. According to fishermen reports to the department, 30% have come on a Texas-rigged worm followed by a Carolina rig 13% of the time.
Fishermen donating 13-pound-plus during the season receive a merchandise kit, a replica mount of their catch along with being entered into a drawing for a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license.
To donate a fish call (903) 681-0550.
Although the fish are not collected for the hatcheries, throughout the year the program also recognizes catches greater than 8 pounds or 24 inches. Those participating in that portion of the program also receive a catch kit and are eligible for a $5,000 Bass Pro shopping spree and annual fishing license.
Fishermen can enter those catches through the Toyota ShareLunker mobile app or on the Toyota ShareLunker online app at TexasSharelunker.com.