Receiving 23 Toyota ShareLunkers this year was a fete itself based on Texas’ February weather, but the fact Texas Parks and Wildlife Department saw 18 successful spawns from the 19 13-pound-plus females paired is amazing.
TPWD recently announced the ShareLunker program’s spawning efforts produced an estimated record 271,000-plus fingerlings. Some of those fish will remain in the department’s hatchery program with the rest being divided among the 10 lakes that produced the trophies, including lakes Tyler, Palestine, Fork, Sam Rayburn, O.H. Ivie, Conroe, Austin, Travis, Coleman City and Eagle Mountain.
This year’s spawning success eclipses the previous best in 1999 when eight ShareLunkers were spawned at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The previous best production was an estimated 255,500 in 2011 when just four fish produced six spawns.
Kyle Brookshear, ShareLunker program leader, said several changes have occurred over the years that led to this year’s spawning success. Included in those is the simple task of working with local fishermen and marinas so that the fish are better protected initially. This is important as only two ShareLunkers died before being returned to their lakes.
Then comes years of learning and research since the first ShareLunker in 1986 that have led to different hatchery procedures.
“We have made extensive investments into an internal response team that includes district management and hatchery biologists from across the state to expedite our collection and transport processes which drastically decreases captive transport times and additional stress potentially placed on those Lunkers during that time. It also allows biologists to apply intensive care faster for each Lunker and provide a quicker acclimation process to their holding tank environment in the Lunker Bunker,” Brookshear explained.
The final ingredient is having ShareLunker offspring males onsite so the females caught can be paired quickly at the hatchery when conditions are right.
Through the years the department has bounced around between spawning all entries, then only those showing pure Florida bass genetics to again attempting to spawn all the fish brought to Athens.
When to pair fish has become a science.
“Only fish that have adjusted to the environment in the Lunker Bunker, active, feeding and appear to be in good spawning condition are selected to be paired for spawning,” Brookshear said.
Those that do not acclimate to the move to hatchery spawning tanks are held back to see if their condition improves. If not, they are simply returned to their lake.
Along with an attempt to spawn the donor bass, the department also looks at their DNA for future referencing and to see if there is a trend from previous generations of lunkers. Even with 12 donations coming from Ivie, surprisingly only one 2021 entry was linked to previously donated bass.
“It is positive to see the connection and we are always excited when we can link an entry back to a previous entry. Each time we are able to do that we can further demonstrate that big fish produce big fish. However, the number of unrelated entries also demonstrates that what we are doing is producing good results under a variety of conditions and genetic contributions,” Brookshear said.
Going forward the percentage of new ShareLunkers should increase because the department has turned over its hatchery stock to where all the fish are ShareLunker offspring with known DNA.
“By converting all of our hatchery brood stock to ShareLunker offspring, we are intentionally selecting for preferred genetic traits (ability to reach 13-plus pounds under conditions typically found in our reservoirs). However, the program is still carefully managed to maximize genetic diversity. Each ShareLunker is paired with a different male and is only allowed to contribute offspring to the program one time. Additionally, the brood stock on the hatchery is managed to prevent siblings from spawning with each other,” Brookshear explained.
The ShareLunker program had such a busy year, especially from Ivie, that two of the 12 females from the lake were not transported to the hatchery because when they were caught there were no holding tanks available for them.
More than 32,000 of this year’s offspring were held back for future hatchery use. Each lake that produced a single ShareLunker received 10,000 fingerlings. With two ShareLunkers each, Lake Fork and Sam Rayburn Reservoir received 20,000. Ivie’s 12 entries resulted in it being stocked with 70,000 of this year’s offspring.
Additionally, almost 13,000 advanced-sized and more than 79,000 fingerling offspring were stocked in the Bois D’arc Lake in Fannin County to jumpstart its fishery.