Toyota ShareLunker

John LaBove, of Greenville, caught this season’s first Toyota ShareLunker when he landed this 15.48-pound bass on Lake Fork. Within two weeks, the lake produced two more 13-pound-plus bass for the program. (TPWD/Courtesy)

Once again, rumors of Lake Fork’s demise appear to be greatly exaggerated.

After two years in which it produced zero entries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Toyota ShareLunker program, Texas’ greatest big bass lake produced three for the newly minted Legacy class in two weeks.

The lake has now produced 260 female bass 13 pounds and larger for the state hatchery program since 1987. No other lake has more than 27.

John LaBove, of Greenville, got the fishing version of March Madness started March 2 when he caught a 15.48-pound bass.

The fisherman reportedly caught his bass on a jig in 3 feet of water just before he was about to leave the lake. Without scales in his boat, he borrowed a set from a nearby angler. It initially showed the bass weighing 12.9, but the other fishermen doubted that was correct and urged him to take the fish in to be officially weighed.

The fish is the 48th largest recorded in Texas.

Six days later, ShareLunker officials from the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens were back at the lake picking up a 13-pounder caught by Louisiana fisherman Michael Terrebonne and again on March 11 for a 13.06-pound bass caught by Alex Finch of North Richland Hills.

Prior to this season, the last Lake Fork ShareLunker came in 2014-15 season, and then it only produced one, a 13.88. In 2013-14, the lake produced three 13-pounders.

“I have been wondering what’s different his year and the biggest factor I can think of is that we actually had some wintry weather and maybe that reset everything and the fish are behaving more typically going into the spawn than we’ve see in a while. In the past month, the lake’s come up 1 foot and we should have more available habitat as well,” said Kevin Storey, TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist over the lake.

ShareLunker program coordinator Kyle Brookshear said he is pleased with the number of entries considering the winter weather. TPWD is in the process of taking offspring from program entries to be the source of brood fish for its hatcheries statewide.

“We are optimistic that as the weather continues to favor big fish conditions and the buzz of ShareLunker’s being caught and donated will keep driving anglers to participate in the ShareLunker Program, including loaning of 13-plus-pound bass to the Legacy class for spawning,” Brookshear said.

DNA testing has shown that both LaBove and Terrebone’s bass were 91.7 percent pure Florida strain. Finch’s bass is 66 percent Florida strain. Efforts are being made to strain all three at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

“As for spawning, the Lunkers are still in their acclimation stages of the Lunker Bunker and should be ready for attempted spawning in the next couple weeks,” Brookshear said.

TPWD’s Storey said the recent ShareLunkers should increase fishing pressure on the lake in coming weeks and quiet some who have become critical of Fork.

“March is busy anyway but we should see a bump in activity. I think one the best outcomes will be less complaining about this almost-40-year-old lake. She might be showing some of the affects of age, but it’s still a fantastic lake with an amazing ability to surprise us. Fork’s one of a kind,” he said.

The season’s fourth ShareLunker was caught Wednesday when Austin Terry, of San Angelo, caught a 13.4 on Twin Buttes. It was the West Texas lakes first ShareLunker since 1989.

“Donation and spawning success is crucial to our long-term plan of converting the entire statewide largemouth bass broodstock over to direct offspring of pure Florida strain ShareLunker bass. Donation of pure Florida ShareLunker’s and their spawning success is the first step in this several year process and we are eager to begin,” Brookshear noted.

Anglers who catch a 13-pound or larger bass can loan the fish to the revamped Toyota ShareLunker program for spawning through March 31.

Updates and photos of this year’s entries in the Legacy and other classes are available online on the program’s Facebook page or online at https://texassharelunker.com/.

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