By John Jefferson, Correspondent
Well, for the past 31 years, the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Toyota ShareLunker competition has started on October 1, running through April 30 of the following year. It allows – even encourages – anyone who catches a largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more to enter it in the competition. There were rules about weight, certification, care of the fish, and how to get it entered. All 13-pound or better entrants received a replica mount of the fish, plus a lot of recognition, including being guests at the awards dinner at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, in Athens. The person catching the largest fish entered in each competition season receives some equipment and clothing, a lifetime fishing license and probably has his picture in many statewide newspapers and outdoor magazines.
That was certainly the case of the two anglers who each broke the state largemouth bass record back in 1986 (Mark Stevenson: 17.67 pounds) and 1992 (Barry StClair: 18.18 pounds). Mark’s record would still be the record if Barry hadn’t hauled in a larger bass five years and two months later. Barry’s record still stands, and hasn‘t had much of a challenge since established. Both those record bass, by the way, were caught on rod and reel in Lake Fork.
So, you can see why serious big bass fishermen get restless. It was a big deal. But it was more than just another fishing contest. It was a conservation quest by TPWD. If the successful angler agreed to relinquish his catch, TPWD fisheries biologists would race to the lake of catch, and transport the fish to Athens in a special fish-hauling truck. It would be examined scientifically, and, if it was a healthy Florida-strain bass, it would be put into the breeding program for spawning. Its offspring and those of other female bass in the program are used to stock Texas lakes. That’s what makes Texas a premier destination of bass fishermen throughout the continent.
I started this by saying, “Every year, about this time…” Well, if you know such a restless bass fisherman, give him something to calm him down and explain that the rules have changed. Few 13-pound bass have been caught in the fall, but if competition were open, many would try. The competition, however, won’t open until January 1, 2018. It will run throughout the year, but only bass caught between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31 will be accepted as broodstock for spawning.
“This provides the greatest opportunity to obtain eligible fish for spawning while minimizing the risk of additional handling and possible mortality,” said Kyle Brookshire, ShareLunker program coordinator. Hot weather hauling is reduced.
New rules will allow entry of fish eight pounds and larger, expanding participation. More anglers will receive prizes and recognition. Research will also benefit. All rules and prizes will be announced closer to Jan. 1. Stay tuned.