These are the stories behind some of the biggest bass caught in our state last year.
Believe it or not, Carl Adkins' 13.1-pound giant from Lake Austin was one of the smaller ShareLunkers landed last year! Photo courtesy of the TPWD.
We're smack in the middle of another big-bass season in Texas. Time for all you trophy hunters out there to man those weapons and get ready for war. Well '¦ man those fishing rods and prepare for a battle, anyway!
I've been chasing monster largemouths in Texas for going on three decades now. In my book, the only thing better than trying to catch one myself is hearing the stories from those who score when the big bite finally comes.
Big bass come a dime a dozen in Texas these days. But Toyota ShareLunkers are particularly special.
ShareLunkers are the lifeblood of a popular spawning and genetics research program run by the Texas Park and Wildlife Department since Nov. 1987. The program encourages anglers who catch Texas bass weighing 13 pounds or more to loan the fish to the state for selective breeding behind closed doors at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Eligibility hinges on the fish being caught between Oct. 1 and April 30.
Some of the ShareLunker progeny Are used to upgrade the state's hatchery program. The remainders are returned to the lake from which the ShareLunker was caught. The angler has the option of donating the lunker to TPWD's brood fish program or releasing it after the spawning period.
Scientists are hopeful the program will one day enable them to unravel the mysteries of big-bass genetics, and ultimately derive a formula that will allow for producing more and bigger bass for anglers to catch. Lofty as it may sound, biologists also are hopeful their efforts will eventually result in some lucky angler catching a world record largemouth bass from Texas waters.
Each ShareLunker donor is awarded a free fiberglass replica, cap, shirt, jacket and tickets to the dinner banquet/awards ceremony at the end of the season. The angler who catches the biggest bass of the year is named ShareLunker Angler of the Year, and he or she automatically becomes exempt from buying a fishing license for the rest of their life.
ShareLunker is especially useful to guys like me, mainly because it provides a reliable link for monitoring big-bass action across the state from one year to the next. TPWD notifies the media with detailed reports each time another fish is added to the program.
The big girls were especially active across Texas last season. All total, the program took in 33 entries in 2009-10 -- the second highest total ever recorded. The record of 36 entries was set during the 1994-95 season.
March was the most productive month of all last season with 11 entries; April was second with 10 entries.
Included in the overall mix were six new lake records, the most ever recorded during a single season. Four of those records came from public lakes that had never before yielded a ShareLunker, which raises the number of public reservoirs on the ShareLunker list to 61. Additionally, two private lakes accounted for one entry apiece, bringing that total to 21.
With so many ShareLunkers reported last season, it is safe to say there was no shortage of big bass fodder left behind in the wake. One of the best stories of the year belongs to the guy who reeled in the biggest, baddest bass of them all, and that was Keith Burns of Jefferson.
The date was March 20, which marked the beginning of a significant flurry of big-bass activity that carried right on through April.
Burns and a friend were practicing for an upcoming memorial tournament held on Caddo Lake in honor of Burns' late cousin, Scott Burns, a Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper who was killed in the line of duty in April 2008.
Burns was fishing a Senko in one of Scott's favorite areas near Bird Island at around 11:30 a.m., when his line suddenly felt mushy. He set the hook and immediately knew he was tangling with a giant bass. That's why he got so antsy when things started to go sour.
For starters, as Burns' fishing partner attempted to clear his line from the water, the hook slid up Burns line and lodged in his rod tip. When Burns tried to clean up the mess, the wind blew the boat into a bush because his partner did not know how to operate the trolling motor.
More trouble came when the huge bass made a hard run toward the rear of the boat and momentarily wrapped the line around the lower unit. Burns kept waiting for the line to snap, but it never did. Miraculously, the fish freed itself and eventually found its way to Burns' grasp.
There was plenty of lip to grip. Burns' bass weighed a whopping 16.17 pounds. It is the heaviest bass reported in Texas since 1999 and currently ranks No. 16 on the Top 50 list of the state's biggest bass of all-time. It also tops the former Caddo lake record of 16.01 that was caught in 1992 by Billy Shaver.
"When I look back, I can't believe I ever landed that bass," Burns said. "If it could go wrong, it did. It was like I had an angel watching over me the whole time."
The same day Burns caught his fish, James Hollis of Longview did some record-setting of his own when he caught 13.2-pounder from Lake O' The Pines near Ore City. Hollis reportedly caught the Pines' first-ever ShareLunker using a Texas-rigged lizard in about 5 feet of water.
Just two days later, Lake Fork kicked out its first Top 50 bass since 2002, a 15.61-pounder caught by James Quisenberry of Emory.
Quisenberry caught the fat fish out of 10 feet of water using a live waterdog. The bass tied for No. 34 heaviest of all time. It also won the angler $11,000 in cash and prizes in an annual big-bass promotional program run by the Lake Fork Area Chamber of Commerce.
Fittingly called the Lake Fork Bounty Bonanza, the program offers anglers cash rewards and merchandise in a variety of categories for big Lake Fork bass. This year, fish must be caught legally between Oct. 1, 2010 and April 30, 2011, to be eligible.
A new world record is worth $100,000 cash and a $2,000 tackle package, while a new state-record fish carries a $50,000 bounty. A Top 10 bass will fetch you $25,000 and a $500 tackle package. The contest offers three $10,000 prizes for fish that crack the current Top 50.
Amazingly, the March big-bass flurr
y continued picking up steam as an early spring warming trend pushed more big pre-spawn bass toward the shallows on lakes across Texas.
Jerry Bales' 16.08-pound ShareLunker entry also set a new lake record for largemouths from Lake O.H. Ivie. That's huge! Photo courtesy of the TPWD.
While most folks were working, Jesse Garza Perez of Laredo took advantage of a warm day on March 24 to reel in a 14.79-pounder at Lake Casa Blanca in deep South Texas. Perez caught his giant on a junebug worm in 10 feet of water.
Amazingly, lightning struck again at Lake O' The Pines on the afternoon of March 26, when Carl Clark of Marshall caught a 15.13-pounder. The fish unseated the Hollis bass as a new Pines lake record before it was officially certified.
Clark, who was fishing alone at the time, said he caught the fish on a red Excalibur One Knocker lipless crankbait in about 5 feet of water.
"I didn't get on the water until noon and I caught her about 12:30 p.m.," Clark said. "I had fished through this area with a spinnerbait; didn't get any bites. There was a little channel down there that looked pretty good, so I decided to fish back through it with the lipless crankbait. That's when I caught her."
Clark said one of his buddies, Rusty Jacoba of Longview, was supposed to join him on the afternoon fishing trip but was unable to make it because of a last-minute call from work.
"He's regretting it now," Clark chuckled.
Jim McDaniel of Cedar Park experienced a different type of disappointment on April 11 when he caught a Lake Austin 13.02-pounder out of 8 feet of water. McDaniel's lifetime catch was bittersweet in the sense that it was caught just two days after Corpus Christi angler Sam Calloway caught a 13.34-pounder from Lake O.H. Ivie using a Zoom lizard.
Calloway's bass weighed only slightly more than McDaniel's fish. But it was worth much more financially. That's because it claimed a $500-per-pound bounty the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had placed on ShareLunker No. 500 earlier in the season.
Calloway's take: $6,670. Additionally, the catch earned him a premium rod/reel package donated by G. Loomis/Shimano, and an eighth place paycheck in the Permian Basin Oilman's Bass Invitational bass tournament in which he was participating. The annual event raises about $250,000 annually for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization that caters to children suffering from life-threatening illness.
Calloway said catching the milestone ShareLunker was a memorable accomplishment indeed. But even more rewarding was the admirable deed he performed when he donated 100 percent of the bounty money back to the kid's charity organization.
"Giving this money back made it possible to send a few more of these special kids fishing and make their dreams come true," he said.
Interestingly, Lake O.H. Ivie turned out to be quite a success story in itself last season. The 19,000-acre West Texas impoundment produced more ShareLunkers (11) than any other lake. Among them was a new lake-record 16.08-pounder caught on April 30 by Jerry Bales of Hico. Bales used a green pumpkin Berkley Power Worm to sucker the 28-inch giant.
Wesley Pullig of Eden didn't have quite as good a day at Ivie as Bales did, but his Friday afternoon was pretty eventful, just the same.
Pullig had driven to the lake to meet Toyota ShareLunker program leader David Campbell so he could release the 13.09-pound ShareLunker fish he had turned over to the program on Jan. 21.
Pullig elected to do some fishing while he waited for Campbell to arrive. In the process, he caught his second ShareLunker of the season. This one weighed 13.24 pounds. Both fish were caught on an Xcite Baits Raptor Tail Craw.
Pullig joined a select club when he caught his second ShareLunker. In the program's 25-year history, only four other anglers have reeled in two ShareLunkers during the same season. Amazingly, he narrowly missed become the first to catch four! Pullig caught a 12.91-pounder in January 2010, and a 13.40-pounder in June 2010.
Other Ivie bass turned over last year included a 13.4-pounder caught by Bill Hunter III of Sweetwater; a 13.06-pounder from Raymond Ivy of Brownwood; a 13.68-pounder from Mark Worthington of Abilene; 13.22-pounder from Steve Hand of Snyder; 14.22-pounder from Brian Hall of Bronte; 13.03-pounder from Randy Jackson of Mineral Wells and a 14.02-pounder caught by Ben Blaine of Merkel.
As good as the O.H. Ivie story is, the tale behind the 15.69-pound giant Walter "Junior" Thomas hauled in at Lake Fork on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 may be even better. I call Thomas fish "The Top 30 Bass that Almost Was."
Thomas is a hardcore bass angler who also enjoys doing a little crappie fishing on the side. The bass had not been biting very well that morning, so Thomas decided to soak a 1/16-ounce crappie jig around a highway bridge support piling in 35 feet of water. About 8:30 a.m. he felt the subtle thump of a bite.
As Thomas reeled the crappie toward the surface, something much larger grabbed it and took off in a rush. He could tell his ultralight tackle was outmatched, so he stomped on his trolling motor and chased the fish before it stripped the line off his small spinning reel.
Roughly 40 minutes later, Thomas landed the biggest bass he had ever seen. Amazingly, the hook hadn't even pierced its skin. "She was just holding on to that crappie," Thomas said. "She wanted it pretty bad."
The sad part to the story is there is a state law in Texas that forbids anglers from retaining any fish that is caught using a game fish for bait, intentionally or not. Thomas learned about the regulation a month earlier, when he inadvertently landed two 10-pounders using the same method.
"I knew I had to release her, but I hated to do it," Thomas said.
For more reasons than one. Not only did Thomas miss out on a shot at a Top 30 fish, but he also watched $10,000 swim away. Like Quisenberry, he was a pre-paid contestant in the 2009-10 Lake Fork Bounty Bonanza. Had the 15.69-pounder been caught "by the book," it would have earned him a sizable pay day.
The long list of ShareLunkers from 2009-10 does not end there. Lake Falcon along the Texas/Mexico border surprised a lot of people when it only produced two January entries, a 13.26-pounder caught by Debbie Baker of Watrace, Tenn., and a 14
.44-pounder landed by Bryan Aubin of Zapata.
It also came as a shock when Choke Canyon contributed only one ShareLunker -- a 15.09-pounder caught by Richard Flores -- last season after ruling the program the previous year with six entries, three of them in excess of 15 pounds.
Word on the street around both lakes is there were several other ShareLunkers caught that were not turned over to the program for one reason or another.
Another South Texas hotspot, Lake Amistad, produced four entries last season. Among them were a 13.5-pounder caught by Robert Robles, a 13.02-pounder caught by Teddy Silcox, a 13.37-pounder caught by Joseph Burgi, and a 13.87-pounder landed by Marion Merritt.
Two other Lake Fork bass joined Quisenberry's fish in the lunker bunkers, a 13.0 landed by Randy Williams and 13.23 caught by Jason Barnes.
Rounding out the public-lake list was a new Lake Nocona water-body record of 13.34 pounds caught by Don Wilborn, a new Lake LBJ water-body record of 13.7 pounds caught by Lloyd Ward, a 13.19-pound Lake Livingston record caught by Robert Laird Sr., a 13.6-pounder from Purtis Creek State Park Lake by kayak fisherman Michael Banks, and a 13.1-pounder caught from Lake Austin by Carl Adkins.
Lanny Smalley and Paul Detwiler contributed the two private-lake ShareLunkers. The fish weighed 13 pounds and 14.43 pounds, respectively.