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.
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.