HOUSTON, Texas — Will crowds at Minute Maid Park witness a double-digit bass weighed induring the 2017 Bassmaster Classic?
“I think we are going to see very big bass come weigh-in time in Houston, maybea ShareLunker,” said Dave Terre, management/research chief of the Texas Parks& Wildlife Department (TPWD). “At Conroe, March is the prime month for thatto occur. We’ll be ready.”
Established in 1986, the agency’s Toyota ShareLunker program encourages thecatch and release of large fish and uses bass of 13 pounds or heavier forselective breeding, before being returned to the fishery from which they werecaught. Of the 17 ShareLunkers caught at Conroe, five were taken during themonth of March. The latest, a 13.14-pounder, was caught in early April 2015.
Terre explained that Conroe’s rise as a world-class fishery was no accident.“Making big bass and great fishing are products of good fisheries managementand partners working together on fish habitat.”
B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland added, “For years, LakeConroe was the poster child for grass carp gone bad. Back then, the bassfishermen thought the world was coming to an end. But a solid long-termmanagement plan that married passionate B.A.S.S. club members with theexpertise of Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists, turned Conroe into a top-tierfishery.”
Seven Coves Bass Club, a B.A.S.S. Nation club, took a leadership role amongthose partners, and for its efforts, received a 2013 Environmental ExcellenceAward from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “This is probably thehighest recognition our conservation program has received to date,” said TimCook, conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation. “Every member shouldbe proud to be part of an organization that gives so much back to the sport weall love.”
In 2008, following a second round of grass carp introductions to controlinvasive hydrilla, the club was awarded a grant for about $45,000 from B.A.S.S.and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build a plant nursery onproperty owned by the San Jacinto River Authority. The latter and TPWD alsohelped finance the effort.
“With the assistance and advice of TPWD, the San Jacinto River Authority, theU.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem ResearchFacility, they started growing native aquatic plants to go into Lake Conroe,”said TPWD biologist Mark Webb. “More people all the time were getting excitedabout coming in and helping to grow ecologically appropriate native plants toprovide the kind of habitat we need for fish and wildlife in Lake Conroe.”
The following summer, 150 plants grown in the nursery were placed in the lake;they were shielded from grass carp and turtles with protective cages. Many morewere to follow, as Seven Coves expanded its alliances for the betterment of thefishery. In 2010, Seven Coves received an additional $20,000 from theToyota Texas Bass Classic and Bass Pro Shops as part of the first ever Friendsof Reservoirs Foundation grant.
“This project has brought a wide range of stakeholders closer together, whichhas been positive for the angling community,” said Ron Gunter, a club memberand assistant conservation director for the Texas B.A.S.S. Nation.
Today, the nursery still produces plants for Conroe, but TPWD and the Corpshave taken a larger role in that aspect of the alliance, while Seven Covesmembers are devoting more time to helping the agency with artificial cover forthe fishery.
“The plant work is to help propagate the (bass) species, and that definitelyhas helped on Conroe,” Gunter said. “The attractors will help anglers find aplace to fish.”
Webb estimates that about 10,000 mature native plants have been added to the21,000-acre fishery since 2008, with some, particularly water willow, nowexpanding on their own.
Along with good water quality and improved habitat, Conroe’s trophy potentialis enhanced by stockings of Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings. Theintroductions are intended to keep big-bass genes abundant, rather than simplyincrease numbers.
More than 500,000 Floridas were stocked annually in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and2013, and some almost certainly have reached ShareLunker size.
Odds are improving that one of the Bassmaster Classic contenders will weigh ina ShareLunker during the world championship, as Terre predicted might happen.It would be the first 13-pounder in the Classic’s 47-year history and wouldeasily eclipse the existing record, an 11-10 bass caught in Florida’s KissimmeeChain in 2006.