ATHENS, Texas — Largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more are rare. Only 523 have been entered into the Toyota ShareLunker program in the last 25 years.
Therefore, finding one on the end of their line comes as a total surprise to many anglers. Panic usually ensues when the biggest bass the angler has ever seen breaks the surface. “Holy [unprintable]! What do I do now?” is a common reaction.
The first problem is getting it into the boat, especially for anglers fishing alone. Those with a partner but no net can have their buddy grasp the fish by its lower jaw and tail and bring it in. Ideally there will be a rubber net available for landing the fish. In either case the fish should not be allowed to flop around in the bottom of the boat. This removes the slime coat that protects the fish from infection and can also result in wounds.
Many bass are caught on soft plastic baits, and sometimes they swallow it. Removing the hook through the gill arch is the recommended method.
Now it’s time to weigh the fish and put it in the livewell. You did fill the livewell before you started fishing, didn’t you?
And even before that you read up on livewell management at http://www.bassmaster.com/sites/default/files/imce/KBA_LivewellManage.pdf, right?
Give yourself a gold star if you installed a livewell oxygenation system using the information at http://www.slideshare.net/raminlandfish/livewell-oxygen-injection-8773301.
You can learn more about how to properly care for fish in the Outdoor Activity Area of the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe October 28—30. For information on the event, visit www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com.
But now we come to the stumbling block that faces many anglers every year. Either they don’t have a scale or they have a discount-store special displaying numbers that don’t bear much resemblance to reality. Chances are the scale has rattled around in the bottom of the boat or tackle box for years and never been checked for accuracy.
There’s an easy way to check your scale. Put a gallon of water and a five-pound sack of flour or sugar in a plastic grocery bag and weigh them. If your scale is accurate, it will read very close to 13.5 pounds. The minimum weight for a ShareLunker is 13.0 pounds.
ShareLunker entries must be weighed on a certified scale. ShareLunker program manager David Campbell carries a certified scale with him, but at times he has driven for hours to pick up a fish only to find it does not make the weight. A number of reservoirs around the state have official ShareLunker weigh and holding stations that have certified scales and a tank equipped to hold big bass and keep them alive. You can find the list (and print it out and put it in your boat) at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker/holding/.
If you are not fishing at one of the lakes on the list, many marinas, bait shops, feed stores, fertilizer plants, recycling drop-off centers, and United Parcel Service or other package-shipping locations have certified scales. So do grocery stores, and many are willing to let anglers weigh fish. You can also find a list of certified scale locations at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/programs/fishrecords/scales.phtml.
If you really want to be ready to catch a big bass, you can have your hand-held scale certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) or an independent scales calibration company. A list of all Texas companies licensed by the Texas Department of Agriculture to certify scales is at http://www.agr.state.tx.us/vgn/tda/files/1848/lsc.html.
Information on the IGFA’s scale certification program can be found at http://www.igfa.org/Fish/SCALES-AND-CERTIFICATION-.aspx.
If all this sounds like a lot of trouble, it is. It is also a lot of trouble for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to send an employee halfway across the state, perhaps in the middle of the night, to find that some advance effort on the part of an angler could have made the trip unnecessary. It’s pretty embarrassing to find that the fish you hoped would weigh 13 pounds only weighs 10 or 12.
There’s another reason for having an accurate set of scales on board, and it’s the most important one of all. If your fish doesn’t qualify to be a ShareLunker, the best thing you can do for it is handle it carefully and get it back into the water as soon as possible. The next time it’s caught, maybe it will weigh 13 pounds.
And maybe the angler will be prepared to catch a 13-pounder.
Toyota ShareLunker season opened October 1. Are you ready?
Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between October 1 and April 30 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program by calling program manager David Campbell at (903) 681-0550 or paging him at (888) 784-0600 and leaving a phone number including area code. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.