Big bass still bring excitement to Texas anglers, especially when they are really big.
And by nearly any measure, the largemouth bass that Greenville, Texas angler John LaBove caught on Thursday, March 2, 2018 is big.
At 15.48 pounds, the LaBove bass is Texas-sized big with a length of 26 ½ inches and a girth of 22 ½ inches. That’s 10-gallon hat-sized big and then some, even in the Lone Star State where anglers like to do a little good-natured bragging from time to time.
As the first ShareLunker Legacy Class entry (a bass that is 13 pounds or better, caught between January 1 and March 31, and loaned to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists for inclusion in the agency’s selective bass breeding program), the LaBove bass caused a lot of commotion in the Lone Star State as word began to spread through social media and on fishing website’s like the popular TexasFishingForum.com.
“It’s encouraging to see a ShareLunker that big,” said Kevin Storey, the TPWD biologist and district supervisor who oversees Fork. “It gets people excited.”
Why the excitement? For one thing, the fish is the biggest known bass caught in Texas so far this year. And for that matter, it’s one of the biggest caught anywhere in the U.S. so far in 2018.
The bass is also big enough to move into the Lone Star State’s celebrated “Top 50” club, an exclusive TPWD listing of big lunkers that takes a weight of 15.45-pounds or better to gain admission. For the record, the LaBove bass checks in as the 48th biggest bass in Texas’ celebrated bass fishing history.
The fish is also the latest in a line of Lake Fork lunkers, a parade that started in 1986 when guide Mark Stevenson set the hook of his Stanley Jig into the maw of Ethel, the 17.67-pound lunker that became the Texas state record, jumpstarted the ShareLunker program as entry #1, and entertained thousands of spectators for several years as it swam in the aquarium of the Springfield, MO. Bass Pro Shops location.
Since Stevenson’s fish was caught on November 26, 1986, Lake Fork has dominated the big bass conversation in Texas, producing 258 ShareLunkers that weigh 13 pounds or better. Those bass include the current state record (crappie angler Barry St. Clair’s 18.18-pound lunker caught on a minnow in January 1992) along with seven of the state’s Top 10, 16 of the state’s Top 25, and 30 of the state’s Top 50 largemouth bass.
But more important than simply being another statistic in a long line of big bass numbers, the LaBove largemouth brings hope that the glory days of Lake Fork aren’t completely gone since the previous last official TPWD ShareLunker from the East Texas reservoir had been caught in November 2014.
For a lake that had never failed to produce at least one ShareLunker – including an amazing 23 such bass in the 1994-95 season and an equally impressive 21 such bass in both the 1995-96 and 1991-92 seasons – the absence of Fork’s name on the annual ShareLunker ledger had been a grave concern for many.
In some respects, Fork’s absence from ShareLunker reports the past two seasons is part of the bigger picture since the program has come under fire from some anglers in recent seasons for a variety of reasons.
Those include some questioning whether the program has produced any value beyond public relations, where bass fingerlings from the program are distributed, and the unfortunate deaths of some big SL spawning bass entered into the agency’s selective breeding program.
Add in the effects of lowered spawn success and recruitment following several years of harsh drought across the Lone Star State along with – ironically enough – flooding rains the past two seasons that caused muddy, high water conditions during the spring when bigger fish are typically caught and the program fell on hard times. In fact, only five SL bass were entered into the program in 2014-15, two were entered in 2015-16, and five were entered in 2016-17.
All the above helps explain why there was a palpable wave of excitement, online and otherwise, on March 2 when word began to spread of LaBove’s giant 15+ pounder from Fork. It proves that the big bass gem of Texas’ largemouth fisheries is far from dead and that maybe, just maybe, some more good times lie ahead.
While Storey admits that the fabled lake is slowing down as it ages – it was impounded in 1980 – he also believes that the 27,690-acre East Texas reservoir still has plenty of life left in it.
“It’s not what it once was, but it’s still world class,” he said. “I’d still put it high on any list for potential fishing destinations for someone to go to if they want to catch a big bass.”
In other words, head for any of the boat ramps that surround Fork over the next few weeks during the 2018 Texas spring and be prepared to wait a while to launch your rig.
And as you do, thanks in part to the John LaBove 15+ pounder, you’ll likely discover that the old saying is true, even for a celebrated bass lake in East Texas.
And that Mark Twain saying is this: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”