After a slow start to the 2019 Legacy Class ShareLunker season, things heated up quickly in recent days with a pair of East Texas giant bass caught in shallow water on back-to-back days in early March.
Despite a cooler than normal March – and low temperatures flirting with the freezing mark over the past weekend – the signs of spring are now beginning to pop all across East Texas.
What are some of those signs?
Budding oak trees and blooming dogwoods, daffodils and wildflowers popping up and, of course, the steady stream of out-of-state vehicles showing up in local parking lots.
“You always know it’s spring near Lake Fork when there are trucks from Iowa and Illinois in the parking lot at Peralta's Restaurant in Quitman,” my friend Rob Woodruff, a former guide in the area and a fan of genuine Tex-Mex grub, once said.
There are other signs, too, one being lake water temperatures beginning their climb into the mid- and upper-50s.
Combine that with the March 20, 2019 full moon, and the truest sign of all – ShareLunker-sized bass moving shallow and being caught in the Pineywoods region – is also taking place.
In fact, the angling version of March Madness arrived in East Texas a few days ago with not one, but two giant largemouths being caught in back-to-back fashion, one coming from Lake Fork, the other from Lake Conroe.
Now known as "Legacy Class" bass - that's the new moniker for 13-pound or heavier bass that get donated for selective breeding purposes in Texas’ revamped Toyota ShareLunker program - the two largemouths bring the official number of such ShareLunker fish up to four for the 2019 donation season, which continues through March 31.
“It was a busy weekend for the Toyota ShareLunker program,” noted Kyle Brookshear, ShareLunker program coordinator, in a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department news release. “I’m not surprised that the top ShareLunker producing lakes of 2018 have also produced two of the three “Legacy Class” bass caught so far this year in Texas public waters."
Editor's Note: Another Legacy Class bass weighing 13.79-pounds was caught by Bass Fishing Hall of Fame member and Major League Fishing pro Gary Klein as he fished on a private water body in early February.
”We are thankful to the anglers for loaning the fish to our selective breeding program so that we can continue producing bigger, better bass to stock in Texas lakes.”
Lindale, Texas, angler Barry Prince got the recent ShareLunker parade started, catching a 13.73-pounder from Fork - officially ShareLunker #579 - on March 8. Fishing a shallow running crankbait in 4.5-feet of water, Prince's fish is his first double-digit bass despite three decades of seeking such fish near his East Texas home.
His bass - the 261st ShareLunker from Fork - spurred a wave of social media attention on the program's Facebook page after it was announced.
These days, some 30-plus years after Lake Fork guide Mark Stevenson caught the first largemouth bass ever entered into the ShareLunker program – the legendary Ethel, a 17.67-pound Fork giant and former state record caught on Nov. 26, 1986 – the dream of catching such huge bass still lives in the hearts of Texas anglers.
Prince knows the dream well, having spent more than three decades hoping to catch his own version of Ethel.
“I’ve been chasing that fish for years,” he said in the news release. “Once I realized how big this fish was I looked at my partner and said, ‘Get the net, it’s a good one!’ It’s still such a surreal feeling, some people fish all their lives and never get to catch a double-digit bass before they die.”
Want proof of just how deeply embedded the idea of double-digit lunkers has become in Texas in the last three decades? According to TPWD, just two weeks before catching his ShareLunker, Prince had a Twilight Zone style conversation with a friend and local guide.
The topic of that conversation centered around the hypothetical question: “If you ever caught a 13-pound bass would you donate it to the ShareLunker program?”
“He said, ‘Absolutely so,’” said Prince. “I’m a big believer in the ShareLunker program and I think it’s great for Texas and the fisheries all over the state.”
A couple of weeks later, Prince and his lunker had once again turned the state's bass fishing conversation to the ShareLunker program and the state's most historic big-bass water.
But not for long, since the very next day on March 9, Houston angler Cole Turner caught his own 13.36-pound ShareLunker - officially #580 in the program's long history - when he threw a Texas-rigged beaver style soft plastic bait into 3 to 4-feet of water on famed Lake Conroe.
Conroe is another one of Texas' famous big bass waters, the Houston-area home to 18 official ShareLunkers itself and the one-time home water to legendary Bassmaster Elite Series pro Rick Clunn, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and a former guide on the lake back in the 1970s.
More recently, Conroe is the site of the 2017 Bassmaster Classic won by Jordan Lee along with hosting the second ever Major League Fishing Pro Bass Tour event won by Edwin Evers in February 2019.
For Turner, Conroe is his watery field of big bass dreams, even if the day had a somewhat auspicious beginning.
“About 30 minutes into our trip, my fishing partner and I realized we forgot the net, and I said, ‘You know what that means, we are definitely going to need it,” said Turner, who reportedly fishes on Conroe at least twice a month.
It didn't take long for the angler's prognostication to become true since only an hour a half into the trip, Turner got the big-bass bite he was dreaming of.
“My fishing partner Nathan Dimmitt thought it was a double-digit bass when we first saw it break the water," said Turner in the news release. "I knew it was big – but I didn’t think it was that big – I was more focused on getting it into the boat since we didn’t have a net.”
“I would like to give special thanks to him (Dimmitt) for helping me grab the fish and pull it into the boat," he added.
In an era where the state’s ShareLunker program isn't as popular as it once was - something that has come about after the passage of time, a few unfortunate deaths of donated SL bass, and some unfavorable PR - there are declining entry numbers in recent years along with fiery Internet debates about the program's continued worth and whether fish should be donated.
All of that helped to spur the revamping of the ShareLunker program a couple of years ago, leading to more recognition opportunities (including non-donated categories for 8-pound, 10-pound, and 13-pound bass), a more streamlined donation season, and a better job of marketing one of the state's greatest outdoor treasures, the big bass that roam water bodies from one end of Texas to the other.
"Catching a ShareLunker was a great feeling and a great accomplishment – that is what we all fish for,” said Turner. “I definitely am going to love getting a free replica of the fish, but I’m also interested in knowing the history of the bass and giving it a chance to produce more offspring.”
For loaning their fish to the state's selective breeding program, Prince and Turner, along with any angler who loans a Legacy Class bass to the Toyota ShareLunker program during the spawning period of Jan. 1 to March 31, will receive a Toyota ShareLunker Catch Kit that includes a bunch of angling goodies, VIP access at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest (on Fork in early May), a chance to win a $5,000 shopping spree, an annual license and a fiberglass replica of their big bass catch.
Have your own big bass dream in Texas, one that hopefully will be fulfilled sometime this spring? Then keep in mind that any angler who catches a 13-pound or larger Legacy Class bass through March 31 can enter the ShareLunker program by calling the program directly – any time of day – at (903) 681-0550.\
For more details, official rules, and how to enter, visit the ShareLunker Facebook page or go to the program's official website at www.texassharelunker.com.