Godfather of Big Bass Retires

Godfather of Big Bass Retires
Godfather of Big Bass Retires

Mr. ShareLunker David Campbell worked 46 years with TPWD

Mr. Sharelunker is hanging up his scales.

David L. Campbell, 65, who has worked for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for 46 years and coordinates its ShareLunker program, will retire at the end of March.

"David Campbell and the ShareLunker program are almost synonymous," said Gary Saul, director of TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division. "He is without doubt the No. 1 ambassador for the ShareLunker program, which is TPWD’s most highly visible program, gaining more media coverage annually than all other TPWD programs combined.

“To hundreds of anglers and the public, Campbell is Mr. ShareLunker."

As manager of the Tyler Fish Hatchery, he was instrumental in the introduction of Florida largemouth bass into Texas and has helped stock fish into almost every public reservoir in the state. The 2011 inductee into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame has been associated with the ShareLunker program since its beginning. He picked up the first fish entered into the program in 1986 and most of the more than 500 entered since.

Through his years of experience of caring for trophy largemouth bass, Campbell contributed a great deal to the knowledge of how best to care for big fish and communicated this information to the public through countless interviews with media from newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

This emphasis on the proper way to handle big fish appeared in newspaper articles as early as 1990 and may prove to be one of Campbell’s most enduring legacies. Coming as it did at the same time catch-and-release of big bass became the norm, the impact of proper fish handling on the conservation of trophy bass can hardly be overestimated.

"David Campbell has been one of the most dedicated employees of TPWD I have ever worked with," said Allen Forshage, director of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, where the ShareLunker program is headquartered. "His work ethic is legendary within TPWD.

“Few people have so completely and selflessly dedicated their lives to making fishing better for the anglers of Texas as David has. Every big bass caught from a Texas reservoir is part of his legacy."

Campbell started work in 1965 as a fish hatchery assistant at the Lewisville State Fish Hatchery and worked his way up to Hatchery Manager at the Tyler Fish Hatchery and later the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. He has raised and stocked literally millions of fish in Texas waters including black bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, crappie, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, northern pike, walleye, peacock bass and several sunfish and forage species.

In 1973 Campbell went to Florida to collect Florida largemouth bass. The stocking of Florida largemouth bass into Texas public reservoirs elevated trophy fishing in Texas forever and earned Campbell the nickname "Godfather of Big Bass."

Under the direction of former TPWD Fisheries Director Bob Kemp, Campbell began breeding and stocking pure Florida bass as an experiment to increase the size of trophy bass in Texas. By the early ‘80s, these efforts began to pay off as the 13.5-pound state record that had existed since 1943 was broken four times in six years. Then in November 1986, Mark Stevenson caught a 17.67-pound bass named Ethel out of Lake Fork. That fish shattered all previous records, garnered nationwide media coverage and changed fishing in Texas forever.

Campbell spent hours every night trying to get the fish to eat until he finally nursed her back to health. The importance of the success of that effort is enormous: In part because that fish lived, a series of events took place that had a national impact on bass fishing, a huge impact on the Texas economy, and significant improvements in the TPWD hatchery system, including construction of a state-of-the-art hatchery, ShareLunker care and breeding facility, visitor center and Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

With Ethel the ShareLunker Program was born, and catch-and-release conservation became a way of life for trophy bass anglers. Since that time, there have been more than 500 entries into the ShareLunker program, and Campbell’s research and insight into trophy bass have not only given TPWD the largest collection of data on big bass in the world, but have earned him the respect and admiration of anglers and outdoor writers alike.

In addition, Ethel proved to be a fish that changed the world of bass fishing. After Campbell nursed the fish back to health, she was put on display at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo.,  where she pulled millions of visitors into the store.

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris credited Ethel with much of the success of the business, saying that she was the best thing that ever happened to Bass Pro in terms of getting people into the store. In recognition of that contribution, Morris donated $650,000 for the construction of the Richard M. Hart and Johnny Morris Conservation Center at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, which was built largely to house the ShareLunker program.

Bass Pro Shops now has more than 50 stores and donates millions annually to conservation.

As the coordinator of the ShareLunker program for most of its 26-year history, Campbell picked up most of the fish from anglers, driving 10,000 miles or more annually and working all night and many weekends to do so.

Campbell is untiringly modest about his achievements, preferring to give credit for his success to others.

"What stands out more than anything else from the 26 years of the ShareLunker program is the cooperation from the anglers," he said. "Anglers have been very supportive of the program.

“They have learned how to care for their big fish, and they understand the objective of the program is to increase the number of trophy bass caught in Texas. If you don’t have the support of the people using the sport fishery itself, you haven’t accomplished anything."

David L. Campbell has accomplished a great deal.

Timeline of Campbell’s Career with TPWD

1965--Employed by TPWD at the Lewisville State Fish Hatchery
1968--Transferred to Tyler Fish Hatchery
1973--Promoted to manager of the Tyler Fish Hatchery
1973--Traveled to Florida to bring back Florida largemouth bass for rearing and experimental stocking
1986--Picked up ShareLunker No. 1
1989--Held workshops in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana teaching how to culture Florida bass
1995--Texas Black Bass Unlimited, President’s Conservationist Award
1996--Transferred to Ed Cox, Jr., Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens as hatchery manager and ShareLunker program coordinator
1999--Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Employee Recognition Award, Special Achievements
2005--Office of the Governor of Texas, Certificate of Appreciation for 40 years of public service
2010--Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 45-year Service Award
2011--Inducted into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame

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