ATHENS, Texas — The 26th season of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Toyota ShareLunker program kicks off October 1, and reports from around the state indicate the fishing may be excellent despite the hot weather and drought.
While it might seem that low water levels in reservoirs might not be good for fishing, the opposite is true as long as safe access for anglers in available. In fact, ShareLunker catches following the dry summers of 2005 and 2009 were among the highest ever.
“Falcon’s water level is roughly 20 feet low after having been seven to eight feet overfull just over a year ago,” said TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist Randy Myers. “Thus the fish, including many trophies, are concentrated and easier to catch. Anglers targeting shallow water have had fantastic success.”
Anglers Lodge owner Carl Wengenroth says Amistad is also in position for a banner year. “Amistad is only a little over six feet below conservation level, and the bite is still relatively shallow,” he said. The average big bass weight is above eight pounds with lots of fish in the 10- to 12-pound range being caught.”
“All the National Park Service ramps at Amistad are open,” Myers added. “Fishing should continue to improve as a result of increased fish production due to high water events in 2008 and 2010. Anglers are catching quality fish from shallow brushy or grassy areas and from deep rocky structure.”
O.H. Ivie, the ShareLunker hotspot for the past two seasons, is 35 feet low, but boat ramps at all three public use areas are usable. A few double-digit bass have been reported in the last two weeks; most are being caught in 10 to 15 feet of water on soft plastics and jigs. As on all lakes experiencing low water levels, anglers and boaters should watch out for stumps, humps and other obstructions outside channels and deeper areas.
Lake Austin, which produced a 16-pound ShareLunker last season, is full and fishing well, according to TPWD biologist Marcos DeJesus. “The water level remains stable, and the lake has a lot of vegetative cover after an aggressive growing season,” he said. Power plant lakes around Austin, including Bastrop, Fayette County and Walter E. Long, also have stable water levels and good bass populations. Lake LBJ has also produced some big bass in recent years. The news is not so good on other Highland Lakes like Buchanan and Travis, which have closed their public boat ramps; and Lakes Canyon, Granger and Georgetown, which have also closed most of their ramps.
Choke Canyon Reservoir, a perennial big bass producer in South Texas, is currently 10 feet low, but all boat ramps are open. “Falling water levels should concentrate fish around remaining habitat, increasing anglers’ chances of catching a ShareLunker,” said TPWD biologist John Findeisen.
Lake Fork has produced the majority of ShareLunkers over the last quarter-century and is now subject to wider water-level fluctuations than in the past, but Cameron Burnett at Lake Fork Marina reported the following boat ramps are open: Public ramps on TX 154 and FM 515 west; private ramps at Val’s Landing, Pope’s Landing, Oak Ridge, Minnow Bucket, Mustang Resort and Lake Fork Marina.
In deep East Texas, both Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn reservoirs have boat ramps and boat lanes that are unusable. Timbered areas, shallow points and humps are very hazardous, and anglers should use extreme caution. Check with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office at (409) 384-5716 for access information for Sam Rayburn and visit http://www.sra.dst.tx.us/ for Toledo Bend.
A feature attraction of the upcoming Toyota ShareLunker season will be the ShareLunker Club Tournament on Lake Conroe, which offers a $100,000 prize to the participant catching the largest ShareLunker entry from the lake between October 1 and October 21. You must be registered in the tournament to win. Details are at www.toyotatexasbassclassic.com.
Lake Conroe is perhaps the hardest-hit among the lakes that have produced significant numbers of ShareLunkers in recent years. At the time of writing only the Inland Marina and April Plaza Marina boat ramps were open. “With some minor dredging Inland should still be open at the time of the TTBC,” said TPWD fisheries biologist Mark Webb. “They have 10 feet of water in their basin. There's a lot of dredging going on, so maybe more facilities will have access by the end of October.”
Even record droughts have a good side, and the low water levels across Texas will likely bring a bonanza to anglers a few years after it ends. While lakes are low, vegetation grows up in their beds, and when the water rises, that vegetation provides food and habitat for fish. Refilled lakes are given priority for stocking, and huge natural spawns usually result from improved habitat conditions as well. While the current drought will long be remembered for its record heat and tree-killing dryness, it may also go down in history as a contributing factor in one of the greatest resurgences in fishing in Texas history.
That being said, rain—a lot of rain—would be most welcome. The sooner the better.
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.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass, a list of official Toyota ShareLunker weigh and holding stations and a recap of last year’s season, see www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sharelunker/. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.
Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, is posted on www.facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram.
ShareLunker entries are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Some of the offspring from these fish are stocked back into the water body from which they were caught. Other ShareLunker offspring are stocked in public waters around the state in an attempt to increase the overall size and growth rate of largemouth bass in Texas.
Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker clothing and are recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.
The person who catches the season’s largest entry will be named Angler of the Year. If a Texas angler catches the largest entry of the season, that person also receives a lifetime fishing license.
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.