February 01, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
If you've been watching the news this week, then you probably have heard about the parade of winter storms affecting Texas, a multi-day barrage of sub-freezing weather accompanied by sleet and freezing rain. The weather shut down highways for miles near Dallas/Fort Worth, resulted in days of school cancellations along the Red River, and generated an ice storm for the ages in the Austin area.
What does that winter weather report mean for bass anglers as January turns into February? Simply this, if you live in Texas or have plans to bass fish there, it's time to get on the water, assuming you can back the boat down an icy boat ramp, if necessary.
With apologies to Bill Murray and his Groundhog Day movie, it's becoming like clockwork in Texas in recent years, the connection between Old Man Winter and red-hot bass fishing.
Case in point, back in February 2021, when a historic and deadly two-week sub-freezing wintertime assault pounded the Lone Star State from the Red River to the Rio Grande, the ice hadn't even started melting when the state's famous big-bass action kicked into high gear.
Before the 2021 Toyota ShareLunker season was finished it became one for the record books with a total of 23 Legacy Class ShareLunkers donated. The ShareLunker program is the annual Texas Parks and Wildlife Department big-bass donation project that accepts 13-plus-pound bass (aka Legacy Class) in January, February, and March for spawning purposes.
The incredible hot streak began hours after a long stretch of subfreezing weather had come to an end. That sizzling run began at O.H. Ivie, near San Angelo, on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, when Joe McKay of Bussey, Iowa, landed a monster 16.40-pound largemouth, which became ShareLunker’s 590th entry, a new lake record, the 16th biggest largemouth bass in state history to that point, and the start of an incredible tally of eight ShareLunkers in eight days, six of those coming from O.H. Ivie.
In addition to the 23 ShareLunkers in 2021—the most bass donated since 1995 with 27—the program's 600th entry was recorded, and 10 different water bodies produced bass over 13 pounds, with five of those being new lake records.
Last year in 2022, another round of wintry weather descended upon the Lone Star State in February with frigid air, snow, and ice. And true to form, the superb bass-fishing action went Texas-sized big again, with 24 big bass from nine different lakes being contributed to ShareLunker. The 2022 bass-fishing story from Texas hit its peak on Feb. 24, 2022, when storied O.H. Ivie gave up another lake record, its second in as many years, with a 17.06-pounder caught by Brodey Davis.
That bass was the biggest largemouth landed in Texas in 30 years (since Barry St. Clair set the current Texas record at 18.18 pounds at Lake Fork on Jan. 24, 1992) and is the seventh largest largemouth bass ever verified in the state (private or public waters), according to TPWD's Top 50 largemouth bass list. And like a broken record hitting the same vinyl groove again and again, O.H. Ivie Lake continued its impressive ShareLunker run with 12 Legacy entries in 2022, matching the lake's 12 entries in 2012.
Off to a Hot Start
But for now, turn your attention back to the calendar—it's very early in the current year—and the current spell of winter weather affecting the state courtesy of Jack Frost. The combination of both means that it's big-bass season once again in Texas. There already have been reports of three ShareLunker Legacy Class catches so far this year. The first official Legacy Class ShareLunker of 2023 came from (no surprise) O.H. Ivie Lake. It marks the second consecutive year that Ivie kicked things off for the ShareLunker program, and another reminder of how stellar the lake has been fishing in recent years. Without question, O.H. Ivie may be the best current bass lake in the world outside of Mexico.
This year's O.H. Ivie run began when Tom Nilssen of New Braunfels, Texas, landed a bucketmouth that became ShareLunker #633. According to TPWD, Nilssen arrived at O.H. Ivie on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, to fish prior to a club tournament a few days later on Sunday, Jan. 15. He nearly caught a huge fish that Friday—Friday the 13th, no less—but missed out. A couple of days later, when he swung his rod back to set the hook, there was no swing and a miss this time. The bass weighed 13.52 pounds.
"In the past two years, O.H. Ivie has been a top producer of ShareLunker bass, so it is not surprising the first Legacy Class Lunker of 2023 was caught in this reservoir," said Natalie Goldstrohm, Toyota ShareLunker coordinator, in a news release. "This catch was a great way to start off the season — we are very grateful that Mr. Nilssen decided to loan his fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program. With the help of anglers like Mr. Nilssen loaning their catches to TPWD, we can continue growing bigger, better bass for future generations."
"I decided I needed to try something different, so I moved up to the second point — on the second cast I hooked the fish using a jerkbait," Nilssen said in the news release. "She was in about eight feet of water, and I had dropped the bait down to about four feet. The fish ate the bait in between some salt cedars and the battle began. I eventually got her in the boat, into the livewell and immediately transported her to the weigh-in site."
It Started With 'Ethel'
Some 37 years after Mark Stevenson landed "Ethel," a 17.67-pound largemouth at Lake Fork that set a state record at the time and was the ShareLunker program's first entry, the 2023 program is off and running with great hopes once again.
Pineywoods lunker factory Lake Nacogdoches notched the second Legacy Class entry of 2023, when Jack York landed a 13.51-pound bass on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Using a 6th Sense deep diving crankbait, York landed the sixth official ShareLunker entry from the 2,212-acre lake located on Loco Bayou 10 miles west of Nacogdoches.
"Nacogdoches has lot of big fish, and it was an awesome experience to be able to land one of this size out here," York told TPWD. "I have caught a bunch of 10-, 11-, and a 12-pound fish, but to catch a 13-plus pounder to record a new personal best was exciting."
O.H. Ivie got back into the ShareLunker act a couple of days ago with a 13.58-pound bass caught by Kyle Hall of Granbury. If Hall's name sounds familiar, it may be because last year, he landed a 16.10-pound ShareLunker from O.H. Ivie, one of three 16-plus pound bass donated to the SL program. This year, after throwing a swim jig at a school of 9- to 11-pound bass in 40 feet of water, he joins the select fraternity of anglers who have multiple ShareLunker catches in their angling careers. "It's pretty unreal to get a ShareLunker in back-to-back seasons," Hall told TPWD. "I have spent a lot of time out on the lake the last three weeks and really wanted another lunker. The last couple of days were slow but I finally got one to bite."
Before the ShareLunker program opened Jan. 1, red-hot O.H. Ivie turned in an angling accomplishment few can match when Dalton Smith of Taylorsville, Ky., caught not one, but two 14-pound bass on Dec. 30, 2022. Fishing at O.H. Ivie not long after single-digit weather had gripped the state for the Christmas holidays, Smith landed bass weighing 14.27 and 14.69 pounds.
Designated Legend Class bass in Texas' ShareLunker listings--because the fish were caught outside the Jan 1 to March 31 collection window for Legacy Class fish--the two behemoths join a list of 13 Legend Class bass caught at O.H. Ivie since 2019, fish that range from Charlie Butler's 13.11-pounder in May 2022 to Josh Jones' 15.10-pounder in December 2021.
Added together, that's a total of 63 bass weighing 13 pounds or more at O.H. Ivie--50 official Legacy Class ShareLunkers and 13 others as well—all pulled from the lake since the turn of the 21st century, when Bobby Gayle and her husband Butch caught three ShareLunkers from 2000 to 2002, putting the 19,149-acre West Texas lake on the map in the big-bass world.
It certainly won't fall off that map anytime soon. Because it's now go-time for big-bass anglers in Texas, and who knows how much more bass-fishing déjà vu history is waiting to be written over the next several weeks?