With Super Bowl Sunday looming this weekend and the Daytona 500 only a couple of weeks down the road, bass anglers are chomping at the bit in many parts of Texas.
That’s because it’s just about time for the 2020 big bass season in the Lone Star State, a time of year from late winter into early spring when the biggest sowbelly bass go shallow for the annual spawn.
A glance at the hallowed “Top 50” largemouth bass list shows that most of the state’s biggest bucketmouths get caught in February and March. That same glance will also show a few of those giants — it takes a bass weighing 15.45-pounds or better to crack the state’s ”Top 50” list — getting landed during the bookend time frames of late January and early April.
All of that simply means that if a double-digit largemouth lunker is one of your goals in 2020, now is the time to grab the tackle box and start hitting your favorite big bass water.
It’s also time to start thinking about the possibility of entering such a bruiser bass into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s revamped Toyota ShareLunker program. A longtime staple in Texas bass fishing circles, the SL program got an overhaul in 2018 with new categories and new incentives aimed at jumpstarting the floundering program.
Has the new and improved SL program lured in more participants and caught on with bass anglers around the state? It’s too early to say, but after the first two years, there has definitely been some rekindled interest.
After 2018 and the SL program’s inaugural year of changes, TPWD reported that a total of 380 anglers had entered 486 lunker bass over 8-pounds from 89 lakes across the state. After 2019, the numbers were certainly down as the agency reported that anglers entered 327 lunker bass over 8-pounds into the ShareLunker program from 88 lakes across the state.
Whether or not the new look SL program catches on for the long haul, its longstanding aim to help produce bigger and better bass for Texas lakes has undoubtedly received a boost from new program incentives. Those come in the form of TPWD recognition, big bass patches, and prize packages awarded to anglers who enter their big bass catches into the SL program and are then lucky enough to be drawn for the win.
TPWD says that after the program’s reboot a couple of years ago, anglers can now hope to win a year-end drawing for a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license.
It would seem that least one Texas bass angler approves of the new look SL program.
“We are excited to announce that after wrapping up another great year of participation in the Toyota ShareLunker program, angler Ryan Waguespack of McQueeney was randomly selected from the 2019 entries to win the coveted year-end $5,000 shopping spree to Bass Pro Shops,” said Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator, in a TPWD news release. “We want to remind anglers that every certified ShareLunker entry will earn you a chance of winning this drawing along with many other great prizes in 2020, so be sure to download the Toyota ShareLunker mobile app and get fishing.”
Waguespack told TPWD that although he’s thrilled to be the winner of the 2019 season’s big prize drawing, he’s also excited about the opportunity to help make bass fishing in Texas bigger and better in future years.
Even though he hasn’t caught his goal of a 13-pound Legacy Class bass just yet, his entering of five other big bass into the other weight categories now available in the expanded program gave TPWD some valuable data. Hopefully, that data will help Inland Fisheries biologists and hatchery staff produce more lunker bass for Texas lakes.
“I’m very excited, I put a lot of effort and passion into my fishing and I’m always trying to catch a bigger bass,” said Waguespack in the news release. “It’s also good to be on a list of recognition — especially as a fishing guide, it’s a selling point and it shows we’re doing something right.”
Now a year-round program running from Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, the ShareLunker program offers four levels of participation for bass over 8-pounds that are caught in Texas waters.
In 2019, TPWD reports that anglers entered five Legacy Class bass over 13-pounds and loaned them to the agency for the selective breeding and stocking program during the spawning window that runs from Jan. 1 through March 31.
Additionally, TPWD says that Lone Star State anglers entered four Legend Class bass over 13-pounds that were either caught outside the spawning window or were not loaned for spawning purposes. There were also 76 Elite Class bass weighing 10- to 12.99-pounds and 242 Lunker Class bass weighing between 8- and 9.99-pounds (or at least 24 inches) caught and entered into the SL program last year.
Where are all of these lunker bass being caught? TPWD says that the top five ShareLunker producing lakes in 2019 included Lake Fork near Quitman with 112 entries, Lake Conroe near Houston with 69 entries, Lake Athens in Athens with 48 entries, Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper with 32 entries, and O.H. Ivie Lake near San Angelo with 21 entries.
TPWD says that lakes producing 13-pound or larger Legacy Class bass entries in 2019 included Lake Leon with 13.00-pound ShareLunker 581 caught on March 29; Lake Conroe with 13.36 pound ShareLunker 580 caught on March 9; Lake Fork with 13.73-pound ShareLunker 579 caught on March 8; a private research lake with 13.79-pound ShareLunker 578 caught on Feb. 8; and Marine Creek Lake with 14.57-pound ShareLunker 577 caught on Jan. 26.
While some anglers have soured on the idea of pulling giant egg laden female bass from their favorite lake and lending them to TPWD for spawning purposes, plenty more have not. For those who continue to lend a helping hand to the agency for the ShareLunker program, the result will hopefully be better big bass fishing in the Lone Star State’s future.
To that end, TPWD says that three of the Legacy Class fish loaned to the agency spawned successfully last year at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Those successful spawners produced 55,000 offspring that were stocked in Texas public lakes.
Those successful spawners also produced another 30,000 pure Florida largemouth bass offspring that were retained as hatchery broodstock. The latter will help TPWD stock these big bass by the millions across the state in coming years.
In return for loaning their Legacy Class bass to TPWD for selective breeding and stocking purposes, anglers receive a catch kit, a 13-lb.+ Legacy decal, VIP access to awards programming at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest and a fiberglass replica of their fish.
Additionally, those anglers also receive entries into both the year-end drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license and a special Legacy Class drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree. Incidentally, that latter prize was won by angler Barry Prince of Lindale in 2019.
Anglers who enter a Toyota ShareLunker in every other category through Dec. 31, 2020 also receive great prizes, including a catch kit filled with merchandise and a drawing entry for the year-end $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and annual fishing license.
With the 2020 season underway as of Jan. 1, TPWD says that anglers can enter their big bass catches this year in all categories on the Toyota ShareLunker app — available for free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play — or on the Toyota ShareLunker website, https://texassharelunker.com.
The mobile app and website entry forms also include simple instructions for anglers who would like to provide a sample of fish scales from their lunker bass to TPWD researchers for genetic analysis.
Finally, anglers who catch a 13-pound or larger “Legacy Class” bass in Texas waters through March 31 can enter by calling the SL program directly — any time of day — by calling 903-681-0550.