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Lynn Burkhead — January's big bass surge bodes well for spring fishing

Herald Democrat
Sam Rayburn Reservoir produced this 13.62-pound ShareLunker bass last Friday for angler Derek Mundy of Broaddus. The big sowbelly bass anchored a tournament winning bag limit of 39 pounds for Mundy and was one of four Legacy Class Lunkers produced for the long running big bass spawning program maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department each year from Jan. 1 through March 31.

In 1989, when Marty Criswell and John Outlaw were entertaining gridiron fans in these parts with some tremendous Denison and Sherman football teams, one of the most famous sports phrases of all-time was coined.

And it had nothing to do with football or Friday Night Lights, either.

Pulled from the baseball fantasy film titled Field of Dreams, the phrase “If you build it, they will come” helped make Kevin Costner even more of a movie star and told the story of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox baseball scandal in a most unusual way.

While the movie was a moderate box office success and nominated for three Academy Awards, the film’s catch phrase turned a whispered line into something of an iconic expression used countless times since.

Including this space, right here and right now, as we talk about upcoming fishing prospects for the spring of 2021.

So, what’s my take on the famous line? If you fill it, they will come, of course.

As you might guess, we’re talking lakes and reservoirs across Texas right now, not baseball stadiums when it remains to be seen whether or not the ongoing pandemic will allow such places to have fans in the stands this year.

But what we do know, is that after a recent surge of good rains — even flooding rains at times — the watery table has been set across Texas for some time to see a breakout year of great fishing. After seeing numerous lakes flood and several years of great spawning habitat as a result, recent big bass catches would appear to suggest that the Lone Star State is primed for a big fish explosion in 2021.

That certainly seems to be true where bass fishing is concerned, especially after the red-hot January of big bass action reported across Texas.

For evidence of that coming surge of angling possibilities over the next few weeks, I’d point to the recent stretch of action in January where anglers landed four Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ShareLunkers in the recently completed month.

Weighing more than 13 pounds and being caught during the Jan. 1-March 31 spawning season timeframe, the four fish were donated to TPWD’s ongoing program as a part of this year’s Legacy Class of lunkers that will seek to get successful spawns out of the big females and continue the Lone Star State’s storied bass fishing prospects for years to come.

That trend started with two ShareLunker catches earlier in the month and it continued last weekend when anglers reeled in two more Legacy Class Lunkers over the final weekend of January.

What’s more, in boosting the month’s total of such lunkers to four, the two big 13-plus pound bass also enabled both anglers to win fishing tournaments they were fishing in, something else that’s been a bit of a trend this year.

Derek Mundy of Broaddus got the big bass parade started last weekend, pulling a 13.62-pounder from Sam Rayburn Reservoir during the Friday session of the Toyota Series Southwestern Division Tournament on the famed Pineywoods water body.

The fish was the big bite Mundy needed to weigh in a total bag limit of 39 pounds and claim the event’s championship trophy.

Mundy’s Legacy Lunker was the second such fish from Sam Rayburn last month. As you might remember, Travis Moore reeled in the 13.44-pounder using a Carolina-rig on Jan. 9 during the Bass Champs tournament at Big Sam to help kick off the 2021 Toyota ShareLunker season. By the way, TPWD says that Sam Rayburn has now produced 29 all-time Legacy Class ShareLunkers since the first two were landed there in 1993.

But the TPWD Inland Fisheries biologists were far from done last weekend after Mundy’s big catch. Because Daniel Ramsey, from Trinidad, reeled in the weekend’s second Legacy Lunker last Saturday too, a fish that became the fourth ShareLunker of the month. His 13.07 pound lunker came at Lake Palestine, site of Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour REDCREST Championship later this month from Feb. 21-25.

While Palestine isn’t always thought of as a big bass factory, Ramsey thinks otherwise.

“Last year during this same tournament on Jan. 26, 2020 I weighed in a 12.65-pound bass off a dock with brush that had 16 feet of water at the end of it,” he said in the TPWD news release.

Last weekend, he put that knowledge to good use again.

“I went back to that dock because I had caught a big one on it the year before, so I knew it held good fish this time of year,” said Ramsey. “My first cast was about 7:01 a.m. and at about 7:10, I pitched up under the dock and started working my M-pack jig back to me. I was within five feet of where I caught the 12.65 pounder last year, when I got the hit. I set the hook and got her to the boat and couldn’t believe what I had just done.”

Incidentally, Ramsey’s big bass helped push him to a tournament victory with a total bag of 28.96 pounds.

According to TPWD, Ramsey’s big bass was only the third Legacy Lunker for the fishery in the history of the state’s long running big bass program. The  agency says that the first Legacy Lunker (#545) at Lake Palestine was recorded on March 2, 2013 by angler Lindell Dee Booth, Jr from Chandler, Texas when he caught a 13.14 pounder. TPWD says that Palestine's second ShareLunker followed on Feb. 1, 2014 when Casey Lee Laughlin of Rowlett, Texas landed ShareLunker #554, a 13.22-pound largemouth that remains the lake record.

After being notified by the anglers Friday and Saturday, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologists quickly obtained and transported “ShareLunker 588” and “ShareLunker 589” to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. This spring, TPWD biologists will attempt to spawn them in an effort to make bigger, better bass that will enhance fishing in Texas lakes for years to come.

The bottom line is that the Texas big bass season is off to a red-hot start, and it’s not even Valentine’s Day yet, the unofficial start to the Lone Star State’s best big bass action every year, at least in the minds of many of the state's lunker hunters.

“Having four ShareLunkers loaned just in the month of January of the collection season is a phenomenal start to 2021,” said Toyota ShareLunker Program Coordinator, Kyle Brookshear in a news release. “There have only been a few other times in the program’s history that January has been equal to or more productive.”

One of those years was in 2011 with five entries, another was in 2005 with four entries, still another was in 1995 with seven entries, and last but not least, there was also 1992 with five entries. Those previous big January ShareLunker seasons eventually produced very good collection seasons and even the current state record, Barry St. Clair’s 18.18-pound behemoth pulled from Lake Fork on Jan. 24, 1992.

Since this season comes after five previous years of good rains, great spawning habitat, and Texas’ legendary bass fishing resource taking advantage of all of that, the stage could be set for a banner year for bass fishing across the Lone Star State.

Because after all, if you fill it, they will come. Right Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones?