Lynn Burkhead — Despite winter’s recent wrath, bass fishing is red hot

Herald Democrat
Just days after sub-zero cold and more than 10-inches of snowfall blanketed the region, O.H. Ivie Lake near San Angelo started a big bass blitz for the ages with eight Legacy Class ShareLunkers being landed in just more than a week! The biggest of those bass was this 16.40-pound largemouth landed on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 by Iowa angler Joe McKay.

While little was red-hot in Texas a couple of weeks ago, that’s about the only appropriate way to describe the recent run of big bass action across the Lone Star State.

So good was a recently completed 10-day stretch between Feb. 19 through the 28 that a total of eight Legacy Class ShareLunker bass — largemouths weighing 13-pounds or greater — were caught and donated to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens for spawning purposes.

The big bass blitz got started on Friday, Feb. 19 when Bussey, Iowa angler Joe McKay visited O.H. Ivie Lake, the 19,149-acre water body lying 55 miles to the east of San Angelo. Just days after sub-zero cold and snowfall visited the region, McKay caught a fish that most anglers can only dream of.

Why? Because the 16.40-pound largemouth that he caught is ShareLunker #590, a new O.H. Ivie lake record, and the 16th biggest largemouth ever recorded in the Lone Star State.

“It was an extremely cold morning when we arrived on the lake,” said McKay in a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department news release. “The water where we were fishing was about 22-feet deep out over the tops of brush. I was using an Alabama-rig with 6th sense Divine Swimbaits on it.

“We had caught a couple of 12-pound largemouth bass earlier in the day, so we knew we were on some big fish. It was an amazing experience and the fish of a lifetime for sure.”

Next up was Sapulpa, Okla. angler Josh Jones, who caught ShareLunker #591 two days later on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 22, a fish that tipped the scales at 13.20-pounds.

“I was idling and saw the fish pop on my sonar and moved that direction,” said Jones. “I caught her suspended 15-feet down using an Alabama-rig at a spot on the lake measuring at a depth of 75-feet.”

Jones had already landed a really great bass at O.H. Ivie that day, a 10.5-pounder that brought a big smile. But as big as those two big fish grins were, Jones would smile even bigger a week later. More on that in a moment.

Next up at O.H. Ivie was Weatherford, Texas angler Donald Burks, who was about to land ShareLunker #592 as he fished with his son Brandon on Monday, Feb. 23. Not long after the father-and-son duo launched, Burks was fishing an Alabama-rig when a 13.40-pounder bit.

“We were about an hour into the day, sitting in about 40-feet of water using an A-rig,” said Burks. “We were casting up to 20-feet of water when the fish bit and I reeled in a catch of a lifetime.”

Amazingly, Burks big Legacy Class catch was only a small part of an epic visit to the West Texas lake.

“I had only ever been to O.H. Ivie one time in my life and that was for a club fishing tournament in 1999,” he said. “I heard about these fish being caught and I told my son let’s go. It was phenomenal fishing and we caught over 100 bass in the two days we were there, including several 6 and 7-pounders in addition to the two big ones”

Two big ones? Yup—scarcely an hour after Burks caught his 13.40-pounder, he reeled in a 12.40-pounder!

Brett Cannon, an angling friend of Joe McKay, was next up at O.H. Ivie as he would land a 14.40-pounder that became the fourth Legacy Class bass of the week and ShareLunker #593.

“The evening before I caught the giant, I scanned an area that wasn’t getting much pressure and saw some big fish,” said Cannon. “Around 10:30, I hooked into the giant and I knew it was big but didn’t know how big until it got next to the boat. She didn’t fight much until she saw the boat.

“When I first saw the fish, I thought it was 20-lbs. and she took four to five big runs and wore herself out. When I got the fish in the boat, I lost it, shaking, and screaming because I knew I caught a fish of many lifetimes.”

Casey Sobczak, an angler from The Woodlands, was the next angler to step into O.H. Ivie’s bright lights. Sobczak, the president of 6th Sense Fishing, did so with ShareLunker #594, a 14.20-pounder caught in almost the same spot that Cannon had pulled his big sowbelly bass from.

You might have noticed that 6th Sense Fishing has been mentioned several times. That’s because McKay, Cannon, and Sobczak are all Team 6 members and were using Divine 3.2 and 3.8 swimbaits along with a group of other company pro-staffers visiting O.H. Ivie. Before their trip was through, it was one for the ages with a 16+ largemouth, two 14+ largemouths, and back-to-back lake record smallmouths weighing 6.5-lbs. and 7.47-lbs.!

“I am the President of 6th Sense Fishing and assembled our Pro Staff event at O.H. Ivie with 10 guys,” said Sobczak. “Of those 10, we caught three ShareLunkers and broke the lake record four times between smallmouth and largemouth.

“All of us were using 6th Sense Divine Swimbaits, but my big fish was over deep bushes in 20-25’ deep water. The same day, my fishing partner, Zach Kinart, caught a 7.47-lb. smallmouth lake record using the same bait. We are still waiting to certify my scales to send the documentation to Texas Parks & Wildlife. Our Team 6 crew had the experience of a lifetime.”

Not to mention securing some great marketing and PR material!

Next, the big bass action shifted to Lake Conroe last Friday, Feb. 26, when angler Scott Stephens landed a 14.25-pound bass—ShareLunker #595—while fishing at the Cabela’s Big Bass Tour Tournament on the lake.

“We had noticed there were a lot of fish suspended out in deeper water,” said Stephens. “I didn’t see the fish hit the Berkley Pitbull 7.5 crankbait I was using and she didn’t really jump but made three surges under the boat where there’s a danger of losing them, but this one worked out great.

“This was a fish of a lifetime and a bucket list item for me. To catch a fish like this on my home lake in a big bass tournament, is a dream come true,” he added.

“More important for me, is to be able to contribute a fish to the Texas Parks and Wildlife ShareLunker program. Texas Parks and Wildlife came in, treated the fish like a gold brick, and took care of that fish extremely well. They were thanking me for donating the fish to the program, but I said I want to thank you all. Because of the ShareLunker program and the Florida strain, my dream was able to come true.”

Next in line was Josh Jones—remember him? If the 13.20-pounder wasn’t enough to do the trick on Feb. 21, how about a 15.40-pound largemouth bass a week later?

“I got out a little late, but within 30 minutes of being on the water I landed my second Lunker of the week,” he said of SL bass #596. “It was quite entertaining when she came to the surface, we thought it had a chance to be a state record it was so big. The fight lasted about two minutes and she was in the boat. She was in about the same spot as the one earlier in the week using the same bait on the Alabama-rig.

“This is the best lake in the world and I have never seen any kind of run like this before. This should be a destination on anyone’s radar.”

The Lone Star State’s amazing big bass run wrapped up last Sunday, Feb.28 as Trace Jansen of Buda, Texas pulled in ShareLunker #597, a 15.32-pounder caught at Lake Travis near Austin.

“The spot we caught her happened to be the last spot of the day, and man am I glad that we didn’t decide to put the boat on the trailer,” said Jansen of the first Legacy Class bass from Travis as well as the new lake record. “We worked on her for about an hour and knew if I could get the male off the brush then I could probably get her to start showing some interest.”

After his friend Riley caught the male, Jansen changed colors and made history by landing the 28-inch long fish.

“I caught her on a natural 5-inch stick bait,” said Jansen. “When I hooked her all I said was, “I got her.” She was so big; she didn’t even fit in the net, but we got her in and couldn’t believe it. I never could have dreamed that I would ever be in the ShareLunker program.”

It was certainly a dreamy stretch of bass fishing, even in a state known for having some of the best lunker action in the world.

“Receiving eight Legacy Lunkers in eight days is phenomenal, especially on the heels of such a tough winter storm,” said Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator for TPWD. “Thanks to the anglers who have provided 12 fish this season, we are better able to enhance the genetics of our broodstock and further increase the potential for trophy class bass statewide.”

No doubt about that. And with the normally great action of March Madness just now unfolding across the state, the best big bass fishing of 2021 could be yet to come in a lunker season that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Take that, Old Man Winter.