A quiet ending

After getting off to a fast start with three entries in November and December, the ShareLunker season sputtered to an end April 30 with a total of only nine entries.

Low lake levels, unseasonably cold spring temperatures and windy conditions on many weekends combined to limit angler opportunities to catch big bass. But the fish were out there, and those who persevered will be rewarded with replicas of their catches and ShareLunker clothing at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center on June 7.

Two catches were new lake records.

Ken Leonard of New Braunfels set the new mark for Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin with a 13.0-pounder caught March 18. The fish was returned to the lake March 22. Casey Laughlin of Rowlett caught the new Lake Palestine record, a 13.22-pounder, during a Media Bass tournament February 1. It was returned to the lake February 7.

Four of the nine entries were caught by out-of-state anglers, proving once again the tourism value of Texas trophy bass fishing.

Lake Fork produced three of the nine entries into the program during the season just ended, including the 13.86-pounder that earned Tulsa, Oklahoma, angler Randall Claybourne Angler of the Year honors for biggest bass. Lake Fork also produced the first catch of the season, a 13.29-pounder reeled in by Stephen L. Proctor of Pryor, Oklahoma, on November 21 and returned to the lake December 3.

Lake Athens, adjacent to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, produced two entries, both of which were pure Florida largemouth bass and therefore eligible to be spawned to produce fingerlings for stocking back into lakes producing entries. Time and the results of DNA testing on future program entries will tell if any of those fry grow up to become ShareLunkers themselves.

One of the Lake Athens fish, caught by Athens resident Frank Kirk, spawned three times, resulting in 117,425 fry. Kirk released the fish back into Lake Athens on May 5. The other, caught by Jason Hanson, was the second-largest entry of the season at 13.76 pounds. The fish was held for spawning but did not and was returned to the lake on May 12.

Claybourne’s fish was also pure Florida largemouth bass and spawned once, producing 26,015 fry. Claybourne released the fish back into Lake Fork on May 8.

A Toledo Bend Reservoir fish, 13.3-pound bass caught by Lance Wakeland of Fenton, Missouri, indicated that more entries may be coming from that lake in the near future. After sporadically producing entries in 1996, 2004, 2006 and 2008, Toledo Bend has now produced entries for the last three years in a row. Number 557 was returned to the lake March 25.

Despite being covered up with boats and producing lots of big bass, Lake Austin managed to send only one fish to the program this season, a 13.19-pounder caught by Robert Whitehead of Austin. That fish died March 11.

Blake Eppinette of Downsville, Louisiana, caught 13.6-pound ShareLunker 550, a pure Florida largemouth bass, on December 27, 2013, from Lake Fork. It died two days later.

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. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.