Big bass’ ‘Godfather’ to retire

DavidCampellCroppedThe man widely credited for helping to bring trophy largemouth bass to Texas is retiring.

David L. Campbell, coordinator of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ShareLunker program, will retire at the end of March.

Campbell has worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for 46 years.

As manager of the Tyler Fish Hatchery, he was instrumental in the introduction of Florida largemouth bass into Texas and has helped stock fish into almost every public reservoir in the state.

The stocking of Florida largemouth bass into Texas public reservoirs elevated trophy fishing in Texas forever and earned Campbell the nickname ”Godfather of Big Bass.” 

“David Campbell and the ShareLunker program are almost synonymous,” said Gary Saul, director of TPWD’s Inland Fisheries Division. “He is without doubt the No. 1 ambassador for the ShareLunker program, which is TPWD’s most highly visible program, gaining more media coverage annually than all other TPWD programs combined.”

Campbell has been associated with the ShareLunker program since its beginning. He picked up the first fish entered into the program in 1986 and most of the more than 500 entered since.

He started work in 1965 as a fish hatchery assistant at the Lewisville State Fish Hatchery and worked his way up to Hatchery Manager at the Tyler Fish Hatchery and later the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center.

In 1973 he went to Florida to collect Florida largemouth bass. The stocking of Florida largemouth bass into Texas public reservoirs elevated trophy fishing in Texas forever.

Under the direction of former TPWD Fisheries Director Bob Kemp, Campbell began breeding and stocking pure Florida bass as an experiment to increase the size of trophy bass in Texas. By the 1980s, these efforts began to pay off as the 13.5-pound state record that had existed since 1943 was broken four times in six years.

Then in November 1986, Mark Stevenson caught a 17.67-pound bass named Ethel out of Lake Fork. That fish shattered all previous records, garnered nationwide media coverage, and changed fishing in Texas forever, according to a TPWD news release.

Through his years of experience of caring for trophy largemouth bass, Campbell contributed a great deal to the knowledge of how best to care for big fish that, despite their sizes, are remarkably delicate.

This emphasis on the proper way to handle big fish appeared in newspaper articles as early as 1990 and may prove to be one of Campbell’s most enduring legacies.

Campbell was inducted into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2011.

But for all of his accomplishments, Campbell preferred to give credit for his success to others.

“What stands out more than anything else from the 26 years of the ShareLunker program is the cooperation from the anglers,” he said. “Anglers have been very supportive of the program.

“They have learned how to care for their big fish, and they understand the objective of the program is to increase the number of trophy bass caught in Texas.

“If you don’t have the support of the people using the sport fishery itself, you haven’t accomplished anything.”