Texas big bass season cranks up soon

Big bass anglers in Texas are all looking for a 13-pound fish.

The 29th season of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ShareLunker program will begin October 1.

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

Entries that genetic testing shows are pure Florida largemouth bass are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Offspring from ShareLunkers that spawn are stocked into each waterbody that produces and entry during the season. Some offspring may be used for research, while others may be retained by the hatchery system for use as future brooders.

The angler catching each fish decides what will happen to it following its use by TPWD. Most anglers choose to return the fish to the waterbody where it was caught. Some donate the fish to TPWD for display at TFFC.

Fish that are intergrades, or hybrids of Florida and northern largemouth bass, are not used for spawning and are returned to the waterbody where caught as soon as possible. Genetic testing of entries shows that pure Florida largemouth bass have as much as 18 times greater chance of producing a 13-pound offspring as intergrades do. Limited capacity at TPWD hatcheries requires using all available pond space for the offspring of pure Florida fish.

Anglers entering fish into the program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and clothing and are recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. The person who catches the season’s largest entry will be named Angler of the Year and will receive a G. Loomis rod, Shimano reel and PowerPro line combination. If the Angler of the Year is a Texas resident, that person also receives a lifetime Texas fishing license.

Prizes and funding for the banquet are provided by Toyota, which also provides a Tundra pickup truck for use in picking up and returning the majority of lunkers and their offspring.

ShareLunker catches can be reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the season, by calling (903) 681-0550. If poor cellphone service prevents use of the voice number, anglers can leave a phone number (including area code) at (888) 784-0600. That number is also monitored 24/7 during the season.

Most anglers who catch a 13-pound are unprepared to catch and care for large fish. Yet catching a 13-pound bass is possible almost anywhere you fish in Texas. Taking a few simple steps can help ensure the survival of the bass. First, carry a landing net, preferably a rubber one or a net with unknotted mesh, to avoid damaging the fish’s slime coat. Fill your livewell before you begin fishing. Program the ShareLunker numbers into your phone before the season begins. Carry a scale and check its accuracy before the season begins. Locate a place near where you will be fishing that has a certified scale and will weigh fish, such as a feed store, grocery store or bait shop. Official ShareLunker weigh and holding stations have been established at a number of reservoirs; a list is athttp://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker/holding/.

For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year’s season, see www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sharelunker/. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.