TYLER, Texas — Bass anglers from all over call this the most wonderful time of the year -- the 37th ShareLunker season is underway.
The fish tanks are big and empty right now, but soon some of the biggest bass you’ve ever seen will temporarily live at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens.
We’re talking fish so big it takes two hands to hold them. That's how ShareLunker coordinator Natalie Goldstrohm describes these fish.
"These are very old bass, they’re rather large. It’s an extraordinary fish of a lifetime and we really recommend that the angler hold them with two hands that you don’t grip by the lip," Goldstrohm said.
ShareLunkers bass are so big they get their own weight class. ShareLunkers weigh at least eight pounds. Elite Lunkers come in at 10 pounds and Legend Lunkers tip the scales at more than 13 pounds.
The program started nearly 40 years ago and this season is generating a lot of excitement because of what happened last year.
The 2022 season really was a remarkable year for the ShareLunker program.
Consider these numbers: Nearly 500 ShareLunkers were caught by 340 anglers across all size categories. One angler caught 14 and O.H. Ivie and 144 of the ShareLunkers came from that one body of water.
That’s proof Texas is the big bass capital of the world. And it means Texas Parks and Wildlife needs a 24-hour hotline between now and March 31.
“Someone will answer that phone," says Goldstrohm. "And we will deploy our ShareLunker response team to come and collect that fish and bring her back to here to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center for her to spawn."
Spawning won’t take place until spring. That’s when TFCC biologists will pair big female bass full of eggs with brood stock.
The selective breeding process is creating bigger and better bass. That’s something Zach Sheehy knows about.
He caught a Legend Lunker at Lake Jacksonville in 2020. It weighed in at 14 pounds. Back then, Sheehy had to find a certified scale to weight his fish. That's not the case anymore.
The TPWD made a rule change in the name of fish care.
“If you’re submitting information on a Legend class fish, that’s 13 pounds or heavier, you know longer have to have that fish weighed on a certified scale," Goldstrohm said.
A digital scale and a picture of the scale and entire fish will do the trick.
Speaking of scales, biologists also want a few scales from the fish.
“We would love to have our anglers submit some scales from their fish," said Goldstrohm. "So take about three scales from any of your bass that are eight pounds or heavier, 24 inches or longer. You can dry them out and put them in an envelope and send them to our geneticists."
Scale data shows whether the bass was caught before or if its mother was a ShareLunker.
Goldstrohm says that helps improve fisheries management. Sharelunker season runs through March 31. So, hit the lake, y'all!