ATHENS -- Every year Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator Juan Martinez talks to anglers still excited and shaking from the experience of landing a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass, and every year almost all the stories are the same: The person never expected to catch a bass that size and was unprepared to deal with it.
Take a hint from the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared. Follow these 13 steps to catching a 13-pound bass and you will be ready.
1. Program the Toyota ShareLunker numbers into your cell phone NOW. Voice: (903) 681-0550. Pager: (888) 784-0600. Both are monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the season, which runs October 1 through April 30. Be sure to include your area code if leaving a message. (And by the way: There is no need to call either number in the middle of the night just to see if they are working. They are.)
2. Check your tackle and respool with fresh line, preferably braided. Big bass tend to hang out in the nastiest cover they can find and are quick to wrap your line around a tree. Chances are you are going to have to pull them out by brute strength.
3. If you do not have an oxygenation system installed in your livewell, get one. Instructions on how to do it yourself can be found at http://www.slideshare.net/raminlandfish/livewell-oxygen-injection-8773301. Oxygenation is especially important during warm weather and tournaments, when bass may be held for several hours.
4. Don’t have a livewell? You can use the information in step 3 to rig a large ice chest. Bass do not respond well to being dragged across a lake on a stringer. Remember that a 13-pound bass will probably be at least 24 inches long.
5. Get a rubber net. These are much kinder to fish than nets with knotted construction. Abrasions make a fish more vulnerable to infections.
6. Get a scale and check its accuracy using a known weight. (A five-pound sack of flour or sugar and a gallon of water in a plastic grocery bag should weigh about 13.5 pounds.) This can save much time and frustration trying to find a place to weigh a fish.
7. Review the procedure for handling and caring for big bass at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker/handle/.
8. Know the locations of official ShareLunker weigh and holding stations (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker/holding/). These places have certified scales for weighing your fish, a specially equipped tank for holding it, and personnel who have been trained by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologists on how to care for big bass. Taking your fish to one of these stations, if one is nearby, is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to insure its survival.
9. Expect to catch a lunker. Many lunkers are caught by people who just went fishing and did not expect to hook a trophy bass, and they didn’t have a net, or didn’t fill their livewell, or didn’t have a scale or know where to take a fish to have it weighed. Any time you fish in Texas, you have a chance to catch a 13-pound or bigger bass. Act like a Boy Scout. Expect the unexpected.
10. Buy a fishing license and know the regulations for the body of water you fish. Some big bass have not been accepted into the ShareLunker program because they were not legally caught. The first thing the TPWD employee does when picking up a fish is check the condition of the fish. The second is to ask to see your fishing license. Have one.
11. It’s best to use a rubber net to land a fish, but if you must lip it, take care not to suspend the fish’s weight from its jaw. This can break the jaw and make it impossible for the fish to feed. Grip the fish’s mouth firmly with one hand and its tail with the other, and handle it as little as possible to avoid damaging its protective slime coat.
12. Treat the fish with respect after catching it. Quickly take photos of yourself with the fish, and then leave it alone. Don’t let others handle the fish and have their picture taken with it. It’s your fish. You want it to live to go back into the lake. The process starts with you.
13. Go fishing.