ATHENS, TX -- Just when you thought this Toyota ShareLunker season was going to be all about O.H. Ivie, along comes Lake Austin.
The urban lake on the northwest side of the state capital has produced three ShareLunkers so far this season. One, the 16.03-pound lake record, came January 27. Two more came this last weekend. Lake Austin has now produced 12 entries into the ShareLunker program, tying it with Lake Amistad and lagging Choke Canyon and Falcon International Reservoir by only one.
Billy Weems of Liberty Hill started the action Friday, February 25, with a 13.21-pound lunker caught about noon in 12 feet of 62-degree water on a swim bait.
Cody Erin Smith of New Braunfels followed up Saturday with a 14.28-pounder caught about 10:00 a.m. on a jig.
Both were fishing in the vicinity of the Loop 360 bridge. “This whole area is just one big spawning flat,” said Weems. “The big fish are just starting to move up.”
Weems’s assessment that the best fishing for big bass may be yet to come is borne out by the record. Of the nine entries the lake had produced prior to this season, three were caught in February, five in March and one in April.
Making that seem even more likely is the fact that at least two more fish were reported this past weekend that barely missed making the 13-pound mark.
Last season the lake produced two ShareLunkers, the first time in its history it had more than one entry in a season.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheris biologist Stephan Magnelia manages the Lake Austin fishery, and he attributes the lake’s production of big bass to several factors. “I believe it’s a combination of an ongoing Florida bass stocking program, good habitat (aquatic vegetation) in the upper third of the reservoir, and catch-and-release by anglers,” he said.
Since 1996 TPWD has stocked about 4.5 million Florida bass into Lake Austin, and in 2008 and 2010 it received stockings of ShareLunker offspring. Each lake that contributes a fish to the program receives a portion of that season’s production of offspring.
TPWD’s chief of research and management, Dave Terre, agrees. “We have been working to reduce hydrilla (an invasive plant) with timed water-level drawdowns and periodic stockings of triploid grass carp,” he said. “Our goals are to reduce or eliminate hydrilla and also enhance native aquatic plants. We think aquatic vegetation is very important for habitat for bass in Lake Austin and is one reason this lake is so special for big fish. It also takes the Florida largemouth bass genetics and voluntary catch and release by anglers, because the fish need to live long enough to get that big.”
Weems had caught a small fish prior to hooking his ShareLunker, and at first he thought he had hooked a two- or three-pounder. “She came right to the boat,” he said. “She ran around the outside of my boat, and then she just took off for deep water. I was using a heavy action rod, and she just bowed that thing down and started stripping drag. The rest of the time she fought mainly under the boat. It took three or four minutes to get her in.”
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 by calling program manager David Campbell at (903) 681-0550 or paging him at (888) 784-0600 and leaving a phone number including area code. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.
ShareLunker entries are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Some of the offspring from these fish are stocked back into the water body from which they were caught. Other ShareLunker offspring are stocked in public waters around the state in an attempt to increase the overall size and growth rate of largemouth bass in Texas.
Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker 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 prize package from G. Loomis valued at $818. The package includes a G. Loomis NRX854C jig and worm rod, a Shimano ChronarchD1007 casting reel and 150 yards of moss green Power Pro super-braid fishing line.If a Texas angler catches the largest entry of the season, that person also receives a lifetime fishing license.
T.J. Nissen is currently in the lead for Angler of the Year with his 16.03-pound fish from Lake Austin.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass, a list of official Toyota ShareLunker weigh and holding stations 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.
Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, is posted on www.facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.