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Ray Sasser: TPWD's ShareLunker program adds incentives and prizes for particpation

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has announced a restructured version of its Toyota Sharelunker program. The revised program will be more inclusive, allowing anglers who catch largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or more to post photos on social media.

The 31-year-old hatchery program will continue to use bass weighing 13 pounds or more to produce hatchery broodfish and will now accept entries that are not pure-strain Florida bass. Florida bass that have crossbred with native northern bass are called intergrades. Some of those fish also attain huge size.

During the 2017 season, the biggest of five ShareLunkers was an intergrade. It weighed 15.7 pounds and was caught from Caddo Lake by Ronnie Arnold of Karnack. Going forward, intergrade ShareLunkers will be spawned at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. Their offspring will be stocked in lakes where the parent fish was caught. All huge bass are females.

The revamped program will run Jan. 1-Dec. 31. Fish weighing 13 pounds or more, caught Jan. 1-March 31, will be accepted as broodstock for spawning.

Outside the spawning window, the year-round season will allow anglers to submit information about their catch through a web application in four size categories -- 8 to 10 pounds; 10-13 pounds; 13 pounds or more; and 13 pounds or more with the fish donated for spawning.

ShareLunker program coordinator Kyle Brookshear said the goal is to increase participation and to collect data on the catch rates of big bass so biologists can better monitor stocking strategies.

"This citizen scientist initiative will allow biologists to better monitor the impact of ShareLunker stockings across Texas and provide more incentives and opportunities for Texans to help us make bass fishing bigger and better than ever," he said.

The addition of prizes in each weight category provides an incentive for participation.

Since the ShareLunker program began in 1987, 570 fish have been entered. A state-record, 17.67-pounder caught by Lake Fork fishing guide Mark Stevenson kicked the program off early. There were eight entries the first season. The record was set during the 1994-95 season with 36 entries.

In recent years, ShareLunker entries began falling off, though it is unclear whether big fish are no longer being caught in the same numbers during the new millennium or anglers are dissatisfied or felt that entering a fish was not worth the trouble.

In 2012, Florida began its own version of ShareLunkers, based loosely on Texas' program. They call it TrophyCatch, and it recognizes documented fish weighing 8 pounds or more that were caught and released and uses social media to promote the anglers and where the fish were caught. Since 2012, TrophyCatch has documented more than 6,700 big bass.

Many good anglers, or anglers with good places to fish, enter multiple bass each season, trying to beat one another for bragging rights. Fishing guides use TrophyCatch to promote their businesses.

Now TPWD is planning to incorporate the best ideas from TrophyCatch to revitalize ShareLunkers. Brookshear said the program will announce a full list of changes and new prizes closer to Jan. 1.

TFFC education and outreach specialists are developing ShareLunker science curriculum for Texas classrooms.

CALENDAR

Friday, Oct. 13-Sunday, Oct. 22: AKC Master National Hunt Test at The Big Woods, Tennessee Colony, Texas. About 850 qualified retrievers are expected to compete. This event is open to the viewing public. Details are online at bigwoods.net.

Thursday, Oct. 19: Allen Ducks Unlimited Banquet and Fundraiser, 6 p.m. at Two Rows on the Patio, 711 Central Expressway South, Allen. Tickets online at ducks.org/texas/events.

Friday, Oct. 20: Texas Shootout sporting clays tournament benefiting the Rob Harper Memorial Fund, Friends of Rob and FC Dallas Foundation. Details at friendsofrob.org. Register at fcdallasfoundation.org.

Thursday, Oct. 26: Dallas Ducks Unlimited Banquet and Fundraiser at Sixty Five Hundred, 6500 Cedar Springs Road. Tickets are available online at DallasDucks.org or call Art Brickey 214-673-9636.

Saturday, Oct. 28: Quail season begins.

Saturday, Oct. 28-Sunday Oct. 29: Youth-only white-tailed deer and Rio Grande turkey season and youth-only duck season in South Zone.

Saturday, Nov. 4: White-tailed deer season begins.

Saturday, Nov. 4-Sunday, Nov. 5: Youth-only North Zone duck season.

Saturday, Nov. 11: First split of duck season begins in North Zone.