- By Mike Leggett American-Statesman Correspondent
In case anyone cares, I believe that Texas freshwater fishing is in good hands under the leadership of Inland Fisheries Division Director Craig Bonds.
An able, curious and forward-thinking guy, Bonds has come into Austin and begun to push through some changes that needed to be made in programs and practices within the Texas Parks and Wildlife division.
Bonds has been the mover behind the changes in the state’s signature fishing program, the Toyota ShareLunker Program. This is the system in which anglers can donate a largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more to the state for research and possible spawning.
The program, which started with a state-record bass from Lake Fork, has been in place for more than 30 years and has helped trophy bass fishing and catch-and-release sentiment move to the forefront of Texas bass fishing. And that translates to the forefront of bass fishing in the country because there’s no doubt that all the work that went before definitely was the best and highest quality management that could be identified and, finally, praised.
The success of the ShareLunker Program means that in the 30 years since it began, the angler definition of a “big bass” has changed dramatically. Where it once was 6 to 8 pounds, big now is 10 pounds or better on most lakes. And the value of those fish has increased as well.
The program, which runs for three months starting Jan. 1 each year, will still recognize the previous benchmark of 13 pounds but will also establish other criteria for anglers. Not the least of these is the Lunker Legend Class of trophy fish. These will still have to weigh 13 pounds or more but will fall outside the Jan. 1 to March 31 program timeline.
There will also be a Lunker Elite Class for bass between 10 and 12.99 pounds and a Lunker Class for bass over 8 pounds and 24 inches in length. The department has arranged for very nice prize packages to be awarded the winner of a drawing of all the anglers in each class.
Biologists are hoping to create new interest in the ShareLunker Program, interest that has seemed to be slipping a little in the past few years. Some anglers were simply weighing their trophy fish and then releasing them before the state could be notified.
The changes might not correct all the ills of the program, but they are likely to restart things and to put it back on the road to full-fledged success. That’s where it should be, too.
Texas is the best fishing state in the country, and our anglers have done their share to keep it there. Now the state is beginning to jump on board the train, and that’s going to mean better fishing and bigger bass for all of us.
And no matter what anyone says, people would rather catch a big bass than a little one. It’s human nature, and it’s the only way we stay ahead of the rest of the country.