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Josh Irvine gently releases the ShareLunker he caught on March 2 back into Lake Austin in early May. After spawning, the bass are returned to the lake to be released by the person who caught it.

Ever wondered what becomes of those 13-plus pound largemouths caught by anglers in Texas in late winter and spring during the Legacy ShareLunker competition?

Well, they are donated to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department o be taken to the Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens and placed into the breeding pool. But afterwards, there isn’t much said about them.

Now, some of them are bred to other ShareLunker bass having the Florida genes that have already proven to enhance the size and weight of Texas bass. But then what? 

Most are returned to the lakes from which they were caught.

And that’s what happened on Lake Austin in early May. Josh Irvine caught a 13.96-pound largemouth on Austin in early March. He’d thought that if he caught a really big bass that he’d yell and scream. When he got the behemoth into his boat, all that came out was a whisper.

Josh and his newest big best friend were united in early May when TPWD had him join them to return the bass to the lake. But he said he almost didn’t recognize her.

“She’d gained almost another pound!” he said. “They’d been feeding her rainbow trout at the hatchery, but she hadn’t gotten fat and lazy. She was splashing around in the live well like she had just been caught.” 

Could it be that after being treated like a queen at the hatchery that she sensed she was coming back home? Or am I humanizing a big fish a little too much?

At any rate, Josh got to gently release her back into Lake Austin and watch her swim away to freedom. That’s a happy ending to a fine fish story. .

That scene is or has been frequently repeated recently. But not for all 24 certified as Legacy ShareLunkers. Why not? 

Because, on March 25, TPWD fishery biologists decided they had enough ShareLunkers for the breeding program and wouldn’t be hauling the big girls all over the state anymore. All caught after the decision was made were left with the successful angler for release back into the lake.

By now, most of the big ones have been returned to their home waters. But that’s not all that’s been added to the lakes.

PURE Florida strain offspring from the Toyota ShareLunker Program — called “Lone Star Bass” — are being stocked in Texas waterbodies as you read this. Can you feel it?

TPWD had set a goal of being able to stock the state with pure Florida strain bass by 2022. Many dedicated TPWD employees have worked on the program since 1974. Toyota helped significantly. 

The state largemouth bass record has risen from 13.5-pounds to 18.18. Subsequent bass catches have increased in weight toward that record. A bass caught this year scaled 17.06 pounds. 

Former Fisheries Director Phil Durocher is probably smiling. Current Director Craig Bonds is excited. 

“(This) … dramatically increases the number of ShareLunker descendants being stocked throughout Texas,” Bonds said. Over six million “Lone Star Bass” will be stocked by July. 

John Jefferson is a lifelong outdoorsman, former regulations coordinator at Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., past executive director of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and author of two books on Texas hunting.

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