First 2017 Toyota ShareLunker Collected at Marine Creek Lake

ATHENS — Fort Worth angler Ryder Wicker caught the first Toyota ShareLunker of the 2017 season Feb. 10 at Marine Creek Lake. But this wasn’t the only “first” he checked off the list – this particular fish outweighs the former water body record holder by more than 2 pounds, and is likely the first ShareLunker caught from a group of selectively bred largemouth bass that were stocked by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries biologists 11 years ago.

Ryder told TPWD Inland Fisheries staff that he caught the 13.07 pound largemouth bass, now called Sharelunker 566, on his fourth cast of the day with a jerk-bait in roughly 10 feet of water. He called TPWD immediately, and within minutes a local biologist was on-site to verify the new catch.

When Tom Hungerford, a TPWD Inland Fisheries Assistant Biologist from the Dallas-Fort Worth District Office, arrived at the reservoir he heard a telling sound when he ran a wand over the left nape of the fish. He said a tag in that location could only mean one thing – this fish was stocked by himself and a team of TPWD biologists in 2006 as part of a research project to evaluate the growth of selectively-bred, faster growing Florida largemouth bass in public reservoirs.

“It takes a long time to see some of these results, but to start seeing them now is really exciting,” Hungerford said. “This was one of the goals of the research project.”

“At the time we thought: ‘Can we do this? Can we selectively breed these fish to make them grow bigger and faster?’” Hungerford added. “To see it come to fruition is very exciting.”

Michael Baird, a TPWD Inland Fisheries biologist from the Waco District who was also involved with the research project 11 years ago, said this catch is an important milestone in what has been a years-long wait to see the results from the initial stocking of Marine Creek Lake and other locations in Texas.

“It’s pretty cool that 11 years later an angler may have caught one of those fish,” Baird said. “That’s a milestone of its own – but it also could be the first one we’ve confirmed from any of the reservoirs we stocked in the state.”

The fin clip from the fish will be sent to a lab at the A.E. Wood Laboratory in San Marcos, where biologists will use genetic analysis to confirm parentage as well as the date and location it was originally stocked.

After collecting the fish from the lake it was transported to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens by program coordinator Kyle Brookshear, where he said the staff would “get her comfortable, monitor her and ensure she’s healthy” before pairing her up to spawn.

TFFC staff who met with the angler on-site said he noted on a form that the program could keep the fish for spawning and possibly to be used as an exhibit fish at the TFFC after spawning.

“We are extremely excited because this fish represents a long line of ShareLunker fish donors that have participated in the program over the past 30 years that have led to this catch and a lake record falling,” Brookshear said.

“ShareLunker donors like Mr. Wicker are valuable citizen scientists who have the rare opportunity to catch a ShareLunker bass and then make a contribution to the future of bass fishing in Texas by donating it to the program,” Brookshear added. “Through the support of anglers like Mr. Wicker, bass fishing in Texas continues to get bigger and better.”

At 25.6 inches long and 21.6 inches in girth, the 13.07 pound fish would break the water body record at Marine Creek Lake, which is currently held by a 25 inch long, 10.78 pound bass caught in 2003 by angler Josh Sneed.

Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between Jan. 1 and March 31 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.

Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate, 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 of a top-of-the-line rod, Shimano reel, PowerPro line and G. Loomis hat. If the Angler of the Year is a Texas resident that person will also receive a lifetime Texas fishing license.

ShareLunker catches can be reported 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the season, by calling (903) 681-0550. If poor cellphone service prevents use of the voice number, anglers can leave a phone number (including area code) at (888) 784-0600. That number is also monitored 24/7 during the season.

The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a longtime supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.