From special reports

ATHENS — Anglers across Texas and the nation have their calendars marked for opening day of a new Toyota ShareLunker season. The 37th season kicked off New Year’s Day as anglers cast their lines in hopes of landing a Legacy Lunker largemouth bass (13-plus pounds) in Texas’ world-class fisheries.

The Toyota ShareLunker program has played an integral part in making Texas a destination for hundreds of thousands of anglers in search of this prized sport fish. Grabbing a pole, hitting the water and hauling in a 13-pound plus largemouth bass would be a great way to jumpstart the new year. The cast of the line, the lure landing just right on the water and a strike from a possible fish of a lifetime is what many anglers strive to experience.

“We are excited to kick off another ShareLunker season,” said Toyota ShareLunker Program Coordinator Natalie Goldstrohm. “The ShareLunker program contributes to the selective spawning and stocking of these world-class offspring and also helps us gather vital catch and genetic data to help our biologists better manage bass populations throughout the great fisheries of Texas.”

The 2022 season was one for the record books, with multiple milestones reached and memories made by anglers working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries staff that make the program a success. Key highlights from the 2022 Toyota ShareLunker collection season include:

■ 24 Legacy-class ShareLunkers caught this season, the most during January through March since 1995 (27)

■ Nine different water bodies produced ShareLunkers in 2022

■ Lake Daniel became the 75th public water to contribute a Legacy-class ShareLunker

■ Four entries were new lake records (Lake Daniel (Twice), Eagle Mountain Lake, O.H. Ivie)

■ The new O.H. Ivie waterbody record, set at 17.06 pounds, was the biggest in 30 years, and is the seventh largest largemouth bass ever verified in Texas (private or public)

■ Four fish made Texas’ Top 50 biggest largemouth bass of all-time list

■ Five entries were greater than 15-pounds, including three over 16-pounds

■ Anglers have submitted 632 Legacy Lunkers in the first 36 years of the ShareLunker program and during the 2022 collection season, 100 percent of all the loaned fish were healthy and returned to the lake where they were caught.

During the first three months of the season (Jan. 1 through March 31), anglers who reel in a 13-plus pound bass can loan it to TPWD for the ShareLunker selective breeding and stocking program. These anglers can call the ShareLunker hotline at (903) 681-0550 to report their catch 24/7 through March 31, 2023.

Anglers who catch and donate one of these 13-plus pound lunkers earn Legacy Class status, receive a catch kit filled with merchandise, a 13lb+ Legacy decal for their vehicle or boat, VIP access to the Toyota ShareLunker Annual Awards event and a high-quality replica mount of their Lunker fish from Lake Fork Taxidermy.

These anglers will also receive entries into two separate drawings – a Legacy Class Drawing and the year-end Grand Prize Drawing. Both drawings will award the winner a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual Texas fresh and saltwater fishing license.

The year-round Toyota ShareLunker program offers four levels of participation for catching bass over eight pounds or 24-inches in Texas.

As a of Dec. 20, 496 ShareLunker catches by 340 anglers across all size categories are approved into the program in 2022. One of those anglers has reeled in a remarkable 14 ShareLunkers. O.H. Ivie leads all waterbodies with 144 approved entries during the 2022 season. Anticipation is high for what 2023 could have in store for anglers across the state and the nation.

Anglers who enter data for any lunker they catch greater than eight pounds or 24-inches during the calendar year 2023 also receive a catch kit, a decal for their vehicle or boat and an entry into the year-end Grand Prize Drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and annual fishing license. ShareLunker entry classes include the Lunker Class (8 lb.+), Elite Class (10 lb.+), and Legend Class (13 lb.+).

In addition, a new procedure is in effect beginning with the 2023 season. Legend Class ShareLunkers no longer need to be weighed on a certified scale for entry. Anglers must include a photo of their Lunker on a digital scale in order to qualify for Legend Class.

Once a lunker is reeled in, anglers need to enter the catch data on the Toyota ShareLunker mobile app – available for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play – or on the Toyota ShareLunker online app at TexasSharelunker.com. In addition to providing basic catch information, anglers can also provide a DNA scale sample from their lunker bass to TPWD researchers for genetic analysis.

The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship of Toyota. Toyota is a longtime supporter of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and TPWD, providing major funding for a wide variety of fisheries, state parks and wildlife projects.

Prize donors including Bass Pro Shops, Lake Fork Taxidermy, American Fishing Tackle Co., Stanley Jigs and 6thSense Fishing also provide additional support for this program. For updates on the Toyota ShareLunker Program, visit facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram/ or TexasSharelunker.com.

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Sports editor

Mitch Lucas is the sports editor for the Kilgore News Herald, and has been since June 1, 2002.