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First Toyota ShareLunker Is Early Arrival
ATHENS, Texas — The first Toyota ShareLunker of the season slipped in the back door of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) on September 28.
The fish wasn’t supposed to be a ShareLunker at all. When Lanny Smalley of Athens, Alabama, caught it from a private lake near Ben Wheeler, he did not have a certified scale to get a correct weight on the fish, but he called TFFC to see if they would like to have the big bass for display.
Shortly after, fisheries technician Trey Kunz arrived to pick the fish up. "It was in a sort of horse trough cooled with well water to the low 60s, and they were supplying oxygen to the water," Kunz said. "The fish seemed calm and other than a little redness around the caudal fin and a little fungus on the tail appeared to be in good condition."
However, a couple of days after arriving at TFFC, the fish was showing signs of distress. "It developed an infection on its tail, I think from being handled," said fisheries technician Shane Carter, one of the main caregivers for fish in the Lunker Bunker at TFFC. "It became septic from an internal bacterial infection."
At that point the fish was not expected to live, but Carter and his coworkers don’t give up easily. After caring for nearly 500 big bass over the last 24 years, they’ve learned a lot about keeping big bass alive.
"We sedated the fish and treated the external infections, then put her back into the tank and began treatment for the internal infection," Carter said.
But while they had her out of the tank, they decided they might as well weigh the fish.
And she weighed exactly 13 pounds, the minimum weight needed to be entered into the Toyota ShareLunker program. She was 26.75 inches long and 18.25 inches in girth.
"That’s the first time we knew she was big enough to be a ShareLunker," Carter said.
But since the fish was caught before the official starting date of the season, October 1, TFFC director Allen Forshage had to decide whether to accept the fish into the program or not.
"There have been five other fish accepted into the program before the starting date, including Ethel, the very first ShareLunker," Forshage said. "We prefer not to take fish until the water temperature cools, because they are less likely to survive."
Fish swim in a brew of fungus and bacteria that constantly attack them, especially when the water is warm. "Fungal spores are more likely to be dormant when the water is cold," said TFFC laboratory technician Deborah Wade. "When dormant most of the spores fall to the bottom of the water column, so the fish is less likely to be exposed to them. Also, the spores grow much slower in cold weather, so the fish is better able to fight the infection on its own."
But sometimes a fish needs help, and that’s where TFFC’s Code Blue cart comes in. Built by TFFC volunteer Bob Farmer, a retired engineer, the mobile intensive care unit can be wheeled to the lunker tank where it is needed. The tank is then isolated from the incoming water supply from Lake Athens, and an onboard pump recirculates water from the tank through a filter, chiller and ultraviolet light sterilizer that "nukes the bacteria," according to Carter.
"We stayed on top of her for a week, treating the infections and keeping her calm, using the cart to treat the water," Carter said. "I think that had a lot to do with her recovery."
The fish is now Toyota ShareLunker No. 472.
Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between October 1 and April 30 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program by calling program manager David Campbell at (903) 681-0550 or paging him at (888) 784-0600 and leaving a phone number including area code. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.
ShareLunker entries are used in a selective breeding program at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Some of the offspring from these fish are stocked back into the water body from which they were caught. Other ShareLunker offspring are stocked in public waters around the state in an attempt to increase the overall size and growth rate of largemouth bass in Texas.
Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program will receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker clothing and be recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens. In addition, if a Texas angler catches the largest entry of the year, that person will receive a lifetime fishing license.
For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year’s season, see tpwd.texas.gov/sharelunker. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available. A picture of Smalley with his fish can be accessed from that page.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.
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