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Trophy Bass Survey Proves Lake Fork Still a Prime Destination for Big Bass
ATHENS — Entries from Lake Fork into the Toyota ShareLunker Program have been overshadowed recently by reservoirs in other areas of the state, but the Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey’s eight-year history shows that Lake Fork should remain on the list of any serious trophy bass hunter.
For the last eight years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has been collecting information on catches of trophy bass seven pounds or greater or 24 inches or longer at Lake Fork. Through February 2011, the survey recorded 11,368 such fish. Anglers weighed 83 percent and measured lengths of 59 percent of these trophies. With an average of 1,421 fish over seven pounds every year, these numbers suggest the lake is still doing well. By comparing eligible fish encountered in creel surveys with survey results for the same days, biologists estimate fewer than 10 percent of actual catches are reported, making these results appear even more astounding.
Entries during the past 12-month period (961) were up 28 percent from the previous year. The proportions of various fish length groups have been surprisingly consistent from year to year, suggesting the size structure of the largest fish in the population has remained stable over the past eight years. In the last 12 months, proportions of trophies weighing and exceeding 10, 12, and 13 pounds were 15.1 percent, 2.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. For the eight-year survey, the averages for these same size categories were 15.6 percent, 2.3 percent, and 0.6 percent. More than a third of all measured entries in the survey were longer than the upper end of the slot length limit, providing evidence that the 16- to 24-inch slot is functioning as intended.
In the 26-year history of the ShareLunker program, Lake Fork has produced 247 entries, at least one per year. Although not as prolific as in its heyday, Lake Fork has averaged between three and four entries each of the last three years. The last time Lake Fork produced more than 10 entries was in the 1996 season, when it contributed 21. For the following 11 years, entries averaged between six and seven. The lowest levels were observed in 1986, the first year of the program, and 2001, two years after a largemouth bass virus fish kill, when Lake Fork contributed one fish. Interestingly, 2001 experienced a poor showing statewide with only five fish entered into the program.
It’s apparent that Lake Fork’s production of ShareLunkers has slowed, but after 30 years the lake has descended from incredible to simply outstanding. It still has few peers, and none when viewed from a perspective longer than three years. Lake Fork has produced 47 percent of its ShareLunkers in March and 15 percent in April, so there’s still time this season to catch a trophy bass from the lake.
The Lake Fork Trophy Bass Survey began in March 2003 as a cooperative project of the Lake Fork Sportsman’s Association, the Lake Fork Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Through this volunteer survey, anglers are encouraged to report catches of largemouth bass 7 pounds and heavier and/or 24 inches and longer to participating marinas on the lake. This unique survey provides TPWD with invaluable information not available through traditional monitoring surveys commonly used by fisheries managers.
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. For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass, a list of official Toyota ShareLunker weigh and holding stations and a recap of last year’s season, see www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sharelunker. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.
Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, is posted on www.facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram.
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 TexasParks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.
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