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Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame to Induct Long-Time TPWD Employee
ATHENS—David L. Campbell, a 45-year employee of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Inland Fisheries Division, will be inducted into the Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame at a banquet June 4 in Athens.
Campbell is currently the manager of the Toyota ShareLunker program, an angler recognition and selective breeding program designed to increase the size and frequency of trophy (13-pound or bigger) largemouth bass catches in Texas.
The ShareLunker program is TPWD’s most highly visible program, gaining more media coverage annually than all other TPWD programs combined. Campbell picked up the first fish entered into the program in 1986 (from Lake Fork) and most of the more than 500 fish entered since. He has contributed a great deal to the knowledge of how best to care for big fish and has communicated this information to the public through countless interviews with newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Coming as it did at the same time catch-and-release of big bass became the norm, the impact of proper fish handling on the conservation of trophy bass can hardly be overestimated.
Campbell started working for TPWD in 1965 as an assistant at the Lewisville State Fish Hatchery and worked his way up to hatchery manager at the Tyler Fish Hatchery and later the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. He has raised and stocked millions of fish in Texas waters including black bass, channel catfish, blue catfish, crappie, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, northern pike, walleye, peacock bass and several sunfish and forage species.
Under the direction of former TPWD Fisheries Director Bob Kemp, a former inductee into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Campbell went to Florida in 1973 to collect Florida largemouth bass for experimental breeding and growth evaluation in Texas. Trials in private waters showed that Florida bass did well in Texas. TPWD began breeding and stocking pure Florida bass into public waters. By the early 1980s those efforts began to pay off. The 13.5-pound state record that had existed since 1943 was broken four times in six years.
The stocking of Florida largemouth bass into Texas public reservoirs elevated trophy fishing in Texas and earned Campbell the nickname ”Godfather of Big Bass.” Despite all the media attention he received, Campbell never forgot he was part of a larger team. “I realize that many, many other people have helped me with the program through the years, from fisheries researchers to other hatcheries,” he said. “This could not have happened without them. I am fortunate to be the person on the front end who picks up the fish and gets to see the angler become an ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.”
In November 1986, Mark Stevenson caught ShareLunker Number 1, a 17.67-pound bass out of Lake Fork that shattered all previous records, garnered nationwide media coverage and changed fishing in Texas forever. Stevenson named the fish Ethel, and she became a legend among bass anglers.
“More than 10,000 people came to the old Tyler Fish Hatchery to see that fish,” Campbell said. “They asked questions about us stocking Florida bass in Texas and talked about their desire to help Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with the program. It’s sometimes difficult to get the public to support something a state agency does, but anglers gave their support right up front.”
Campbell spent every night for a month trying to get Ethel to eat. The importance of the success of that effort is enormous. In part because that fish lived, a series of events took place that had a national impact on bass fishing and a huge impact on the Texas economy. Public support for bass fishing led to funding of significant improvements to the TPWD hatchery system, including construction of a state-of-the-art hatchery, ShareLunker care and breeding facility and visitor center—the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC). The plans for TFFC included a Texas Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame from the beginning.
Ethel proved to be a fish that changed the world in many significant ways. After Campbell nursed her back to health, she was put on display at what was then the only Bass Pro Shops store in the world, in Springfield, Missouri, where she pulled millions of visitors into the store. There are now more than 60 present and planned Bass Pro Shops. Founder Johnny Morris credited Ethel with much of the success of the business, saying that she was the best thing that ever happened to Bass Pro in terms of getting people into the store.
In recognition of the contribution Ethel made to his business, Morris donated $650,000 for the construction of the Richard M. Hart and Johnny Morris Conservation Center at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, where the Hall of Fame banquet will be held. Bass Pro Shops donates millions of dollars annually to conservation projects nationwide, adding to Ethel’s legacy.
Campbell is untiringly modest about his achievements, preferring to give credit for his success to others. “What stands out more than anything else from the 25 years of the ShareLunker program is the cooperation from the anglers,” he said. “Anglers have been very supportive of the program. They have learned how to care for their big fish, and they understand the objective of the program is to increase the number of trophy bass caught in Texas. If you don’t have the support of the people using the sport fishery itself, you haven’t accomplished anything.”
As the only manager the ShareLunker program has ever had, Campbell still personally picks up most of the fish from the anglers, driving 10,000 miles or more annually and working all night and many weekends to do so. “I have never met an angler who was mad about anything who had just caught a 13-pound bass,” he said.
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