Toyota Sharelunker Program
The Toyota ShareLunker Program (formerly called Operation Share a Lone Star Lunker and sponsored by the Lone Star Brewing Company, Jungle Labs and Cajun Boats) was established in 1986 to promote catch-and-release of large fish and to selectively breed trophy largemouth bass. The first fish entered into the program was also a new state record, a 17.67-pounder caught from Lake Fork in November.
In 1993 the name of the program was changed to Share a Lunker, Inc., and it was merged with the Parks and Wildlife Foundation of Texas. Anheuser Busch was the official sponsor from 1996 to 2008, providing prizes for anglers and a specially equipped truck used to pick up and return lunkers. During that time the program was known as the Budweiser ShareLunker Program. The name was changed to the Toyota ShareLunker Program in 2009 when Toyota became the new sponsor.
Since the program’s inception, more than 400 largemouth bass have been donated from 55 public reservoirs and more than a dozen private lakes.
The House that Big Bass Built
As the program grew, it became obvious that the Tyler hatchery was inadequate, but there was no state money available to build a new hatchery, one tailored specifically to the needs of the program. It was decided to let cities bid to become the site and help raise the money for it.
Specifications called for the facility to be built within 50 miles of Lake Fork, because the majority of big fish are caught there. The Athens community pledged more than $4 million to win the bidding for the site, and the balance of the cost came from federal Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration funds and donations. No state money was used for construction.
The Edwin L. Cox, Jr., Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center was built around the ShareLunker program. The Visitor Center complex, including the Lunker Bunker, was completed in 1996, and the exterior hatchery ponds went into operation in 1998.