Texas bets big on bass leading to even bigger fish

KSAT traveled to Athens to explore the Sharelunker program

Anglers who catch largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more, during those three months, can donate their catches to the fishery.

ATHENS, Texas – You won’t find another place quite like it in the U.S.

The Texas Freshwater Fishery in Athens, southeast of Dallas, is home to a state-of-the-art lab where trophy-sized bass are brought for selective breeding.

The facility’s hatchery features rooms full of tubes and tanks that are home to the Sharelunker program.

A lunker is defined as an exceptionally large bass, one of the most popular freshwater gamefish in the world.

Texas’ Sharelunker program kicks into high gear every year from January to March during the spawn.

Anglers who catch largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more, during those three months, can donate their catches to the fishery.

Experts collect the live bass from anywhere in Texas and transport them to Athens for evaluation, DNA testing, and, eventually, breeding.

Kyle Brookshear is the program’s manager and walked KSAT through the first steps after one of these super-sized bass arrives on-site.

“We transfer that fish from our hauling tank into our work-up facility tank. We sedate the fish. We treat the fish. And then from there, we put it into one of these holding tanks until we start the spawning process,” Bookshear said.

He even refers to one kind of tank as the “lunker bunker” — specially designed to make the bass feel at home.

Brookshear says Sharelunker offspring have a better chance of surviving in the fishery’s controlled conditions than in the wild.

He says baby bass eventually mature into fingerlings in the fishery’s huge growing ponds and they are then collected and released back into Texas lakes.

The hope is, they’ll grow into giant bass themselves. The fishery knows the process works.

Biologists confirm through genetic testing that Texas anglers are now catching fifth-generation descendants of earlier Sharelunkers.

Brookshear said, “it’s definitely a great investment in our natural resources. This is one way that our agency is able to come alongside anglers with a common goal and a common mission… to impact the future of fisheries for generations to come.”

For more information on the program, which even recognizes large bass under the 13-pound threshold, visit the Texas Sharelunker website.

The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center sits on 100 acres outside Athens and features a visitor’s center, aquariums, a casting pond, gift shop and Game Warden Museum. It’s open year-round except for Mondays. Guided hatchery tours are also available.

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About the Author:

Mark Austin is well-known to South Texas viewers having spent the bulk of his decades-long TV news career at KSAT. He can be seen weekdays on San Antonio's top-rated 'Good Morning San Antonio' and 'GMSA @ 9.' Mark won Lone Star Emmys for Best Newscast in 2011 and 2017 and has covered every Spurs championship.