Saunders with Bass

Roy Saunders of Abilene was recently selected as the winner of a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and Texas lifetime fishing license when his name was drawn from 340 anglers who entered fish in the Toyota ShareLunker program last season. Anglers can earn one chance in the 2021 year-end drawing for each fish 24 inches long or 8-plus pounds they enter between now and Dec. 31. Check out texassharelunker.com for details.

Kirby Lake is hardly the best little lake in Texas for reeling in a whopper bass, but the 740-acre reservoir has been pretty good to Roy Saunders of Abilene.

Last February, Saunders was on the lake doing some fun fishing from his float tube when he made a casual cast to the shallows that resulted in a lifetime catch.

“I was catching some small bass to start off the day,” Saunders said in a recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Department news release. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some bullrush movement and knew there had to be something out there.”

There was. And it was big.

Saunders told TPWD he inched his float tube towards the vegetation and cast towards the sweet spot with a “green/orange crawdad bait and the fish bought it.”

The angler set the hook and the fight was on. Moments later, he jockeyed the fish into a landing net.

Weighing in at 10.22 pounds, the bass ranks as a new personal best for Saunders, but falls just shy the 10.88-pound Kirby Lake record caught in July 2011 by Ryan Olson.

Saunders did a really smart thing at that point.

He took appropriate photos of the bass and entered it in 2020 Toyota ShareLunker program. The program has four categories and runs year-round, Jan.1 to Dec. 31.

The Kirby Lake bass qualified for entry in the Elite Class category open to lunkers weighing 10 to 12.99 pounds. It’s the first ShareLunker from Kirby Lake ever entered in the program, according to texassharelunker.com.

A $5,000 Fish

The fat West Texas bass turned out to be pretty valuable.

Saunders was recently selected as winner in a year-end drawing for a $5,000 shopping spree to Bass Pro Shops, plus a Texas fishing license valid for one year.

His name was chosen from 340 anglers who entered qualifying ShareLunkers from 86 different Texas lakes last season. Fish must be 24 inches or weigh 8 or more pounds to qualify.

A second drawing with an equal prize structure is held for anglers who turn in Legacy Class bass weighing 13 pounds or more during the program’s three-month spawning phase — Jan. 1 - March 31.

Last November, Blake Cockell of Ransom Canyon was selected a as winner of the 2020 Legacy Class drawing. Cockrell entered two of the four Legacy Lunkers turned in last season. Both were caught from Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock.

Benefiting the Future

TPWD offers the chances to win the shopping spree drawings and other cool prizes as incentives to help bolster interest and encourage angler participation in the program.

As a tradeoff, TPWD is able to learn more about trophy bass distribution around the state and gather other data to help fisheries biologists better manage Texas bass fisheries down the road.

Another neat twist to the program is it encourages participating anglers to become citizen scientists by getting them involved in helping to unravel some of mysteries of big bass genetics.

Anglers can do this by plucking a few scales from the side of their fish before they release it. The scales can be sent to the department's genetics lab is San Marcos for DNA testing. Biologists use the results in evaluating wild populations of big bass in Texas reservoirs.

Additionally, the program maintains a fluid list of entries, along with a Top 10 hottest lakes breakdown to help keep anglers informed about where the big ones are biting.

Lake Fork paced the 86 lakes last season with 60 entries. Lake Conroe was second with 20, followed by the Brazos River (16), Sam Rayburn (15) and lakes Falcon and Athens with 10 entries each.

How to Enter

Catching a qualifying fish is the hard part. Entering one in the program is fairly simple.

Legacy Lunkers require a phone call to the 24-hour ShareLunker hotline, 903-681-0550. If TPWD staff deems the fish healthy enough to survive, it will be transported to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens and pair with a male for selective breeding in hatchery raceways.

Entry in the other three categories are carried out online by creating a free account at texassharelunker.com using a home computer or SmartPhone by downloading free ShareLunker app.

Electronic entries must be accompanied by photos of the fish being weighed on a digital scale and measured on a rigid measuring board. Fish caught during a tournament must be supported by a weigh-in slip or website links for documentation, if photos are not available.

To learn more about the program, texasharelunker.com.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

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Four Categories to Enter

* Legacy Lunker: This is a top-tier of the weight class categories. It is the only category where fish are retrieved and transported to the TFFC for spawning. Fish must weigh 13 pounds or more and be caught between Jan. 1 - March 31 to qualify.

The remaining ShareLunker categories are open for year-round entry:

* Lunker Class: For bass that measure at least 24 inches or weigh 8 to 9.99 pounds.

* Lunker Elite Class: For bass weighing 10 to 12.99 pounds.

* Lunker Legend: For bass weighing 13 or more pounds caught outside the Jan. 1 - March 31 spawning window.

Outdoors Briefs

TBGA entry deadline closing in March 1

By Matt Williams

Outdoors Writer

The Texas Big Game Awards program scored entry deadline is closing in for lucky Texas hunters who harvested qualifying white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, javelina or bighorn sheep during the 2020-21 hunting season. Completed entry forms must be postmarked no later than midnight on March 1 to be eligible.

There also are categories for youth and first harvest entries, which do not need to be scored. Just go to TBGA website, texasbiggameawards.org, download the proper entry form and mail it in.

For those who are not familiar with TBGA, it is a hunter/landowner recognition program run jointly the Texas Wildlife Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 1991.

The program recognizes hunters who harvest quality big game animals and the land managers responsible for producing them, while stressing the importance of our hunting heritage and the achievement of young and first-time hunters.

Animals that were born or bred in captivity and subsequently released into the wild are not eligible.

The program is free for anyone to enter. To enter an animal as a “scored entry,” scoring must be performed by a certified TBGA scorer or an official B&C scorer.

There are dozens of TBGA scorers around the state. The full list of scorers is available on program website. All scoring is performed using the B&C scoring system.

Minimum net green B&C scores for program eligibility are as follows: pronghorn - 70, typical mule deer - 145, non-typical mule deer - 160, typical white-tailed deer - 125 to 140 (depending on region), and non-typical white-tailed deer - 140 to 155 (depending on region).

Successful hunters are awarded certificates and their photos are posted on the TBGA website. Banquets/awards ceremonies are held at designated locations at the conclusion of the season, usually during late spring or summer.

All 2020 awards banquets were canceled due to the pandemic. This season’s award ceremony dates are as follows:

* Regions 4 and 8: May 15, New Braunfels

* Regions 5, 6 and 7: June 5, College Station

* Regions 1,2 and 3: May 22, Fort Worth

TBGA’s David Brimager says the number of entries received by mid-February was lower than normal, but expects things to pick up as the deadline draws closer.

“I’m sure we’ll see a rush of entries come rolling in right at the last minute — it seems like that is what happens every year,” he said. “Right now entries are pretty low — lower than normal. I’m not sure that’s COVID-related or not.”

The low number of entries is certainly not for a lack of quality deer harvested around the state during the 2020-21 season, according to Alan Cain, TPWD white-tailed deer program leader.

“The 2020 deer season turned out to be better than expected with respect to antler quality,” Cain said. “There were some tremendous bucks taken this year and I don’t think hunters were expecting that sort of quality considering the dry conditions last summer. Although entries into TBGA awards a fewer than last year, I’m hearing from a number of taxidermists that this has been an exceptional year for hunters bringing in their bucks.”

TBGA entry forms should be mailed to:

Texas Wildlife Association

Attn: TBGA

6644 FM 1102

New Braunfels, TX 78132

MLF Redcrest Championship coming up on Palestine

Forty of the nation’s top bass pros will square off at Lake Palestine on Feb. 21-25 for Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour Championship — Redcrest 2021. The winner takes home $300,000.

Anglers are anticipating some great fishing and huge weights, particularly if weather forecasts are on target. Mild temperatures with lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s are predicted to settle in on the heels of the brutal Arctic cold blast. Only time will tell how that plays out.

Palestine has already produced some whoppers this year, including a 13.07 pound Toyota Legacy ShareLunker. Danny Ramsey of Trinidad caught the big bass on Jan. 30 while competing in a Media Bass tournament.

No fish will be brought to the scales under the BPT’s catch, weigh and immediate release format. Every fish weighing two pounds or more counts in the progressive, five-day tournament.

The full field will compete for two days, then cut to the Top 20 Here’s how the last three rounds will play out:

* Weights are zeroed after Day 2. Final 20 anglers split into two groups, Group 1 and Group 2.

* Day 3: 10 Anglers (Group 1) compete — Top 5 advance

* Day 4: 10 Anglers (Group 2) compete — Top 5 advance

* Weights are zeroed

* Day 5: Final 10 Anglers (Top 5 from Group 1 & Group 2) compete for the most single-day weight. Winner is declared Redcrest Champion.

Five Texans qualified for the upcoming championship: Jeff Sprague of Point, Takahiro Omori of Emory, Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Alton Jones of Lorena and Alton Jones, Jr., of Waco.

Anglers will launch each morning from The Villages Marina. MLF says attendance is limited to competing anglers, essential staff and media covering the event.

You can follow the tournament event at majorleaguefishing.com.

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