The 2021 Toyota ShareLunker season is barely a month old. Surprisingly, the lunker bunkers at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens are already bustling with a small army of bass with some serious weight problems.
January was a banner month for entries to Texas Parks and Wildlife’s spawning and genetics research program. Between Jan. 9-30, four anglers turned in Legacy lunkers from three different lakes.
The surprise factor lies in the untimely run on big Texas bass. January doesn’t have the richest history for producing Texas whoppers upwards of 13 pounds. Only 63 of the 589 program entries dating back to 1986 were January ShareLunkers.
Most of the big females are caught during spring. That’s when Mother Nature beckons bass to the sun-baked shallows to spawn and fishing traffic spikes with warming trends in the weather.
March has accounted for more ShareLunkers than any other month, 251. February is second with 135, according to Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator, Kyle Brookshear.
The recent wintertime flurry of entries ties last year’s total for the entire three-month spawning season — Jan. 1 - March 31. The January catches ranged in weight from 13.02 pounds to 13.62 pounds. Sam Rayburn produced the two biggest fish, a 13.62 pounder and a 13.44 pounder.
The remaining entries include a 13.02 pounder from Lake Austin and a 13.07 pounder from Lake Palestine. Three of the four entries were caught during fishing tournaments.
TFFC hatchery manager Tony Owens is caretaker of the finny senior citizens, all likely pushing 10 years of age. Owens says the big bass appear to be adjusting well to temporary life on easy street. The fish are enjoying a diet of protein-rich rainbow trout. The plan is to pair each female bass with a selectively-bred male for spawning in hatchery raceways this spring.
More Mundy Madness
One of the fish belongs to Derek Mundy of Broaddus.
Mundy, 32, is coming off what may be the most magical January that any tournament angler has ever experienced. He won two Sam Rayburn tournaments inside a month with some near record weights tallied by targeting fat fish far from shore.
Most recently, Mundy won the Toyota Series event on Jan. 28-30 at Sam Rayburn with a three-day total of 70 pounds, 11 ounces he caught from a borrowed boat after blowing up his outboard engine a week earlier.
More than half the weight came on Day 2, when he brought in five bass totaling 39-7 pounds. The monster limit was anchored by a 13.62 pounder that is Sam Rayburn’s 29th Legacy ShareLunker and a personal best for Mundy.
The big fish crushed a Strike King 8XD crankbait on Mundy’s third cast of the day to an underwater ledge he had located using his high-tech electronics. Amazingly, Mundy landed a pair of 7 1/2 pounders at the same time, on the same bait, three casts later. That’s roughly 28 pounds in only two casts.
The magic continued the following day. Mundy iced the victory with a 10 pounder on his final cast of the afternoon. He banked $44,150 for the win.
Earlier in the month, on Jan. 2, Mundy won the Phoenix Bass Fishing League derby on Sam Rayburn with five bass weighing 40 pounds, 10 ounces. It’s the third heaviest single-day limit ever recorded nationally in a BFL event, and arguably the heaviest five-fish sack ever brought to the scales by one angler in a Sam Rayburn derby. All of the fish, including an 11.10 pounder, were caught on a crankbait Mundy was casting to an isolated sweet spot, no bigger than a truck bed, in 17 feet of water.
Ramsey’s Magical Dock
While Mundy has made fast work of establishing himself as the hottest hand on Sam Rayburn these days, Daniel Ramsey of Trinidad is living up to a reputation as a guy to beat on a host of northeast Texas impoundments. He is particularly fond of January fishing on Lake Palestine.
Ramsey has lived big bass magic on Palestine before, but what happened on the 25,500-acre reservoir shortly after daylight on Jan. 30 sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale book.
Ramsey, 44, was competing in a Media Bass tournament on that fateful Saturday when he made an ordinary cast around a boat dock that produced an extraordinary fish.
Weighing 13.07 pounds, it’s Lake Palestine first Legacy class entry since 2014 and its third entry in the program’s 35-year history. The bass, which hit a Mark Pack jig in about 16 feet of water, helped Ramsey coast to the win with 28.96 pounds.
Ramsey chose the boat dock as his first stop of the morning for good reason. He caught a 12.65 pounder there in Jan. 2020, also during a Media event he won. Interestingly, Ramsey claims that fish bit a shaky head worm about five feet from the spot where the 13.07 pounder grabbed his jig.
The 12.65 pounder was released after weigh-in at Lake Palestine Resort, roughly four miles from the dock where it was caught.
“Anytime you catch a big fish off of a spot it usually means there is something there that big fish like,” Ramsey said. “There is a creek that winds up close to this dock, and there is some brush around it. It’s a big fish area.”
Two Casts, Same Fish
The story developed an even more bizarre twist soon after Ramsey took the 13 pounder to weigh-in. He and tournament director Gordon Stauffer compared photos of the fish. They noted some obvious physical characteristics in the photos that they believe clearly identifies the two fish as the same bass.
“It’s got the same half moon scar on its tail, probably from years of fanning beds,” Ramsey said. “She also has some discoloration on her lower jaw and a small hump at the base of her tail. There is no doubt in my mind it’s the same fish.”
TPWD fisheries biologist Jake Norman of Tyler evaluated the photos and said he shares the same opinion.
“The pictures are spot on,” Norman said. “You can’t be 100 percent sure without running genetics or having some kind of identification tag, but I don’t have any doubts it is the same fish. The fact it moved back to the same area where it was caught a year earlier isn’t that surprising. But the fact he (Ramsey) was able to catch that same fish, in the same tournament, in the same spot, two years in a row — that’s needle-in-a-haystack stuff. What a cool deal.”
John Hope wasn’t shocked to learn about Ramsey’s fish returning to its home turf after it was released last year.
Hope is a former Houston County fishing guide who spent nearly a decade trying to unravel some of the mysteries of big bass behavior. Between 1986 and 1994, he surgically implanted thumb-size electronic transmitters in 57 bass ranging in size from six to 15 pounds. A handful of the study fish where Toyota ShareLunkers.
Using high-tech telemetry tracking gear, Hope monitored the beeping fish in 15 different lakes ranging in size from 100 acres to 114,000 acres, sometimes donning scuba gear to dip into their finny environments.
Hope learned plenty in his studies. He eventually documented the findings in a book, “Trackin’ Trophies.”
A segment of his study was dedicated to several tournament-caught bass on Sam Rayburn in eastern Texas. The fish, all weighing upwards of six pounds, were caught north of the State Highway 147 bridge and transported 18 miles down the lake for weigh-in. That's where the transmitters were installed and the fish were released.
Hope relocated all but one of the study fish a few days later. The bass had traveled roughly 18 miles back up the lake and were positioned in close proximity to where they caught.
“I witnessed the same thing several more times on different lakes,” Hope said. “Big bass are definitely home bodies. They know directions and they are gifted with a natural instinct to find their way back home.”
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com.