Greg Simons buck

Greg Simons monster desert mule deer buck from Culberson County was officially certified a new free-ranging state record. The remarkable 27-pointer grosses 295 4/8 B&C inches; 292 1/8 net.

I don’t know how you’ll remember 2020, but I’ll always recall it as the year most of us had just as soon forget.

It’s been a stressful one, indeed, with far-reaching consequences and strains that have created an overwhelming sense of uncertainty unlike most of us have ever felt.

Navigating the last 11 months hasn’t been easy. Think of it like donning a blindfold on a really dark night and setting out down a country road riddled with deep potholes. The daunting feeling of knowing the bottom could drop out at any second has been unnerving.

Hellish as 2020 has been, the world kept on turning and the headlines kept on coming. Here’s a review of some of the top Texas outdoors stories to come down the pike during the year that ‘rona gripped America:

‘Rayburn’s Mega Sacks

Unprecedented “shelter in place” and “stay in place” orders issued last spring turned bass tournament schedules upside down on both the local and national levels, but not before a few anglers wrecked some all-time records on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

On Feb. 15, Anthony Sharp of Village Mills was competing in a FLW Bass Fishing League derby when he weighed in a remarkable five-bass limit weighing 40 pounds, 6 ounces — an average of 8.12 per bass.

Sharp’s catch may be the biggest five-fish bag ever weighed during a tournament on Sam Rayburn by one angler. It’s the biggest single day, individual tournament limit reported from Texas waters since George Herr caught 40.45 on Toledo Bend in 2014.

One week later, big bass magic struck again. Danny Iles of Lufkin and Brian Shook of China weighed in an enormous five-bass limit weighing 49.31 pounds — a 9.8-pound average. The anglers were competing in a Texas Team Trail team event.

The catch ranks as the heaviest ever officially documented in an organized Texas team event and may be the heaviest 5-bass team tournament limit ever recorded on U.S. public waters. 

The record limit tops the former Texas team tournament weight record held by Bubba and Linda Haralson of Del Rio since March 2011. The Haralsons boated 47.29 pounds during an International Bass Challenge charity event at Lake Falcon.

“Hank” certified as state record mulie

In January, a magnificent mule deer buck taken by Greg Simons of San Angelo was certified as the biggest free-ranging Texas desert mule deer ever documented since the Texas Big Game Awards program began maintaining a registry of Texas big game harvests in 1991.

Simons’ buck, a 27 pointer, was taken during Nov. 2019 and officially scored after the antlers dried for 60 days. The Culberson County mulie grosses 295 4/8 B&C inches; 292 1/8 net.

It eclipses a 283 inch Reeves County whopper shot in 2003 by Damon Compton of Toyah as the TBGA state record non-typical.

MLD fees ok’d

Also in January, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorized the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to begin levying fees on participants in the state’s Managed Lands Deer Permit Program. Since 1996, the voluntary program has been free of charge to those who qualify for enrollment.

Fees will range from $30-$300 depending on enrollment type. The new fee structure is expected to be implemented at the start of the MLDP springtime enrollment period ahead of the 2021-22 hunting season.

A chunk of the money generated by the fees will be used to hire additional staff needed to help administer the program, which offers some sweet perks to participating land managers and hunters. Among them are greater flexibility in managing deer herds by allowing for an extended hunting season and, in many cases, more lenient harvest quotas than those granted during the regular season framework under county-specific guidelines.

The MLDP program has witnessed such significant growth that it has outpaced the department’s current manpower and stressed its resources, according to white-tailed deer program leader Alan Cain.

The program included about 800 properties spanning roughly 3 million acres in during its first year. Today, it includes more 12,000 properties spanning more than 28 million acres.

Through it all the number of wildlife biologists charged with administering the program while still tending to other duties has remained stagnant. Thus the need to hire more staff.

“It all boils down supply and demand,” Cain said. “This has been a long time coming.”

Grandma’s Still Got It

Virginia Luce of Kennard didn’t shoot the biggest buck in Texas this season, but the story behind her Houston County 11 pointer captured a wealth of attention.

Luce, 80, shot the buck at 175 yards from her kitchen window as she made lunch for she and her 83-year-old husband, Myrl, who was relaxing in a living room recliner at the time. Luce’s buck has since been scored at 161 1/8 gross B&C for TBGA.

The lady hunter is a four-time cancer survivor and recently retired registered nurse who takes her deer hunting way more seriously than most her age. Luce is no longer able to visit the box blind she hunted for years on their 80-acre spread, but claims she still manages to kill a buck every season.

“I do all my hunting from the house now,” she said. “My kitchen is my deer stand. We take the screen off one of the windows every fall. I can see a pretty good ways from there.”

Dallas Morning News assistant sports editor Damon Marx said the story grabbed the attention of more than 400,000 DMN readers and eventually cracked the newspaper’s Top 20 viewed stories of the year. The story was also featured the ESPN’s Hillbilly Headlines hosted by Marty and McGee.

Wendlandt wins AOY title

In November, Clark Wendlandt of Leander nailed down the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year title. Based on consistency, the AOY title goes to the angler who accumulates the most points after a long season of qualifying events.

AOY is considered to the league’s most prestigious award. It goes to the angler who wins the year, not just a single event, according to BASS. The award is great bait for attracting sponsors. It comes with a $100,000 bonus.

Wendlandt, 54, won the FLW Tour AOY title three times during a 22-year run with that circuit. He joins Kevin VanDam, Denny Brauer, Greg Hackney and Jay Yelas on a short list of anglers who have won the AOY title in both circuits. In 2000, Wendlandt’s picture appeared on the cover of millions of Kellogg’s brand cereal boxes. 

Fishing license sales soar

Fishing was declared a safe form of recreation by state and county governments during in the height of the coronavirus scare. Likewise, many folks who don’t normally fish took advantage of idle time off from work to wet a hook.

The increase in fishing traffic was clearly reflected by a significant spike in Texas fishing license sales recorded by license vendors last spring.

According to TPWD, 418,259 people bought a Texas fishing license between March 11 and May 20 of 2020. There were were 336,019 fishing licenses sold during the same time period in 2019. The figures represent an increase of 82,240 licenses sold.

The increase in sales resulted in a significant bump in revenue for the department. License revenue for March 11 and May 20, 2020, was up more than $5.6 million over 2019.

Flounder reg shake up

Citing a downward spiral in flounder populations reflected by varied sampling methods, the TPW Commission last May approved a staff proposal to increase the minimum length limit on the popular flatfish from 14 inches to 15 inches, beginning Sept. 1, 2020.

The Commission also approved a closure to flounder fishing from Nov. 1- Dec. 15, the heart of the fall flounder run. However, the six-week closure will not take effect until 2021, a year-long delay from the date originally proposed by TPWD coastal fisheries staff.

The decision to delay the season closure was based on the economic impacts and hardships many fishing guides and bait shops have already experienced due the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Robin Riechers, TPWD’s chief of coastal fisheries.

‘Classic coming to Texas

Last May, Alabama-based Bassmaster announced the 2021 Bassmaster Classic is coming to Texas. Often dubbed the Super Bowl of professional fishing, the ‘Classic is considered the sport’s premier event.

The tournament will be held March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts near Denton with daily weigh-ins set for Dickies Arena in downtown Fort Worth. The Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo, featuring more than 200 vendors, will be held at Will Rogers Memorial Center.

The host city and surrounding area always experience an economic windfall when a Bassmaster Classic comes town. According to BASS, the 2020 ‘Classic held on Lake Guntersville in Alabama had an economic impact of about $35.9 million for the Birmingham area.

Two previous ‘Classics have been held on Texas waters, Lake Texoma in 1979 and Lake Conroe in 2017.

TPWD bass tracking study 

Last spring, TPWD fisheries scientists Todd Driscoll and Jake Norman launched an intensive bass tracking study on Toledo Bend and Lake Fork aimed at unraveling some of the mysteries of bass behavior on the East Texas reservoirs.

The two-year research study is built around three dozen bass ranging from 14 inches to 8 pounds. The fish are surgically implanted with radio transmitters, which emit signals that allow biologists to monitor seasonal movements of the fish and determine how they react to fishing pressure and noise from outboard engines, trolling motors and marine electronics.

Cockrell catches two

Blake Cockrell of Ransom Canyon joined an elite crowd when he landed two Legacy Class Toyota ShareLunkers during the same spawning season. Only six other anglers have duplicated the accomplishment in the program’s 34-year history.

Cockrell caught both of his ShareLunkers — 14.36 pounder and a 13.28 pounder — at Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock.

Outdoor Annual goes digital

Citing economic impacts of the coronavirus, printing of the 2020-21 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual was suspended.

Texas Monthly Magazine has published the paperback annual for decades using revenue from sponsors and advertisers. When those resources waned, the decision was made to create digital and electronic versions that can be accessed online or using a special app that does not require internet connectivity.

No decision has been made whether or not the print version will resume in Fall 2021, according to Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. In 2019, TM printed about 2.3 million copies the booklet at a cost of $384,674.00.

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

I don’t know how you’ll remember 2020, but I’ll always recall it as the year most of us had just as soon forget.

It’s been a stressful one, indeed, with far-reaching consequences and strains that have created an overwhelming sense of uncertainty unlike most of us have ever felt.

Navigating the last 11 months hasn’t been easy. Think of it like donning a blindfold on a really dark night and setting out down a country road riddled with deep potholes. The daunting feeling of knowing the bottom could drop out at any second has been unnerving.

Hellish as 2020 has been, the world kept on turning and the headlines kept on coming. Here’s a review of some of the top Texas outdoors stories to come down the pike during the year that ‘rona gripped America:

‘Rayburn’s Mega Sacks

Unprecedented “shelter in place” and “stay in place” orders issued last spring turned bass tournament schedules upside down on both the local and national levels, but not before a few anglers wrecked some all-time records on Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

On Feb. 15, Anthony Sharp of Village Mills was competing in a FLW Bass Fishing League derby when he weighed in a remarkable five-bass limit weighing 40 pounds, 6 ounces — an average of 8.12 per bass.

Sharp’s catch may be the biggest five-fish bag ever weighed during a tournament on Sam Rayburn by one angler. It’s the biggest single day, individual tournament limit reported from Texas waters since George Herr caught 40.45 on Toledo Bend in 2014.

One week later, big bass magic struck again. Danny Iles of Lufkin and Brian Shook of China weighed in an enormous five-bass limit weighing 49.31 pounds — a 9.8-pound average. The anglers were competing in a Texas Team Trail team event.

The catch ranks as the heaviest ever officially documented in an organized Texas team event and may be the heaviest 5-bass team tournament limit ever recorded on U.S. public waters. 

The record limit tops the former Texas team tournament weight record held by Bubba and Linda Haralson of Del Rio since March 2011. The Haralsons boated 47.29 pounds during an International Bass Challenge charity event at Lake Falcon.

“Hank” certified as state record mulie

In January, a magnificent mule deer buck taken by Greg Simons of San Angelo was certified as the biggest free-ranging Texas desert mule deer ever documented since the Texas Big Game Awards program began maintaining a registry of Texas big game harvests in 1991.

Simons’ buck, a 27 pointer, was taken during Nov. 2019 and officially scored after the antlers dried for 60 days. The Culberson County mulie grosses 295 4/8 B&C inches; 292 1/8 net.

It eclipses a 283 inch Reeves County whopper shot in 2003 by Damon Compton of Toyah as the TBGA state record non-typical.

MLD fees ok’d

Also in January, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission authorized the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to begin levying fees on participants in the state’s Managed Lands Deer Permit Program. Since 1996, the voluntary program has been free of charge to those who qualify for enrollment.

Fees will range from $30-$300 depending on enrollment type. The new fee structure is expected to be implemented at the start of the MLDP springtime enrollment period ahead of the 2021-22 hunting season.

A chunk of the money generated by the fees will be used to hire additional staff needed to help administer the program, which offers some sweet perks to participating land managers and hunters. Among them are greater flexibility in managing deer herds by allowing for an extended hunting season and, in many cases, more lenient harvest quotas than those granted during the regular season framework under county-specific guidelines.

The MLDP program has witnessed such significant growth that it has outpaced the department’s current manpower and stressed its resources, according to white-tailed deer program leader Alan Cain.

The program included about 800 properties spanning roughly 3 million acres in during its first year. Today, it includes more 12,000 properties spanning more than 28 million acres.

Through it all the number of wildlife biologists charged with administering the program while still tending to other duties has remained stagnant. Thus the need to hire more staff.

“It all boils down supply and demand,” Cain said. “This has been a long time coming.”

Grandma’s Still Got It

Virginia Luce of Kennard didn’t shoot the biggest buck in Texas this season, but the story behind her Houston County 11 pointer captured a wealth of attention.

Luce, 80, shot the buck at 175 yards from her kitchen window as she made lunch for she and her 83-year-old husband, Myrl, who was relaxing in a living room recliner at the time. Luce’s buck has since been scored at 161 1/8 gross B&C for TBGA.

The lady hunter is a four-time cancer survivor and recently retired registered nurse who takes her deer hunting way more seriously than most her age. Luce is no longer able to visit the box blind she hunted for years on their 80-acre spread, but claims she still manages to kill a buck every season.

“I do all my hunting from the house now,” she said. “My kitchen is my deer stand. We take the screen off one of the windows every fall. I can see a pretty good ways from there.”

Dallas Morning News assistant sports editor Damon Marx said the story grabbed the attention of more than 400,000 DMN readers and eventually cracked the newspaper’s Top 20 viewed stories of the year. The story was also featured the ESPN’s Hillbilly Headlines hosted by Marty and McGee.

Wendlandt wins AOY title

In November, Clark Wendlandt of Leander nailed down the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year title. Based on consistency, the AOY title goes to the angler who accumulates the most points after a long season of qualifying events.

AOY is considered to the league’s most prestigious award. It goes to the angler who wins the year, not just a single event, according to BASS. The award is great bait for attracting sponsors. It comes with a $100,000 bonus.

Wendlandt, 54, won the FLW Tour AOY title three times during a 22-year run with that circuit. He joins Kevin VanDam, Denny Brauer, Greg Hackney and Jay Yelas on a short list of anglers who have won the AOY title in both circuits. In 2000, Wendlandt’s picture appeared on the cover of millions of Kellogg’s brand cereal boxes. 

Fishing license sales soar

Fishing was declared a safe form of recreation by state and county governments during in the height of the coronavirus scare. Likewise, many folks who don’t normally fish took advantage of idle time off from work to wet a hook.

The increase in fishing traffic was clearly reflected by a significant spike in Texas fishing license sales recorded by license vendors last spring.

According to TPWD, 418,259 people bought a Texas fishing license between March 11 and May 20 of 2020. There were were 336,019 fishing licenses sold during the same time period in 2019. The figures represent an increase of 82,240 licenses sold.

The increase in sales resulted in a significant bump in revenue for the department. License revenue for March 11 and May 20, 2020, was up more than $5.6 million over 2019.

Flounder reg shake up

Citing a downward spiral in flounder populations reflected by varied sampling methods, the TPW Commission last May approved a staff proposal to increase the minimum length limit on the popular flatfish from 14 inches to 15 inches, beginning Sept. 1, 2020.

The Commission also approved a closure to flounder fishing from Nov. 1- Dec. 15, the heart of the fall flounder run. However, the six-week closure will not take effect until 2021, a year-long delay from the date originally proposed by TPWD coastal fisheries staff.

The decision to delay the season closure was based on the economic impacts and hardships many fishing guides and bait shops have already experienced due the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Robin Riechers, TPWD’s chief of coastal fisheries.

‘Classic coming to Texas

Last May, Alabama-based Bassmaster announced the 2021 Bassmaster Classic is coming to Texas. Often dubbed the Super Bowl of professional fishing, the ‘Classic is considered the sport’s premier event.

The tournament will be held March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts near Denton with daily weigh-ins set for Dickies Arena in downtown Fort Worth. The Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo, featuring more than 200 vendors, will be held at Will Rogers Memorial Center.

The host city and surrounding area always experience an economic windfall when a Bassmaster Classic comes town. According to BASS, the 2020 ‘Classic held on Lake Guntersville in Alabama had an economic impact of about $35.9 million for the Birmingham area.

Two previous ‘Classics have been held on Texas waters, Lake Texoma in 1979 and Lake Conroe in 2017.

TPWD bass tracking study 

Last spring, TPWD fisheries scientists Todd Driscoll and Jake Norman launched an intensive bass tracking study on Toledo Bend and Lake Fork aimed at unraveling some of the mysteries of bass behavior on the East Texas reservoirs.

The two-year research study is built around three dozen bass ranging from 14 inches to 8 pounds. The fish are surgically implanted with radio transmitters, which emit signals that allow biologists to monitor seasonal movements of the fish and determine how they react to fishing pressure and noise from outboard engines, trolling motors and marine electronics.

Cockrell catches two

Blake Cockrell of Ransom Canyon joined an elite crowd when he landed two Legacy Class Toyota ShareLunkers during the same spawning season. Only six other anglers have duplicated the accomplishment in the program’s 34-year history.

Cockrell caught both of his ShareLunkers — 14.36 pounder and a 13.28 pounder — at Lake Alan Henry near Lubbock.

Outdoor Annual goes digital

Citing economic impacts of the coronavirus, printing of the 2020-21 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Outdoor Annual was suspended.

Texas Monthly Magazine has published the paperback annual for decades using revenue from sponsors and advertisers. When those resources waned, the decision was made to create digital and electronic versions that can be accessed online or using a special app that does not require internet connectivity.

No decision has been made whether or not the print version will resume in Fall 2021, according to Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. In 2019, TM printed about 2.3 million copies the booklet at a cost of $384,674.00.

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

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