Forty years ago, in the January 1982 issue of Bassmaster, writer Mark McDonald explored the rise of a group of Texas trophy bass hunters – a clique of ultra-patient anglers who focused on a small group of lakes during the pre-spawn period.
The group included John Alexander of Dallas, who caught the two biggest largemouths weighed in the Lone Star state. They included the then state record 15-08, as well another over 14. He had a third that weighed nearly 13 pounds, good enough for 9th best. All three came from private Echo Lake, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. McDonald also mentioned others like Jeff Parker, Gaylan Wooldridge and Jim Kimbell, all in the top ten, as well as Bob Garcia, who was not.
Here were the top-ten bass in Texas history as of the date of publication:
|H. R. Magee|
Clearly, McDonald and those he profiled expected Alexander’s 1981 record to fall shortly. The only question was, where it would come from. Echo and Lake Monticello, an 1,800 acre impoundment, were thought to be the best bets. Calaveras, which had produced one of the top ten, was another nominee.
“From there, lunker bass fishing gets into conjecture and rumors, neither of which require state-certified meat scales,” he wrote. “The regulars say, outside Texas’ big three, hottest prospects for a 10-pound trophy bass are Lake Welch, located near Monitcello in the northeast, and Lake Braunig, near San Antonio. Both boast relatively new Florida bass stocking programs with fish growing at a rate of 3 pounds per year.”
Indeed, he was correct that the Florida bass stocking programs would play a key role in the state’s big bass boom. He just didn’t predict the right lakes. Given the hype around them, you might think that the triumvirate of Falcon, Amistad and Choke Canyon would dominate today’s top ten, but an examination of the list shows that they’ve produced only four of the state’s top 50 to date, and none in the top 30.
Indeed, the true story here lies in Lake Fork. In that respect, you can’t blame McDonald for not fully predicting the future. After all, Fork wasn’t impounded until 1980 and didn’t reach full pool until 1995. Here’s today’s top ten:
|Barry St. Clair|
|NOTE: There are some fish on this list that do not show up on the TPWD ShareLunker list due to them being caught out of the ShareLunker Season. When ShareLunker started, there was a season that did not last the entire year. Therefore, fish caught "out of season" did not make the overall ShareLunker list. Also, there are recent fish that have not been entered into this list at this time due to the lack of resources from COVID-19.|
Not only is Fork responsible for the top six and seven of the top 10, but it also produced 13 of the current top 20 and 32 of the best 50. Notably, Alexander’s fish is only good enough for 46th place on the list, and none of the other top ten from 1982 make the top 50 (the current cut-off is 15.45 pounds). Click here to see the list.
The list also seems to indicate that Fork peaked a little over 20 years ago, although the numbers may reflect intensity of fishing pressure as much as biology. Twenty of the top 50 fish on the current list came from Fork between 1988 and 1992. In the last 15 years, Fork has produced six more fish on the list, although only one of them came after 2006 and none cracked the top ten overall.
As McDonald indicated, Bob Kemp of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spearheaded the effort to bring Florida-strain bass to Texas. This, of course, ran against the grain of popular piscatorial thought in those days, but Kemp believed in Floridas enough to secretly ask a fisheries friend in Florida for a shipment of fingerlings and had them shipped, at his own expense, to Dallas. Subsequently, in the mid-80s, the state started a program called “Operation Share a Lone Star Lunker,” which eventually transformed into today’s “ShareLunker” program. The program allows anglers who’ve landed 13-pound plus bass to donate them to the state breeding program. To date, there have been over 600 entries.
Looking at the lists and McDonald’s article, a couple of things seem noteworthy. First, all of the bass on the earlier list were caught in December, January or February – the pre-spawn – as you might expect. But if you look at the latter list, only seven or eight were caught in the period that could be characterized as pre-spawn or prime spawning time. One was caught in November, and one was caught in August. Jerry New’s fourth-place fish was caught in the heat of summer and weighed 0.55-pounds less than Barry St. Clair’s fish. If he had caught it six months later might it have eclipsed the state record?
Second, the article mentions a Mr. Joe Axton of Dallas, but only identifies him as “a friend of (Alexander’s) from Dallas” who owned a piece of property on Echo Lake. Axton later created Axton’s Bass City at Lake Fork, the marina out of which Takahiro Omori guided. Clearly he had a nose for big bass and the places they live, having followed the action over the course of 30 years.
As a curious historical footnote, at the time of McDonald’s article, Texas and Massachusetts had the same size state record largemouth.
Since this article was first published nearly a decade ago, the top ten hasn’t been altered, but the Texas fishing landscape has changed substantially, partially portending some future changes at the top. In early 2021, Lake OH Ivie near San Angelo went on a trophy tear reminiscent of that experienced at some of the SoCal lakes in the late 80s and early 90s. Ivie had already been on the Texas “Top 50” list with a 16.08 weighed in by Jerry Bales in 2010, and knowledgeable locals knew of its potential, but a long period of ultra-low water made access difficult. Then a perfect storm came together – water inundated all of that fertile landscape at the same time that forward-facing sonar reached maturity in the bass world.
Over a course of just a few weeks, Ivie produced ten ShareLunkers, including five between February 19th and 25th. Included in that latter group was a 16.40 beast caught by JoeMcKay of Iowa while fishing with YouTube star Ben Milliken. That bass not only set a new lake record, but marked the heaviest largemouth caught in the Lone Star state since 1999. Most or all of the fish were caught “hunting” individual giants with forward-facing sonar like Garmin LiveScope and them tempting them with umbrella rigs or swimbaits.
Adding to the excitement, during that same time period several anglers caught what appeared to be a new lake record smallmouth using the same techniques – starting with a 6.25 pounder, then a 6.6 pounder by Milliken and a 6.8 from tournament pro and industry personality Luke Dunkin. On March 1, guide Wyatt Frankens caught a 7.60, which was later certified as a world record largemouth/smallmouth hybrid, sometimes called a “meanmouth.”
Certainly there will be masses of anglers at Ivie this winter, and in subsequent winters, just as they crowded ramps and parking lots last spring. Will it produce a new entry into the Top 10, or is some other lake perhaps poised to pop out a giant? Texas manages bass exceptionally well, with a focus on genetics, and while there’s been a long draught at the 17-and-above mark, hope springs eternal.