T.J. Nissen of Austin holds the new record for Lake Austin after catching a 16.03-pound bass late in the day on January 27.

Nissen was fishing in four to five feet of 49-degree water when the fish took his crankbait. The fish is 28.25 inches long and 21.75 inches in girth. Only three other fish entered into the Toyota ShareLunker program have been that long.

Lake Austin is traditionally drawn down in January so lakeside property owners can do maintenance work on docks and bulkheads and to expose aquatic vegetation to freezing temperatures as a control measure. That poses a problem for anglers, since all the boat ramps are out of the water and unusable.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. “The only way you can get in is with a kayak or a V-bottom boat or a flat-bottom boat,” Nissen said. “We bought one a couple of years ago specifically for this.”

Forethought paid off with a new lake record largemouth bass that ranks No. 22 on the list of 50 biggest bass caught in Texas. “I threw a big crankbait up under a dock, and she hammered it on about the third crank,” Nissen said. “It made a bunch of runs and shook its head three times. We didn’t have a net, but luckily I had a partner in the boat who was willing to take as many treble hooks in the hand as he had to to get her in the boat. Once we got her in the boat, we just stood there and stared, wondering what to do next.”

The small boat did not have a livewell, but Nissen had the next best thing: Friends who were willing to do whatever it took to keep the big fish alive. “I started calling friends and saying, ‘We need some help. We need an ice chest and an aerator.’ All my buddies came through, and my wife came down and brought us pizza while we waited for [Texas Parks and Wildlife Department] to show up. It was fantastic.”

In the 25-year history of the ShareLunker program, only 19 fish entered into the program (including Nissen’s) have weighed 16 pounds or more. [Nissen’s fish ranks No. 22 on the Top 50 list because some of the fish on that list were not entered into the ShareLunker program.] Only five of the 19 [including Nissen’s] were caught before the end of January, and three of those catches came during the month of January. The most recent was the current state record of 18.18 caught by Barry St. Clair January 24, 1992.

Three 16-pound-plus fish have been caught in the last 10 months, and that fact is causing some raised eyebrows among Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologists. A 16-pound fish could easily top 18 pounds when the eggs it is carrying are fully mature, and that process is just getting under way as water temperatures warm and days grow longer. “Will we see a new state record caught this year? I wonder,” said ShareLunker program manager David Campbell.

Anyone legally catching a 13-pound or bigger largemouth bass from Texas waters, public or private, between October 1 and April 30 may submit the fish to the Toyota ShareLunker program by calling program manager David Campbell at (903) 681-0550 or paging him at (888) 784-0600 and leaving a phone number including area code. Fish will be picked up by TPWD personnel within 12 hours.

Anglers entering fish into the Toyota ShareLunker program receive a free replica of their fish, a certificate and ShareLunker clothing and are recognized at a banquet at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

For complete information and rules of the ShareLunker program, tips on caring for big bass and a recap of last year’s season, see www.tpwd.state.tx.us/sharelunker. The site also includes a searchable database of all fish entered into the program along with pictures where available.

Information on current catches, including short videos of interviews with anglers when available, is posted on www.facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram.

The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible by a grant to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation from Gulf States Toyota. Toyota is a long-time supporter of the Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.

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