For 37 straight years, the Texas largemouth bass record was 13.5 pounds, but after the Florida largemouth bass was introduced in 1972, the record jumped all the way up to 18.18 pounds. Texas Parks and Wildlife has since established the Sharelunker Program, which conducts research and selectively breeds largemouth bass. The fish born in this program are stocked in lakes across the state, giving anglers the chance to catch bigger and better bass.
The Sharelunker Program aims to better understand largemouth bass as a species and selectively breed a larger strain of bass. In an effort to gather as much information as possible, Sharelunker relies on anglers to submit information when they land a big one. To incentivize angler participation, Sharelunker has established four levels of achievement with corresponding rewards. In order to collect the best fish for the breeding program, Sharelunker also asks anglers to donate their largemouth bass if it’s over 13 pounds.
Largemouth bass over eight pounds or 24 inches are considered a “Lunker” class fish—the smallest of the categories these giant fish can qualify for. Bass over 10 pounds are classified as “Elite", and 13+ pound behemoths are appropriately in the “Legend” class. In order to qualify for the fourth class, “Legacy”, anglers have to catch a largemouth over 13 pounds during the spawning months from January through March, and they must donate it to the program.
If you catch a fish that qualifies at any level, submit it to Sharelunker, and they will send you a “Sharelunker Catch Kit” that corresponds to the class of your bass. In addition, all anglers who submit their catch to the program are entered into a drawing for various prizes, including a $5,000 shopping spree. If you’re lucky enough to catch and donate a 13+ pound bass to the Sharelunker breeding program, you’ll also be entered into a drawing for a $5,000 shopping spree, VIP access to Bassmaster Texas Fest, and other prizes.
The Sharelunker Program is elaborate, and running a breeding program and giving away prizes requires a lot of funding. In order to cover the costs, Texas Parks and Wildlife has partnered up with sponsors that want to support conservation. In 2009, Toyota took over as the title sponsor for the Sharelunker Program (previously sponsored by Budweiser). Other companies have also stepped up as prize sponsors to help incentivize anglers to participate in the program.