Montana Hand No. 617
ShareLunker Program Enjoys Back-to-Back Double Lunker Weekend
ATHENS – Anglers in Texas reeled in two more Legacy Class largemouth bass for the second consecutive weekend. The Possum Kingdom kicked things off Friday afternoon, Feb. 18, with its third Legacy Lunker of the 2022 Toyota ShareLunker season after securing the first two a weekend ago. Houston County Lake then followed suit Saturday afternoon, Feb. 19, with its first Legacy Class fish since 1990 and in the process became the second consecutive waterbody to record a Legacy fish after a lengthy absence.
The two anglers who made their catches of a lifetime over the weekend were Montana Hand and Jonney Smoldas. Hand, who hails from Weatherford, Texas, landed 13.06-pound ShareLunker 617 at the Possum Kingdom after the fishery picked up its first Legacy Lunker since 1991 last weekend. Smoldas, also from Crockett, Texas, reeled in 13.34-pound ShareLunker 618 Saturday to get Houston County back on the board in the program.
Hand ran late getting to the lake and couldn’t get the boat into the water until noon. He had told numerous friends that the Possum Kingdom was about to heat up, which indeed turned out to be the case with three Legacy Lunkers in the past week. Once Hand was on the water, he immediately began fishing a couple of spots where he had some previous success catching five to six-pounders but didn’t have any luck.
“I decided to make a move to where I remember seeing some beds with some really healthy fish last March-April,” said Hand. “I started in the inside of the point, working my way out, and I caught my second two-pounder of the day. Not more than five minutes after that, I landed my personal best for the year at 8.22-pounds, but little did I know what was about to happen in the next 15 minutes.”
After celebrating his 8.22-pounder, he spotted two fish between a pair of rocks where he made a cast 15-20 feet past that spot. Hand brought his A-rig right above, and the fish smashed it. The fight lasted for a good while, and Hand did not have a net to aid in the catch. After fighting with her, he said she came to the top of the water, rolled over, and let him grab her.
“Putting your hands on something built like that is beyond words, and I still haven’t grasped it just yet, added Hand. “I’ve only been in this bass fishing game for two years and accomplished something that bass fishermen dream of. I have devoted everything I have to this sport and take what I have learned from being a professional bull rider’s mental attitude and put it to bass fishing. I am super blessed to be a part of the ShareLunker program and donate “Lorie Darlin” to better Texas fisheries.”
Jonney Smoldas No. 618
Meanwhile, over at Houston County Lake, Smoldas headed to an area he found about four years ago that produced many eight-to-ten-pound-bass. He always had in the back of his mind he would hold a more prominent bass, and Saturday, Feb. 19, proved to be the day.
“I was cranking a Strike King 10xd chartreuse/blue bait, and when I hooked her, she fought like a normal eight-to-ten-pounder,” said Smoldas. “The biggest problem was avoiding the oversized trebles in the bottom lip because I never use a net. After my scales topped 13-pounds, I weighed her at the marina, and their scale showed over 13-pounds as well. Immediately after, I contacted Kyle Brookshear with the Toyota ShareLunker program and waited on the lake for TPWD personnel to arrive.”
“The whole experience with the Lunker crew was worth the while and made us feel good. My wife Tammy arrived before they did and videoed the process. It was a good feeling knowing the fish would live and help to produce bigger, better bass. The ShareLunker program is a way better option than taking the fish home or simply releasing the fish immediately back in the lake. In addition, I feel it was an early birthday present from my Dad, who passed in March of 2021. Thanks to everyone who made this the catch of a lifetime!”
Before Saturday, Dan Davis of Crockett, Texas, was the last angler to bring in a Legacy Lunker from Houston County Lake. Davis landed 13.25-pound ShareLunker 67 on Mar. 29, 1990, while earlier that year, Gary Moore from Watauga, Texas, caught 14.00-pound ShareLunker 55 on Feb. 22. However, Terry Walling of Tennessee Colony, Texas, still owns the waterbody record thanks to 15.19-pound ShareLunker 14, which he caught on Mar. 3, 1988. It was also the very first Legacy Lunker to come from Houston County.
“It’s very rewarding to see these lakes that have historically produced Legacy Class bass begin to produce them again,” said Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker Program Manager. “It takes a team effort to accomplish such a goal. Fish of this caliber continue to showcase the strong partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife, the anglers of Texas, and our private partners who collectively help make these achievements possible.”
Once they notified Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) Inland Fisheries biologists, they quickly got on the road to collect and transport ShareLunker 617 and 618 to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, where biologists are providing top-notch fish care. In addition, biologists plan to attempt to spawn her with a male offspring of a prior ShareLunker to make bigger, better bass to stock in and enhance fishing in Texas lakes.
During the first three months of the season (Jan. 1 through Mar. 31), anglers who reel in a 13+ pound bass can loan it to TPWD for the ShareLunker selective breeding and stocking program. In addition, these anglers can call the ShareLunker hotline at (903) 681-0550 to report their catch 24/7 until Apr. 1.
Anglers who catch and donate one of these 13+ lunkers earn Legacy Class status. In addition, they receive a catch kit filled with merchandise, a 13+ pound Legacy decal for their vehicle or boat, VIP access to the Toyota ShareLunker Annual Awards event, and a high-quality replica mount of their Lunker fish from Lake Fork Taxidermy. These anglers will also receive entries into two separate drawings – a Legacy Class Drawing and the year-end Grand Prize Drawing. Both will award the winner a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license.
The year-round Toyota ShareLunker program offers four levels of participation for catching bass over eight pounds or 24 inches in Texas. The 2022 season provides an opportunity to join the special club of premier anglers who have submitted a Legacy Class ShareLunker.
Anglers who enter data for any lunker they catch greater than eight pounds or 24 inches during the calendar year 2022 also receive a catch kit. It has a decal for their vehicle or boat and an entry into the year-end Grand Prize Drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and annual fishing license. ShareLunker entry classes include the Lunker Class (8lb+), Elite Class (10lb+), and Legend Class (13lb+).
Once a person reels in a lunker, anglers need to enter the catch data on the Toyota ShareLunker mobile app – available for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play – or on the Toyota ShareLunker online app at TexasSharelunker.com. In addition to providing basic catch information, anglers can also offer a DNA scale sample from their lunker bass to TPWD researchers for genetic analysis.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship of Toyota. Toyota is a longtime supporter of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and TPWD, providing significant funding for various fisheries, state parks, and wildlife projects.
Prize donors including Bass Pro Shops, Lake Fork Taxidermy, American Fishing Tackle Co., Stanley Jigs, and Sixth Sense Lures also support this program. For updates on the Toyota ShareLunker Program, visit facebook.com/sharelunkerprogram/ or TexasSharelunker.com.
For pictures of the Legacy Class ShareLunker’s caught during the 2022 season, visit the TPWD Flickr album https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzxNwz.