Time flies when you’re having fun. It’s been a real pleasure keeping tabs on the heartbeat of Texas bass fishing for more than three decades now. Perhaps the biggest highlight has been seeing the dreams of so many anglers come true, thanks in large part to the efforts and tenacity of the late Bob Kemp.
Kemp headed up the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s inland fisheries division in the 1960s and early 1970s. He died in December 1986, but his legacy lives on in chapters of Texas big bass lore that continue to unfold.
Kemp was a visionary who had a heavy hand in making Texas bass fishing the monster it is today. The way the story goes, he went against the grain to help push the process along.
It started with a hunch that Florida-strain bass would get fat and sassy in the mild Texas climate. With a wealth of big, new lakes being constructed around the state at the time, Kemp saw a grand opportunity to take Texas bass fishing to the next level by introducing fish genetically programmed to grow significantly faster, and larger, than the northern largemouths that had been produced in state hatcheries for years.
Kemp approached his bosses multiple times about buying some fish to experiment with, but they refused to cough up the dough. Eventually, he placed the order himself and reportedly paid the tab from his own pocket.
The fingerlings were flown to Texas in 1971 and subsequently stocked in growing ponds at the now defunct Tyler Fish Hatchery. There, the little bass grew to become future brooders that would eventually change the scope of Texas bass fishing forever.
There has been lots of fishy business since the first stocking of Florida bass went into Lake Murvaul in 1972. Among other things, several top-notch fish hatcheries have been erected that together produce around 7 million to 8 million Florida bass offspring for stocking in dozens of Texas reservoirs each year.
And those fish have done amazingly well under management regulations brainstormed by Kemp’s crafty successors. Today, more than 90 Texas impoundments boast lake records upward of 13 pounds, according to Natalie Goldstrohm, who heads up TPWD’s Angler Recognition Program.
Craig Bonds is TPWD’s fifth inland fisheries chief since Kemp retired in the mid-1980s. Bonds said he can’t imagine what Texas bass fishing would be like without Florida bass.
“The fishing would still be good, but we wouldn’t have the five-fish, 30-pound limits showing up at different lakes like we have today,” he said. “And our Top 50 largemouth bass list would look markedly different, too. Every fish on the list has some level of Florida influence.”
The current Top 50 begins with an 18.18-pounder and ends with a 15.45-pounder. Only one of them was caught before 1986.
Texas has not seen a new state record in nearly three decades. Jan. 24 will mark the 30th anniversary of Texas’ biggest bass of all time. Barry St. Clair of Athens was crappie fishing with friends near the Lake Fork dam on that fateful winter day when the 25.5-inch lunker inhaled his live shiner.
Nothing against St. Clair. He is a really good guy, but it is high time that Texas’ most hallowed freshwater fishing record find a new owner. Records are made to be broken, and this one has been gathering dust way too long.
Here are some lakes that could do the dirty work:
Size: 19,000 acres
Lake Record: 16.40 pounds
O.H. Ivie near San Angelo is arguabIy the class favorite.
Ivie was the leading producer of Legacy Lunkers for the Toyota Sharelunker program last year with 12 entries, including six 13-pounders, four 14-pounders, a 15-pounder and a 16.40-pounder. The West Texas lake is on track for another banner year. It kicked out a 15.10-pounder in December then followed up with a pair of January Legacy Lunkers weighing 14.48 pounds and 14.92 pounds. Lakeside marinas have reported several other bass weighing between 12-13 pounds in recent weeks.
TPWD fisheries biologist Lynn Wright of San Angelo says he won’t be surprised if the lake produces a record-class bass any day.
“I think the chances are as good here as anywhere else,” he said. “With the number of 15- and 14-pounders it has produced since last spring I think it very possible there is a new state record out there. We just need the right angler to find it and put it in the boat.”
Size: 27,000 acres
Lake Record: 18.18 pounds
Lake Fork isn’t the big bass factory it once was, but it can’t be ruled out as a state record contender.
The lake has produced seven of the state’s top 10 bass, 30 of the top 50 and 264 Toyota Legacy ShareLunkers since 1986. Its most recent top 50 entry was a 15.48-pounder in March 2018. Fork produced a pair of Legacy ShareLunkers in 2021, including a 15.27-pounder last March that was subsequently released back into the lake.
Size: 692 acres
Lake Record: 14.12 pounds
First opened to fishing in September 2012, 692-acre Naconiche has been managed for trophy bass from the get-go with abundant Florida bass stockings, including hundreds of retired hatchery brood fish and thousands of ShareLunker offspring. The lake has a 16-inch maximum length limit to protect big ones, a bounty of forage to keep them plump and a jungle of great habitat where they can thrive.
Naconiche produced a lake record 14.16-pounder in July 2016. Surprisingly, it has yielded only one Legacy lunker, a 13.06-pounder, in 2017. Fisheries biologists are predicting a big bass explosion in the near future as more year classes come of age and reach trophy size.
Size: 2,880 acres
Lake Record: 15.00 pounds
Too much big bass history here to count Alan Henry out. The 2,880-acre West Texas gem is tied with Sam Rayburn as the state’s third leading producer of Legacy Lunkers (29) behind O.H. Ivie and Lake Fork. It was the state’s hottest lake for whoppers in 2005-06 with 18 Legacy Lunkers, including the current lake record of 15 pounds.
Henry’s most recent bruisers came in 2020 when it produced a pair of Legacy class fish for the same angler less than a month apart, the heaviest weighing 14.36 pounds.
Size: 114,500 acres
Lake Record: 16.80 pounds
Well known as one of the country’s top tournament lakes, Sam Rayburn is a massive reservoir with a strong Florida bass influence, abundant forage base and historically great habitat that lends to outstanding annual recruitment. Plenty of fat fish have been reeled in, including 29 Legacy Lunkers ranging from 13 pounds to 14.32 pounds.
Several tournament anglers have lived big bass nirvana on Rayburn in recent times, including a trio of single day tournament catches topping the 40-pound mark on five fish. The most remarkable belongs to Danny Iles and Brian Shook, who weighed in 49.31 pounds during a Texas Team Trail event in February 2020. It may be the heaviest limit of bass ever documented in an organized team tournament on U.S. public waters.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas’ top 25 largemouth bass
|1.||Lake Fork||18.18||1/24/1992||Barry St. Clair|
|2.||Lake Fork||17.67||11/26/1986||Mark Stevenson|
|3.||Lake Fork||17.64||4/1/1989||Stan Moss|
|4.||Lake Fork||17.63||8/29/1990||Jerry L. New|
|5.||Lake Fork||17.29||2/14/1988||Larry Barnes|
|6.||Lake Fork||17.08||2/26/1991||Troy Coates|
|8.||Lake Fork||16.89||2/08/1993||Bryan Turner|
|9.||Sam Rayburn||16.8||5/31/1997||Tommy Shelton|
|10.||Mill Creek||16.77||3/1/1990||Herchel Brickey|
|11.||Lake Fork||16.75||3/8/1990||Stephen R. Trepkus|
|12.||Lake Fork||16.63||2/28/1999||Flo O’Brain|
|13.||Lake Fork||16.59||5/15/1987||Guy Witherspoon|
|14||Lake Fork||16.54||2/27/1991||Bill Reed|
|15.||Lake Fork||16.44||3/10/1996||Chris Adams|
|16.||O.H. Ivie||16.40||2/19/21||Joe McKay|
|18.||Gibbons Creek||16.13||1/15/1988||Troy Johnson|
|19.||Lake Fork||16.12||3/22/2002||Jim Harrell|
|20.||O. H. Ivie||16.08||4/30/2010||Jerry Bales|
|22.||Lake Fork||16.06||3/9/1988||Tom Hallum|
|23.||Lake Fork||16.04||2/2/2013||Richard Scibek|
|23.||Lake Fork||16.04||2/29/1992||Gasper J. Cardinale|
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Original Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/other-sports/2022/01/22/1970s-florida-imports-make-texas-bass-heaven/
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