ATHENS – Monday afternoon marked an impressive start to the second month of the 2024 Toyota ShareLunker collection season, as three anglers at three separate lakes reeled in Legacy Class ShareLunkers. This extraordinary achievement, the 13th time in program history, highlighted an exceptional day in bass fishing. Notably, it was the first triple lunker day since 2021, demonstrating the exceptional quality of catches this season.
Leading the charge was angler Aaron Suess of Gardner, Kansas, who secured the day's first catch, ShareLunker 654, weighing 13.87 pounds at O.H. Ivie reservoir, located 40 miles east of San Angelo. Following closely was Alec Morrison of Peru, New York, with ShareLunker 655, weighing 13.82 pounds at Sam Rayburn. Rounding out the trio was Ben Milliken of New Caney, Texas, who landed ShareLunker 656, weighing 13.15 pounds from Lake Naconiche.
Milliken's remarkable catch marked the first Legacy Class entry from Lake Naconiche since 2017, underscoring the lake's potential for producing trophy-sized bass. With Monday's additions, the season's ShareLunker count doubled to six, solidifying O.H. Ivie's status at the forefront with three entries in 2024.
Natalie Goldstrohm, Toyota ShareLunker coordinator, expressed astonishment at the day's success, emphasizing the rarity of such occurrences. She highlighted the program's dedication to preserving and celebrating these remarkable fish, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of anglers and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Suess recounted his exhilarating experience at O.H. Ivie, where persistent efforts amid challenging conditions culminated in a once-in-a-lifetime catch. Morrison, amidst preparations for a Major League Fishing event, shared his disbelief at landing a fish of such magnitude, reaffirming his admiration for the ShareLunker program and its conservation efforts. Meanwhile, Milliken reflected on the significance of his catch, praising Texas' commitment to stocking premium genetics and fostering exceptional fishing opportunities statewide.
Anglers who reel in 13-plus pound bass have until March 31, 2024, to loan their catch to TPWD for the ShareLunker selective breeding and stocking program. Certified scales at designated weigh stations facilitate accurate weight verification, ensuring eligibility for Legacy Class status and associated rewards.
The Toyota ShareLunker program, sponsored by Toyota and supported by various partners, continues to inspire and engage anglers across Texas. Through its comprehensive initiatives and incentives, the program remains instrumental in conserving bass populations and promoting sustainable fishing practices.
“The fact that we got three today was pretty incredible,” said Natalie Goldstrohm, Toyota ShareLunker coordinator. “I’ve been a part of double ShareLunker days, and that’s what we thought we had when we left the hatchery. But, when we were on the road, we got the call about the third Legacy Class ShareLunker. There’s only a handful of these fish that are caught every year. Some days are special when the ShareLunkers are biting and you end up with more than one.”
Suess spent three days at O.H. Ivie, but due to high winds on the first two, fishing was severely limited. However, on Monday the wind died down and Suess was able to move around the lake and target key spots on the water.
“We got on the water about 8 a.m. and headed to an area I fished at last year,” said Suess. “I caught an 11.7-pound fish, and it was the first double-digit fish of my life, so I had to come back to try and eclipse that. I spotted her and threw a good cast her way with an umbrella rig tied to the line. She ate it and it was quite a battle from there to get her in the boat. I’m 51 years old, been fishing my whole life and this is something I may have seen in a dream, but for it to come true is unbelievable.”
Suess then made the call to the ShareLunker program to get the entry process started.
“Everyone with the ShareLunker program has been amazing and I didn’t know just how big of a deal this is,” added Suess. “Before I came down here, I saw a video of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center with the “Lunker Bunker” and Natalie (Goldstrohm) speaking about the program. I told my wife about it and said, ‘Look at what these people do for the fish and the anglers in the State of Texas.’ I’m highly impressed with the ShareLunker program, and this experience was amazing.”
Morrison was scouting some areas at Sam Rayburn on the first day of practice for the Major League Fishing (MLF) Invitational event that starts Friday. Morrison won the Toyota Series at Sam Rayburn last year, so he had some familiarity with the lake.
“I really didn’t catch that many fish today but was fortunate to get one of those big ones to bite,” said Morrison. “I didn’t think it was all that big when I initially hooked it, but figured it was at least in the 8- to 9-pound range. To my surprise, it didn’t fight all that hard and came up next to the boat. It also didn’t really jump at all during the fight but when I got my first glimpse of it up close, I knew it was at least 10 pounds. Once I had it in the boat, that’s when I realized I had a special fish in my hands.”
Morrison put the fish on the scale, and when it registered over 13 pounds he began the ShareLunker program entry process. He had reeled in a personal best 12.1-pound bass in Florida about a week ago that broke a previous personal best of 11 pounds. Little did Morrison know that Monday his personal best would be topped again and that the fish would be a Legacy Class ShareLunker.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of the ShareLunker program and everything that revolves around it,” added Morrison. “I’m a firm believer that these lakes are as good as they are due to the work of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the ShareLunker program. The program has always interested me and been something that I wanted to hopefully be a part of. I may never catch a fish of that size again, so it was really cool to participate in that whole process and see it firsthand. It was an awesome experience.”
Milliken positioned his boat in about 30 feet of water looking for fish to target at Lake Naconiche. He had just caught one a little over 10 pounds about 45 minutes before.
“I noticed the big ones were really starting to raise up out of the brush on the bottom of the lake,” said Milliken. “I was using a little 6th Sense juggle minnow on a 1/16-ounce jig head and dropped it down and led her by a long ways. Lucky enough, she came right up to it and ate it while I was twitching it in, so it was pretty awesome. I caught her using a spinning rod with a six-pound braid and six-pound flouro leader so it was a really light line. I fought it forever, but she came right up to the surface and when I saw her, I knew it was a giant one so I took my time and got her in. It was pretty exciting!”
Milliken had recently been at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center to tour the ShareLunker facility and conduct some seminars with Bass University.
“I got to see the ShareLunker we caught at O.H. Ivie three years ago,” added Millikin. “They kept the fish in the area and have bred a ton of other fish with it. It’s awesome and great that Texas puts a lot of value in stocking the best genetics throughout the state. We are seeing the results of that work.”
During the first three months of the season (Jan. 1 through March 31), anglers who reel in a 13-plus pound bass can loan it to TPWD for the ShareLunker selective breeding and stocking program. These anglers can call the ShareLunker hotline at (903) 681-0550 to report their catch 24/7 through March 31, 2024.
Anglers must weigh their potential Legacy Class fish on a certified scale. A list of official weigh stations can be found on the ShareLunker Official Weigh and Holding Stations website. Monday’s anglers utilized certified scales at Elm Creek Marina (ShareLunker 654), Tackle Addict (ShareLunker 655) and County Park at Lake Naconiche (ShareLunker 656).
Anglers who catch and loan one of these 13-plus pound lunkers earn Legacy Class status, receive a catch kit filled with merchandise, a 13lb+ Legacy decal for their vehicle or boat, VIP access to the Toyota ShareLunker Annual Awards event, a high-quality replica mount of their fish from Lake Fork Taxidermy, and Bass University will provide a swag pack and annual subscription. These anglers will also receive entries into two separate drawings – a Legacy Class Drawing and the year-end Grand Prize Drawing. Both drawings will award the winner a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree.
The year-round Toyota ShareLunker program offers four levels of participation for catching bass over eight pounds or 24 inches in Texas.
Anglers who enter data for any lunker they catch greater than eight pounds or 24 inches during the 2024 calendar year also receive a catch kit, a decal for their vehicle or boat, a one-month subscription to Bass University and an entry into the year-end Grand Prize Drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree. ShareLunker entry classes include the Bass Pro Shops Lunker Class (8 lb.+), Strike King Elite Class (10 lb.+), and Lew’s Legend Class (13 lb.+).