Whoppers! March was a rich month for tournament caught ShareLunkers

James Evans of Whitehouse was competing in a local team tournament on Lake Tyler East on March 20 when he boated a whopper 15.44 pounder. The fish is a new lake record and the first Legacy reported from the 2,300-acre reservoir.

By Matt Williams

Outdoors Writer

 More than 1,700 amateur anglers anted up to cast for cash in the 2021 Bass Champs Mega Bass event held March 28 on Lake Fork, but only a handful of them found the big ones biting. Nine bass at the top end of the lake’s 16-24 inch slot limit were brought to the scales.

 It’s called Mega Bass for a reason.

 Each hour, Bass Champs paid back more than $20,000 for the 12 biggest bass brought to the scales. The angler who reeled in the heaviest fish each hour earned $15,000.

 Tanner Spurgin of McKinney boated the tournament’s biggest bass overall and claimed the derby’s richest prize - a Skeeter ZX200 bass boat, plus $15,000 cash.

 Spurgin’s bass is noteworthy for several reasons.

 The fish is a lifetime catch for the 29-year-old Richardson firefighter. Bass Champs weighed the whopper at 15.47 pounds.

 It’s the heaviest bass reported from Lake Fork since March 2018 and the second largest fish ever brought to the scales in a Bass Champs event, according to circuit founder Chad Potts of Haslet.

 The Lake Fork giant put an exclamation point on the Toyota ShareLunker program’s 35th collection season, which ended March 31. It was the fifth Legacy-class fish upwards of 15 pounds turned over to Texas Parks and Wildlife’s spawning and genetics research program in what turned out to be a remarkable year.

 The program received 23 Legacy entries from 10 different lakes this season. Legacy lunkers are ShareLunkers weighing 13 pounds or more that are caught between Jan. 1 and March 31. Five of the fish turned are new water body records for lakes Coleman, O.H. Ivie, Travis, Tyler-East, Palestine and Eagle Mountain.

 At 15.47 pounds, Spurgin’s Lake Fork bass should rank as the No. 49 Texas bass of all-time, but it doesn’t. Potts says Bass Champs does not deduct the weight of the plastic weigh-in bag from the actual weight of the fish.

 TPWD reweighed the fish on certified scales for official entry to the Toyota ShareLunker program. Minus the bag, Spurgin’s bass weighed 15.27 pounds. A 15.45 pounder holds down the No. 50 spot on the Texas Top 50 list.

Monster on a Bed

 There is usually a good story behind every Legacy lunker. Spurgin’s is a springtime dandy.

 The angler fished tournament in the company of two close friends, Tyler Holmes of Richardson and Weston White of Farmersville.

 The angler arrived at the lake two days before the tournament to scout for productive fishing areas. With water temperatures warming into 60s, he spent some time looking for spawning beds visible in shallow water. He located several beds and marked the locations on GPS so he could return when the tournament got underway.

 Male bass make beds by using their tails to fan away debris to create clean spots on bottom where females deposit their eggs. Beds may be 1-4 feet in diameter and can sometimes be detected in clear water from a considerable distance on a sunny, still day. When the timing is right, males pair with females to create another generation of bass for anglers to catch.

 Spurgin said he spotted what looked to be a 5-6 pound fish around one of the beds at about 8 a.m. on tournament day. He said he was certain it was a slot fish that wasn’t legal to weigh-in, but decided to fish for it anyway.

 The idea in bed fishing, sometimes called sight fishing, is to agitate the bass into biting by making it think an artificial bait is an intruder attempting to steal its eggs. Sight fishermen frequently use soft plastics or jigs in bright colors like white or pink, because they are easy to see beneath the surface.  

 Spurgin said he pitched a white V&M J-Bug creature bait to the bed in about 3-4 feet of water and fish attacked. He hooked the bass, but lost it before getting it to the boat. Spurgin immediately pitched the bait back to the bed and something much bigger gobbled it up.

 “It was most definitely chaos,” he said. “The fish surged, ran under the boat and jumped on the opposite side. I kept waiting for my line or rod to break, but luckily everything worked out and my buddy was able to get a net under it. It seemed like it took several minutes but it was more like 30 seconds.”

 Spurgin’s friends played dirty trick on him at that point. They weighed the fish but refused to reveal the reading on the digital scales.

 “I guess they thought it might jack with me driving the boat back to weigh-in if I knew,” he said. “All I knew is it was huge. I’ve caught 10 pounders before, but this was in a whole different class. To catch a fish like this in a tournament made it even more special.”

Lake Tyler, Eagle Mountain Whoppers

 James Crawford of Whitehouse and Donnie Moore of Rhome know how it feels to reel in a big one when there is money on the line.

 Crawford was competing in a local company team tournament on Lake Tyler East when he made a lucky stop on a spot that produced a bite that most anglers only dream about getting.

 Crawford called the stop “lucky” because he had no intention of fishing there when he and is partner, Chuck McDonald, also of Whitehouse, launched their boat on the morning of March 20.

 “I had originally planned on starting a the north end of the lake, but it was foggy and I didn’t feel comfortable making the run,” he said. “I pulled up on a windy point to make a few casts while the sun burned off the fog. Luckily, I made that stop, because I caught this fish on the third cast.”

 The bass was far from ordinary. Weighing 15.44 pounds, it’s a new lake record and the first Legacy lunker ever reported from the 2,300-acre East Texas reservoir.

 Evans said he knew from the get-go the fish was a giant. It bit a jig in about 2-3 feet of water.

 “As soon as I set the hook I knew it was going to get interesting for a little while,” he said. “It felt like   a stump at first, because it was solid and didn’t move. Then it took off. I wasn’t sure if it was a big bass or a big catfish until she came up and shook her head.”

 Moore experienced some tournament magic of his own on the evening of March 23, when he and several other anglers gathered for a Tuesday night event on 8,700-acre Eagle Mountain Lake north of Ft. Worth.

 The anglers got on the water late in the day, but there was still enough sunlight for Moore to spot a few spawning beds in shallow water before it got too dark to see. He made fast work of a six pounder before stumbling across a much larger female a little farther down the shoreline in two feet of water.  According to a TPWD news release, the angler originally thought the fish might weigh close to 10 pounds. He said he could tell by the way the bass was positioned around the spawning bed that he had a good chance of getting it to bite.

 “I flipped on her three times with a white Zoom Speed Craw and she smoked it,” Moore told TPWD.

 Turns out Moore underestimated the weight of the big bass by significant margin. The fish weighed 13.08 on certified scales. The new lake record is the biggest bass reported from Eagle Mountain in nearly 18 years and its first Legacy lunker.

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