Recycled Lunkers

Recycled Lunkers

Tagging efforts help identify big bass that keep right on giving.

Story and photography by Matt Williams


Not every fish that is released after the catch lives to fight another day, but many of them do. A few turn out to be really busy bees that keep right on giving.

One of the overachievers surfaced earlier this year at Lake O.H. Ivie near Voss.

On February 24, Nolan Sprengeler of Plymouth, Minnesota reeled in a whopper largemouth that weighed 13.89 pounds. Sprengeler subsequently put the fish on loan to Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Toyota ShareLunker program headquartered at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens.

TFFC hatchery manager and veteran ShareLunker caretaker Tony Owens made an interesting discovery while evaluating the fish the following morning. The biologist learned it wasn’t the big bass’ first trip to the TFFC. He knew that because fish had previously been fitted with a Passive Intergraded Transponder, commonly called PIT tag.

The tiny tags are implanted inside fish using a needle. PIT tags do not require power to operate, so they last for the lifetime of the fish. The tags have an internal microchip that is activated when it passes close to a special wand or antenna. Each tag carries a number specific to that tag.

The PIT tag inside Sprengeler’s fish identified it as the same Toyota ShareLunker bass Jim Smith of Weatherford caught at O.H. Ivie in March 2021. The fish weighed 14.22 pounds when Smith caught it two years ago. That’s when the PIT tag was originally installed.

Using the PIT tag data, Owens also was able to determine the bass was a pure Florida that was a productive spawner during its last visit to the TFFC. He said the bass produced about 17,000 fry for restocking in ‘Ivie and other Texas lakes in 2021.

A portion of the fry were also retained for use in rebuilding the state’s Florida bass hatchery program entirely with offspring from bass weighing 13 pounds or more. TPWD dubs the fish as “Lone Star Bass,” but in reality they are Florida bass that are direct descendants of fish with serious weight problems.

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