Does X mark the spot for world class bass? – Austin American


— It is one of those slow motion bass jumps, the kind where the fish seems to struggle just to break free of the water and into the cold, afternoon air.

Actually, she is so bulky she can’t get completely airborne, but she shows enough of her chunky body to elicit a single profane, but highly descriptive, utterance from Allen Forshage.

“X@#%$,” Forshage sputters, almost throwing down his own rod and leaning his knees against the gunwale of the short bass boat. “That fish might weigh 10 pounds. Do NOT let her get away.”

Standing there with an excited, greedy grin on his face, Forshage waits for me to guide the fish toward the front of the boat, where he plans to snatch her up, give her a quick exam and release her.

She has other ideas, executing a swift 180, running away from Forshage and then another hard turn back under the boat.

I can feel the line sawing slighting against the hull as the old girl works to free herself, so I point the rod tip as far from the boat as possible and strain to lead the fish back into the open.

Completely focused, Forshage provides a torrent of directives and play-by-play comments. “Watch it! Keep her head up! Don’t lose her! She’s barely hooked! She’s going to jump! These fish are so strong …”

I’m certain he has no idea that he is saying anything.

We are just northeast of Fairfield, fishing on a little-known, restricted-access, 125-acre body of water called Lake X. This is an experimental lake that Texas Parks and Wildlife freshwater fisheries staff created in 2005 with the help of a corporate partner that supplied the land and the water and, in the beginning, some technical support.

Here, state biologists are trying to breed world record-class largemouth bass.

“The reason for the contract lake is to have a protected fishery where we can follow the long-term growth of these fish,” Forshage says. “We are interested in increasing the maximum size of largemouth bass in Texas waters, which takes 10 to 15 years.”

The fish that are caught there are used to compare growth rates of fish in the state’s Operation World Record program and other hatchery-reared largemouth bass. Forshage takes fin clips for DNA studies, measures and weighs any fish of 6 pounds or more. He’s busy today. We land 55 bass.

And we’re not alone. There are two other boats on the lake. When we compare notes at the end of the afternoon, we have landed more than 160 fish, all of them healthy specimens of the largemouth persuasion.

Nobody is impressed by the number, because this is not a numbers exercise. Forshage wants to find out if these fish are growing faster and bigger than usual and whether they can be used to develop even better stocks of largemouths.

For seven years now, Forshage, chief of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, has been stocking this lake with the offspring from a selective breeding program that focuses on developing really large bass, 20 pound-plus bass. The world record is in excess of 22 pounds.

To date, nothing has come close. The state-record fish — 18.18 pounds — was caught 20 years ago in Lake Fork. There are 63 public and more than a dozen private lakes that have produced a largemouth weighing at least 13 pounds.

So the experimentation continues here.

It was one of those experimental fish that bit a 10-inch Rage Tail Anaconda in 8 feet of water and initiated the shuffle aboard Forshage’s small bass boat.

Coaching me start to finish, Forshage finally gets a thumb and forefinger in the big female’s mouth and hoists her into the boat. He puts her on the scale, which reads a healthy 8.25 pounds. A quick test suggests she was likely stocked here as a fingerling in the fall of 2005.

As he returns her to the water, Forshage says he thinks final tests will show she was spawned by a Lake Fork lunker caught in early 2005 and donated to the hatchery program.

Looks like they have the genealogy part down. Now about the weight thing …

mleggett@statesman.com;
Twitter: @MikeLeggett1; 445-3955


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