March 31, 2021
On the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, the lake profile page for O.H. Ivie Lake features a chart rating the angling opportunities for largemouth and smallmouth bass as “fair,” just one notch above “poor.”
Based upon what’s happened at the lake in recent weeks, it might be time to refresh said chart. “It’s been a wild past few weeks here,” said Lynn Wright, the San Angelo District Supervisor for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).
And Wright may be putting it lightly, especially when considering the challenges that arose from the historic winter storm that walloped much of Texas and neighboring states.
Since Jan. 1, Ivie, a 20,000-acre impoundment of the Colorado River in rural central Texas, has produced six Legacy-class lunkers (13-plus pounds) that are now part of the Toyota ShareLunker program operated by TPWD, including a presumed lake record 16.4-pound bass and a pair of 14-pounders caught on the same day in the same boat. As of last week, the half dozen Legacy-class behemoths caught at Ivie matched the total caught at all other lakes in Texas over the same period.
There have also been several trophy smallmouth taken at the lake in recent weeks, including a 7.6-pounder that is undergoing genetic testing to confirm whether it’s a pure smallmouth or a hybrid. Either way, it’ll be a lake record.
“There’s not another lake producing what Ivie has so far,” said Kyle Brookshear, the Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator.
The ShareLunker program, considered the gold standard for trophy bass management, divides big fish into four classes – the Lunker class includes any bass weighing 8 to 10 pounds or at least 24 inches long; the Lunker Elite class is for bass weighing 10 to 13 pounds; the Lunker Legend class is for the 13-plus pounders; and the Lunker Legacy class is reserved for the 13-plus pounders caught during the traditional spawning period (January-March) and loaned to TPWD so it can be included in the state’s selective breeding program.
According to ShareLunker records, at the end of 2020, Ivie had accounted for 52 bass that were recognized as ShareLunkers (bass weighing more than 8 pounds). Three more were caught in January before Elwin Peters’ 11.56-pounder kicked off the February fireworks.
When Ben Milliken left snowy Omaha, Neb., on Feb. 17, his intended destination was Choke Canyon Lake in south Texas, where 6th Sense Fishing was due to hold a pro staff/influencer gathering. During the drive, Milliken got word that the fishing at Choke had fallen off significantly in the wake of the winter storm that gripped the entire region and knocked utilities offline for millions of Texans. That prompted him to call an audible and try to find an alternate venue to hopefully film some content for his popular YouTube channel.
“I remember talking to a guy about a year ago who said I should try this lake called O.H. Ivie,” Milliken said. “It was kind of on the way to Choke. We’d planned to stop at some power plant lakes, too, but that got scrapped because of the storm.”
Milliken was accompanied by friend Joe McKay and cameraman Cole Thomas for the 12-hour through-the-night drive to get to Ivie.
“We got there in the morning (of the 18th) and didn’t know if we could even fish,” Milliken said. “Every lake we drove by on the way was frozen solid.”
When they launched the boat, air temperatures were in the teens with a stiff wind. There were icicles on the shoreline bushes. Water temps were in the 30s and it appeared no other boats were on the lake.
Using sidescan sonar and Garmin Panoptix, he found an area near the mouth of a spawning pocket off the main river channel. Milliken described it as an area fish might've already been staging at, then backed off when the cold weather arrived. Those fish were joined by other fish starting to move toward the staging area. For much of the first day, a 3.2-inch paddletail swimbait rigged on a small jighead fished on spinning gear was a steady producer. By day’s end, Milliken figured the best five-fish limit was in the 36-pound range.
The following day, Milliken and Co. visited a different part of the lake under sunny, calm but still chilly conditions and boated another 30-pound limit in the first hour, all on umbrella rigs.
“It was a long point at the mouth of a spawning pocket,” he said. “It was the same kind of spot as the day before.”
Later, Milliken connected two umbrella rigs together mostly as a gag, but within minutes caught a 12-pounder that at the time was his personal best.
“We were watching them chase it on Panoptix,” he said.
McKay and Milliken caught numerous bass in the 6- to 8-pound range before Milliken caught another 12-plus. Eventually, Milliken stopped fishing to run the trolling motor and allow Thomas to put the camera down and get in on the fun. As the afternoon wore on, the trio were planning when to head in. That’s when McKay connected with the 16.4 on a bladed umbrella rig. It weighed 15-08 on the scale in the boat but registered 16.4 on the certified scale at a local marina store. Officials from the ShareLunker program met the group and retrieved the fish.
That’s when they were informed that McKay had likely caught the lake record.
“The best five on my scale that day were 57-13,” Milliken said. “It was phenomenal. I didn’t realize how many 5- to 7-pounders we caught.”
A 45-minute video of the memorable day can be found on Milliken’s YouTube page.
Conscious of how quickly news of such prodigious catches can spread on social media, Milliken and co. were careful to not mention the name of the lake in any of the videos they shot, as hard as that might be considering what they were catching. Once the marina owner posted news of McKay’s record catch and TPWD also posted about it, O.H. Ivie was no longer a conspicuous lake known only to locals and a select few.
Within a couple days, the parking lots at boat ramps around the lake were full with trucks and trailers bearing license plates from neighboring states.
“It was a perfect storm coming together,” Milliken said.
And it just seemed to be getting started.
They Kept Coming
The following day, Milliken, McKay and Thomas departed for Choke Canyon. Meanwhile, back at Ivie, a 6.25-pound smallmouth was caught in a local tournament. On Feb. 21, Josh Jones, a fishing guide from Tulsa, Okla., hauled in a 13.2-pound largemouth, aka ShareLunker #591. By Feb. 22, Milliken had returned to Ivie on his way home and hauled in a 6.6-pound smallmouth. On Feb. 23, Donald Burks submitted his 13.4-pound largemouth to the ShareLunker program.
Former FLW Tour pro Luke Dunkin, who was among the 6th Sense contingent that had by then converged on Ivie, landed a 6.8-pound smallmouth on the 24th, continuing the string of days Ivie produced otherworldly bass.
The streak continued in improbable fashion on the Feb. 25 with 6th Sense founder Casey Sobczak and Brett Cannon, the company’s marketing manager, both landing 14-plus pounders within hours of each other in the same boat. Yes – two 14-pounders in the same boat in the same day on spots roughly 50 to 100 yards apart.
Sobczak, whose previous personal best was a 12.38-pounder, said the experience was simply surreal.
“It’s two-fold,” he said. “When I was looking down at (my fish) in the water, I just wanted to grab it. Brett said same thing about his. They both looked fake. They didn't look real, and it didn’t set in for a while because of all the adrenaline. I couldn’t remember the bite so it’s good we got it all on video because I couldn’t remember anything I said or did.”
Much like Milliken’ and McKay’s a few days earlier, Sobczak’s and Cannon’s giants came on umbrella rigs tipped with 6th Sense Divine swimbaits reeled off the ends of points dotted with bushes and mesquite trees in the 30- to 35-foot range.
“There was really no pattern to it,” Sobczak said. “We were fishing anywhere from 20 to 45 feet. They were suspended off the bottom in 40 feet or they were 10 feet down where the tops of trees were in 20. It was all over the map which made me think the fish population there was super healthy because we could literally catch them at any depth.”
Sobczak estimated he caught 75 fish himself that day, from 14 inches up to 14 pounds, a contrast from the popular lakes in east Texas he fishes frequently.
“They were all mixed in together,” he said. “At Rayburn, all the big ones are usually together.”
Sobczak noted that many of the big fish he and Cannon caught seemed to have been gorging on small carp as their tails were still visible in the bass’ throats. According to Wright, the lake’s carp population was impacted by the Koi Herpes Virus (KHP) last fall resulting in a significant fish kill that affected carp in the 9- to 12-inch range. Read more about the carp die-off here.
Wright believes the bass have been taking full advantage and while it doesn’t fully explain the glut of girthy bass being caught, it could be a contributing factor. The lake’s forage base also includes healthy populations of gizzard shad, crappie and bluegill.
“Those carp were getting sick and more lethargic, so it made them easy pickings and the bass fed pretty heavily on them,” Wright said. “When we sampled last fall, we didn’t find any gizzard shad smaller than 7 inches. At the same time, our bass catch rates were through the roof.”
Another piece to the big fish puzzle is the hearty cover that’s in the lake. Several years ago, the water at Ivie was down for extended period of time, allowing for a hard line of growth along the shoreline. Now that the water is back up in its typical range, that submerged cover is located in an optimal depth range for bass to use as their home base. With the advances in fish finders, though, anglers are able to dissect that cover with precision presentations.
“I see it as a combination of two things,” Wright said. “We do stock that lake with Florida-strain bass, so with the water level rising, it caused tremendous growth in the fish and now with anglers honing this new technology they’re able to target them more effectively.”
Wright says what went on at Ivie last month was by no means a fluke.
“Ivie has always produced big fish, so I’m not surprised,” Wright said.
Nor is he worried that the increased notoriety the lake is receiving will have a negative effect on the fishery. He’s been active in retrieving and transporting some of the specimens to meet up with other TPWD staffers, who then haul them to the ShareLunker facility in Athens, Texas. It’s made for longer hours and less time to fish himself, but he’s not complaining one bit.
“I’m not too worried about the pressure,” he added. “The water is down a little bit, but the lake is still over 13,000 acres and there’s a lot of fish in that lake. This is all about promoting fishing so what’s happening is what we live for. What we’re seeing is perfect. It’s what we want to be seeing.”