February 16, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
As the current rush towards a new Texas state record largemouth bass continues, we saw more big fish news coming from the West Texas lunker factory at O. H. Ivie Lake the day before Valentine’s. That happened when word came on social media that another huge bass had been caught at the nation’s hottest bass lake, a sowbelly that some observers noted was a gizzard shad or bluegill away from being the new Texas state record largemouth.
"Jason Conn just caught a top 50 largemouth bass from O.H. Ivie!" noted the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Fishing Twitter account on Monday. "ShareLunker 642 weighed in at 17.03 pounds and is one of the largest Lunkers to hit the scales in Texas history!! His Legacy Class Lunker is the 8th heaviest Texas largemouth bass of all time. Amazing! Congratulations, Jason and thank you for your contribution!"
If you’re keeping score at home, that makes the second 17-pounder officially caught at O.H. Ivie in the past 12 months, joining a 17.06-pound largemouth caught there last February by angler Brodey Davis. And if you pay attention to the Texas fishing scene, then you might remember that the Brodey fish caused all kinds of excitement last winter since it was the seventh biggest bass in Texas history and the largest lunker landed in some 30-years.
Conn's lunker is the largest bass caught in Texas...in 12 months. And just like the massive lunker caught last February, Conn’s sweetheart of a largemouth has caused quite a stir in Texas with all sorts of media reaching out to him and wanting to find out more about a fish that made some big waves at a lake accustomed to doing so in the past couple of years.
"I've had a million calls the past couple of days," Conn said on Valentine's Day as he talked to writers and television anchors across the Lone Star State. "It's been pure insanity, from people here at the lake to all of the social media and news organizations (wanting to hear about it).”
The big bass catch itself had a bit of insanity attached to it as well, something that went down in a matter of seconds.
"The whole thing was a God-given gift for me," Conn, who has guided on Lake Fork for 10 years and now guides on O.H. Ivie, said. "I was teaching a client how to use (Garmin) LiveScope, and I threw out there in front of the boat to a fish that was on the screen. The wind was blowing and the boat was drifting back, and I happened to look down and I see this huge fish under the trolling motor. I tell the client, 'Look at that ShareLunker under the trolling motor!' I take two steps back and on the third step, she hit it."
In a strike where Conn says the huge bass smoked his Shane's Baits Blades of Glory Alabama-rig—a typical bait used in the LiveScope game that a group of anglers at O.H. Ivie are perfecting for huge bass—the guide says total chaos ensued. After rearing back and setting the hook on his Odiehammer rod, a Daiwa baitcasting reel and 25-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line did the rest, muscling the big fish to the boat.
The 42-year old Conn, who was born in nearby San Angelo, is no stranger to catching big bass at O.H. Ivie over the past 12 months as his guiding turf has shifted from East Texas back to the west. His fishing career at Lake Fork and his recent O.H. Ivie lunker catches—including a 14.08-pound bass in December, a 12.38 in January, two 11's in January, and a 10.25 in January—all taught him how to handle the fight with a monster bass.
"Usually, when they come up behind an A-rig, they knock slack into the line," he said. "When I felt that, I reeled down and popped her real hard to set the hook."
That was the easy part. But the next 40-plus seconds—caught on a video posted to Jason Conn Fishing's Facebook page—were anything but easy as he wrestled the huge fish to the net.
“It’s a big one!” exclaimed Conn as the fish finally was secured.
As surprising as it might be, Conn wasn’t all that surprised that he caught the whopper pre-Valentine’s Day bass.
“I caught her in 12-feet of water as we were fishing salt cedars next to a big rock pile,” he said. “I found a pile of what I call ShareLunkers on the graph last week and I went back to that spot on Monday when I found that group of fish once again. But they wouldn’t bite as we were working the edge of the salt cedar. And suddenly, there she was, hanging out by the salt cedars all by herself, probably trying to escape the (angling) pressure.”
That fishing pressure has been brought about by the swarm of anglers that have descended upon O.H. Ivie in the past several years as the 19,149-acre lake has enjoyed a resurgence. Lying on the Colorado and Concho rivers in Concho, Coleman, and Runnels counties in West Texas, the lake is some 55 miles east of San Angelo and was impounded in 1990. It received periodic stockings of Florida-strain largemouths through the end of the 20th Century.
In February 2000, the lake started to show its future promise when Bobbie Gayle caught the lake's first ShareLunker, a 13.05-pound then lake record pulled from the West Texas water body. Over the next couple of years, Gayle and her husband Butch would land two more of the lake's first five ShareLunkers, all of those caught between 2000 and 2002.
But just as suddenly as O.H. Ivie was bursting onto the scene, the big bass bonanza dried up over the rest of the 2000s. In fact, it wasn't until 2010 that another TPWD ShareLunker was caught, a year which produced an amazing 12 ShareLunkers between 13.04-pounds and 16.08-pounds. Over the next two seasons, the lake would produce eight more ShareLunkers before another quiet period ensued, one that lasted all the way into March 2020.
That's when the current run of O.H. Ivie ShareLunker glory began with one such fish in 2020, 12 ShareLunkers in 2021, 12 more in 2022, and eight more so far this year's collection-season window for the TPWD program, in which anglers temporarily loan bass weighing 13-pounds or more for spawning purposes.
According to Conn—who fished the lake as a youngster further east in Texas—the lake’s location is both a blessing and a curse, something that the on-again, off-again nature of rainfall and O.H. Ivie’s ShareLunker production attests to.
In an area of the state that averages approximately 20-inches of rainfall each year, the arid region is often plagued by drought that reduces O.H. Ivie to a fraction of its full size. In fact, as this is written, the lake sits at only 39.1-percent of its full pool capacity, and that’s a vast improvement over what it was a little more than a decade ago when crippling drought and searing triple-digit summertime heat gripped most of Texas.
In San Angelo, that infamous drought was so bad in 2011 that only 9.21 inches of rainfall occurred and O.H. Ivie was reduced to no more than the river channel according to Conn.
But as the drought continued on through 2014, two particularly important things were also going on at O.H. Ivie, he says. The first was substantial growth of brushy vegetation like the salt cedars dotting the lakebed. The second was a new infusion of Florida-strain largemouth genetics into the lake, completing the recipe for O.H. Ivie’s resurgence just as the rains returned and brought the lake to nearly two-thirds full a couple of years ago.
Those stockings over the past decade by TPWD Inland Fisheries biologists include 267,201 Florida bass fingerlings in 2010; 34,064 ShareLunker offspring fingerlings in 2011; 383,483 Florida bass fingerlings in 2014; and 193,113 Florida bass fingerlings in 2016. Those stockings make up the age classes of fish that Conn says are being caught now, resulting in the most recent ShareLunker explosion at O.H. Ivie that has produced 56 official ShareLunkers since 2000 (over half of which have come in the past couple of years).
That tally includes Conn’s pre-Valentine’s Day sweetheart of a bass, a largemouth that was just a scant .03 pounds off the lake record set last February.
What’s more, the guide says that his fish could have weighed even more since a variety of electronic scale weights were obtained—Conn says the bass weighed 17.10 in his boat and 17.08 on the weighing at Elm Creek Marina—before TPWD confirmed the bass’ weight at 17.03-pounds.
What has followed all of that big bass chaos for Conn is a curious mix of elation over his catch, a twinge of disappointment that the huge sowbelly missed the lake record, and anticipation of what’s yet to come. Because Conn knows full well what the lake is capable of, and he says that’s a potential state record that could topple the 18.18-pound benchmark set a generation ago by a Lake Fork bass caught by Barry St. Clair on Jan. 24, 1992.
In fact, he’s working on catching that fish right now, a fish observed by Conn on his LiveScope graph, a bass that the guide believes is well above the 18-pound mark
“I feel that I have as much a chance to catch a state record here as anyone else does,” he said. “There could even be a world record in there, who knows? There have been two 17’s, the one last year and then my fish the other day. I think there’s definitely a bigger one out there, and maybe even a few more. Like I said, I’ve seen her on my graph. I’m going to keep at it, keep doing what I do.”
Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor with Outdoor Sportsman Group.