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Leap Day Weekend Produces Two Toyota ShareLunker Bass for Texas

Chalk up two Leap Day giants for the Texas Toyota ShareLunker Program!

This year is a Leap Year, which means we got an extra day of fishing and outdoor adventure at the end of February. Did you take advantage? Even if you did, you probably didn't have as good a day as Joe Castle and Blake Cockrell.

That's because both anglers landed massive, double-digit lunker bass for the Toyota ShareLunker program. Castle's fish was the first big bass of the weekend and was a massive 15.34-pound bass that measured 27.5 inches long! The lucky fishermen caught it while bass fishing Lake Nacogdoches. Coincidentally enough, the huge catch came on one of the rare occasions Castle gets to celebrate his February 29 birthday. The fish are apparently in spawn mode because the fish hit a wacky-rigged senko in water only three feet deep.

"My initial reaction was that it was a double-digit bass, but when I put it on the scale and realized just how big is I about fell over," Castle said in a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department press release. "After I put her in my live well and called someone to tell them what just happened, he thought I was lying. I sent him a picture of the scale and he said, 'You need to call the ShareLunker program.'"

In case you're not familiar with it, ShareLunker is a selective breeding program sponsored by Toyota. It recognizes anglers who catch a bass eight pounds or larger in Texas. The scientific data gathered by the program helps TPWD and fisheries biologists manage for bigger bass. There's special incentive for ShareLunker entries because of the chance to be entered into a prize drawing for a an annual fishing license and a huge shopping spree to Bass Pro Shops. The idea behind it all is to create better bass fishing overall in the Lone Star State. ShareLunker offspring born in a Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center hatchery are then often stocked into popular waters.

There are a few different levels of recognition including "Lunker" (for an 8-pound fish), "Elite" (for a 10-pounder) and "Legend" (for a 13-pounder). Largemouth bass 13 pounds or larger can also be entered as a "Legacy Class" fish. The lucky anglers who recieve this recognition will get a free replica of their fish, a Legacy decal and VIP access to the awards programming where the shopping spree winner is announced at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest. Biologists are now interested to learn if Castle's fish is related to ShareLunker fingerlings that were stocked there in 2008. That brood stock came from a 13 and 14-pound bass respectively caught from different lakes that year.

"We will be performing genetic testing to determine if ShareLunker 583 (Castle's fish) is among those selectively-bred fingerlings that were stocked in Lake Nacogdoches in 2008," ShareLunker program coordinator Kyle Brookshear said in the press release. "We think the odds are pretty high that she is, considering that other Toyota ShareLunker entries have been produced by those fish in the last five years."

While the ShareLunker wildlife project runs all year, special emphasis is put on the spawning season. That's why the Legacy Class is only open during the spawning season, which runs through March 31.

Cockrell's fish was also a Legacy class bass at 26.6-inch long and 13.28 pounds. Cockrell caught his fish on Lake Alan Henry with a jig. This is Cockrell's second ShareLunker of the year as he also caught a massive 14.36-pound fish on the same Texas waters back on February 9. Talk about a great year!

"I had only been fishing for five minutes on a single hook lure, and when she came up and turned, I knew it was a big fish," Cockrell said in a press release. "I looked at the kid in the back of the boat with me and said 'This is another ShareLunker...this really just happened again.' After the first one, people had told me 'you're going to catch another one like this or you'll never catch one again in your life' - and I really wanted to catch one again."

Wouldn't we all? See for more information on this program and to download their mobile app before the spawning season ends.

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his YouTube channel.