Catching a 10-pound-plus largemouth at Toledo Bend is the lifelong dream of many an angler, and the Toledo Bend Lake Association’s Lunker Bass Program awards complimentary replicas to folks who agree to return their monster fish to the reservoir. 

That program will continue, but the TBLA is clarifying the replica rules to stress that eligible fish brought in to any of the five official weigh stations must survive and actually be returned to the lake in order for an angler to receive a free mount.

“We were having a little problem that when a bass 10-pounds or over was brought into a weigh station alive, anglers expected a free replica,” TBLA president John Toliver said. “We had sort of an unwritten rule that a fish had to live 24 hours or be released alive back into the lake.

“There were a couple of times we had to deny replicas to anglers.”

Moving forward, Rules 7 and 8 now indicate that a weigh station employee or TBLA representative actually has to witness the live release of a fish and attest to it by their signature on a registration form.

If the fish dies before release, the angler will be notified, the fish will be returned and TBLA will not award a replica.

“With these changes, we are encouraging anglers to quickly get off the lake as soon as a lunker is caught and get it to the weigh station,” Toliver said. “We want to ensure the fish is in good health once it is released back into the lake so that other anglers can enjoy this great fishery.

“We have had little to no problem with this in the spring and winter. It’s the summer heat that caused some of the problem.”

As of right now, it looks like the lunker parade at Toledo Bend shows no sign of slowing down, and with the prespawn only 60 days away, it could be another record-breaking year for big fish at America’s current No. 1-ranked bass fishery.

“We have 35 registered (in the current year of the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program), and are 18 lunkers ahead of the 17 we had at this time last year,” he said.

Here are the new rules for anglers entering 10-pound-plus bass into the Toledo Bend Lunker Program:

TBLA Free replica qualification rules

1. The bass must be caught in Toledo Bend Lake and weigh a minimum of 10.00 pounds.

2. Fish must be caught by sporting means, i.e., a fishing pole, rod, reel and line, or other form of sport fishing tackle. Fish caught by hand, hand lines, set lines, trot lines, net, trap, seine or snagging are not eligible.

3. Fish must be weighed on an ASGS approved scale at a TBLA Official Weigh Station or an approved tournament scale.

4. At weigh-in, the angler must present a valid fishing license or approved exemption and complete, agree to conditions, and sign a TBLA official registration form.

5. A designated witness at the weigh station must attest to the weight and sign the registration form. 

6. Angler must release the live fish to a weigh station employee.

7. A weigh station employee or TBLA representative must witness the live release of the fish into Toledo Bend Lake and attest to such by signing the registration form.

8. If the fish dies before release, the angler will be notified, it will be returned to him/her, and TBLA will not award a replica.

If you’re lucky enough to catch that lunker, here are a few tips to keep in mind to give it the best chance to survive and be released back into the lake. 

Handling tips

1. Keeping your lunker alive is critical. Handle it carefully and go to a weigh station ASAP. 

2. Always wet your hands before handling and transferring the fish.

3. Avoid holding the fish vertically by the lower lip. 

4. Use one hand to firmly grasp the lower jaw and the other to support the weight just behind the belly. Or, use a knotless, fine mesh, soft net or plastic weigh bag to transfer the fish.

5. Try not to hold the fish out of water longer than 30 seconds.

6. Transfer the fish to a well-aerated live well or cooler, out of direct sunlight.

7. Go immediately to a TBLA weigh station.

The five official weigh stations who are set up to receive lunkers at Toledo Bend are:

Toledo Town and Tackle, Mid-lake, Louisiana side, Hwy 191 and LA 6. (318) 256-5613

Buckeye Landing, South-lake, Louisiana side, 268 Buckeye Lane, Many, LA. (318) 586-4757 (24-hour on-call: 318-508-2971)

Fin & Feather Resort, South-lake, Texas side, 245 Fin & Feather Drive., Hemphill, TX. (409) 579-2056

Newell's Fishing World, Mid-lake, Texas side, 140 Newell Loop, Milam, TX. (409) 625-4928

Huxley Bay Marina, North-lake, Texas side, 13200 FM Rd 2694, Shelbyville, TX.  24-hour on-call service (936) 368-7306.

Viisit the Toledo Bend Lake Association or the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program Facebook Page for more informaion.