Outdoors: Spotted sunfish record established

Elijah Crabbtree - Sunfish

Elijah Crabtree holds the newly established state record for spotted sunfish, a 7.7-ounce fish caught on June 25.
Photo courtesy of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission

In a relatively obscure pocket of Big Swamp in Robeson County, 12-year-old Elijah Crabtree set a newly established freshwater fish state record on June 25.

Elijah, the son of Kevin and Amanda Crabtree of Bladenboro, caught a 7.7-ounce spotted sunfish using a green Beetle Spin lure. While spotted sunfish are closely related to bluegill and redbreast sunfish, they are typically much smaller – rarely exceeding the 5-ounce mark, according to an N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission release.

Elijah and his dad caught their first spotted sunfish in May. Unsure of what it was and thinking it might be a hybrid sunfish, Kevin Crabtree took it to a few local anglers for identification. One said it looked like a “bank bream,” a localized nickname for the small fish. He sent a photo of the fish to Michael Fisk, the District 4 fisheries biologist with the commission, who confirmed it as a spotted sunfish and told him that it was an “overly large specimen.”

Fisk then told Crabtree if he or Elijah caught another one of a similar size to let him know and he would start the process of creating a new freshwater fish state record category through the  commission’s Freshwater Fish State Record Committee.

Within a month, Elijah caught another spotted sunfish as large as, if not larger than, the previous one while kayak fishing with a friend in the same area of Big Swamp, which is a tributary of the Lumber River. He knew it was a potential state record shortly after reeling it in, noting that it was “a monster spotted sunfish.” After weighing it on certified scales at Southern Peanut Company in Dublin and having it identified by Fisk as a spotted sunfish, Elijah and Kevin submitted the fish as a potential state record.

The Freshwater Fish State Record Committee identifies new state records on a “case by case” basis and takes into account if the species’ population is stable, is easily identified by the public and can be caught by hook and line.

Fisk said the Crabtrees’ uncertainty about the fish’s identification isn’t unusual in coastal North Carolina.

“It’s a species that a lot of folks catch but may not be 100 percent sure what it is, so it gets labeled as a ‘bream,’ ” Fisk said.

To qualify for any N.C. Freshwater Fish State Record, anglers must have caught the fish by rod and reel or cane pole; have the fish weighed on a scale certified by the N.C. Department of Agriculture, witnessed by one observer; have the fish identified by a fisheries biologist from the commission; and submit an application with a full, side-view photo of the fish.

For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, go to www.ncwildlife.org/fishing or call the Inland Fisheries Division 919-707-0220.

Bass tournament results

Twenty-three teams fished a make-up tournament on Oct. 22 on the Cashion Fishing Rods Team Bass Fishing Trail at Jordan Lake. Here are the top finishers:

1st place: K.C. Choosakul of Sanford and Keith Barker of Cameron, five bass, 14.69 pounds, $1,433

2nd: Vinston Nettles of Pittsboro and Jimmie Spencer of Asheboro, five bass, 14.11 pounds, $615

3rd: Jason Kopp of Greensboro and Daniel Jenkins of Burlington, five bass, 14.04 pounds, $420

4th: Matt Dean and Bryce Pederson, both of Clayton, five bass, 11.44 pounds, $185

5th: William Small of Wake Forest and Charles Stewart of Durham, five bass, 10.90 pounds, $110

Big Fish: Tony Fofi of Spring Lake, 4.97 pounds, $322

— Mike Zlotnicki, November 2016