Released by Jodie B. Owen, ncwildlife.org
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, 2016.
Elijah, the son of Kevin and Amanda Crabtree of Bladenboro, caught a 7.7-ounce spotted sunfish using a green beetle spin as a lure. While spotted sunfish are closely related to bluegill and redbreast sunfish, they are typically much smaller — rarely exceeding the 5-ounce mark.
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 took it to a few local anglers for identification. One said it looked like a “bank brim,” a localized nickname for the small fish. He sent a photo of the fish to Michael Fisk, the district 4 fisheries biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, who confirmed it as a spotted sunfish and told him that it was an “overly large specimen.”
Fisk then told him 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, 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 it as a potential new state record.
The Commission’s 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.
According to Fisk, 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 ‘brim,’” Fisk said.
It is found in North Carolina only in the Coastal Plain in swamps and slow-moving streams with dense vegetation, and/or submerged logs, stumps and other heavy cover. This habitat preference for heavy cover gives it its nickname “stumpknocker.” It looks very similar to other sunfish, particularly bluegill, but can be distinguished from other sunfishes by distinct black or reddish spots along an olive-green-to-brownish head and body.
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 a list of all freshwater fish state records in North Carolina or more information on the State Record Fish Program, click here. For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, www.ncwildlife.org/fishing or call the Inland Fisheries Division, 919.707.0220.