Fishermen can speculate on the whereabouts of the next state-record white crappie, but at least one person knows where one such fish lives. 

On March 25, Lorene Smith of Rockwell turned Good Friday into a great one when she caught and released a 4-pound, 4-ounce white crappie from High Rock Lake that would have eclipsed the current record of 3 pounds, 15 ounces — had she not released it almost immediately. 

“It was full of eggs,” Smith said. “I hated to keep it. It was so big, my husband said it had to be an old fish. I said, well, it needs to go back then; it’s lived this long.”

To be considered for a state record, a fish must be weighed on certified scales and examined by a staff member of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to certify its species in case there is a question.

   The existing state-record white crappie was caught in April 2013 in a Wake County farm pond. It weighed 3 pounds, 15 ounces.

White crappie can be distinguished from black crappie by dark, vertical bars that run down the fish’s sides, but in large specimens like Smith’s, they are often less pronounced. A sure-fire way of determining the species is the number of dorsal fins; black crappie have seven to eight dorsal spines and white crappie will have five to six. Smith’s fish had five.

Nursing an injured foot that was in a cast, Smith and her husband, Terry, went to High Rock to visit some friends and get some fresh air. They had been fishing for about two hours, catching crappie, on a dock belonging to Trudy and Jimmy Hill.

Immersed in conversation, Smith hadn’t noticed that her cork, which suspended a small minnow on a light wire hook, was also immersed.  

“My husband, Terry, said, ‘Lorene your cork has gone under.’ Then, it took the rod down to the water. I tried to crank it in, but my reel just wouldn’t crank, it was too big. I was stuck in my chair, afraid to stand up because I was so close to the water,” she said.

Watching Smith struggling with the massive crappie as it beat the water to a froth, Trudy Hill made a bold move with the 6-pound line.  

“Trudy reached down and grabbed the line, not the fish, the line,” Smith said. “She pulled it up onto the dock, and that’s when we saw what we had.”  

Smith’s fish was 18 inches long and had, she noted, eyes that were as big as quarters. After photographing, measuring and weighing the fish, she released it. That’s when she noticed that the tiny hook had nearly been straightened out.

“Terry tied a good knot,” Smith said. “A lot of times they’ll come undone; we’ve lost some like that. I think he was more excited than if he had caught it himself.”