Elijah Crabtree, a 12-year-old from Bladenboro, is one of North Carolina's newest freshwater fish record-holders. Crabtree caught a 7.7-ounce spotted sunfish, a close relative of bluegills and redbreast sunfish, and it is the newly-established state record.
It’s not a fish that many people even catch. In North Carolina, it’s found only in the Coastal Plain, and it prefers swamps and slowly moving streams with heavy cover, mainly in the form of thick vegetation, stumps, and submerged logs.
Crabtree caught the fish in a small pocket of Big Swamp, a tucked-away spot along the Lumber River in Robeson County. Despite its rarity throughout the Old North State, it’s not the first one Crabtree had ever seen; he and his dad first caught one in May of this year, and were unsure what species it was.
Asking local anglers what type of fish they'd caught, Crabtree and his dad were told it was a “bank brim,” a colloquial nickname. After sending a photo of the sunfish to fisheries biologists with the NCWRC, they were informed it was a spotted sunfish, and told that the one in the photo was a particularly large one.
Michael Fisk, District 4 biologist with NCWRC told them that if they caught another one in that size range, he would begin the process of establishing a new state record category for that species.
Then in June, Crabtree was kayak fishing with a friend and hooked into another spotted sunfish, which he immediately recognized. He also knew it was at least as big as the earlier one, and remembering Fisk’s words, he had the fish weighed on certified scales at Southern Peanut Company in Dublin. Then, he had it positively identified by Fisk and submitted the necessary paperwork to have it certified as a state record.
According to Fisk, spotted sunfish look very similar to other sunfish, especially bluegill, so it is often misidentified. He said distinct black or reddish spots along its head and body are telltale signs that it is a spotted sunfish.
Click here to see a list of all freshwater fish state records for North Carolina.
Click here to read about another youth angler who broke North Carolina’s blue catfish record, also this past June.