BLADENBORO — When Elijah Crabtree was about 3 years old, he spent part of nearly every day carrying around a fishing pole so he could practice his fishing.
“There wasn’t a drop of water in sight,” his father Kevin said. “But he’s loved fishing for as long as I can remember.”
Nine years later, in June, Elijah’s love of fishing paid off big-time when he caught a little fish — a 7.7-ounce spotted sunfish that is now the North Carolina freshwater fish state record. It was caught in a remote part of Big Swamp in Robeson County using a green beetle spin as a lure.
But the story really starts about a month earlier, when Kevin reeled in a fish he didn’t recognize.
“I didn’t know what I had, so I did some research on the Internet and talked with a few folks about it,” he said. “Nobody really knew what it was until I took some photos and sent them to the District 4 Fisheries biologist, Michael Fisk, with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. He told me then it was a spotted sunfish … and a good-sized one, at that.”
Kevin added that he was told if another one near that size was caught, Fisk would begin to create a new state-record category for the species.
On June 25, while fishing from a kayak with a friend in the same vicinity of Big Swamp his father had caught the first spotted sunfish, Elijah hooked another one — even bigger than his dad’s.
“He told me he had caught ‘a monster spotted sunfish,’” Kevin said.
The weight was certified at the Southern Peanut Company in Dublin, verified as a spotted sunfish by Fisk and the paperwork started to create a new freshwater fish state record with the N.C. Wildlife Commission’s State Record Committee.
According to the Wildlife Commission’s website, the 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.”
The website also claims that spotted sunfish are often mistaken for what most anglers refer to a “bank brim” and, though smaller, are close relatives of bluegill and redbreast sunfish. Fisk told Kevin the spotted sunfish rarely exceed 5 ounces in size.
The website went on to state the spotted sunfish “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.”
During his short fishing experience, Elijah has caught everything from flounder to sharks and all kinds of freshwater fish, but it’s been over the past 18 months that he’s become more interested in fishing. The state record catch has all but sealed the kind of career he wants.
“He’s told us that he wants to be a marine biologist or a professional fisherman,” Kevin said. “This (state record) really has him excited and he watches fishing on television all the time.”
Elijah is the son of Kevin and Amanda Crabtree. He is a seventh-grader at Bladenboro Middle School.
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.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.