Thomas Farchione

Thomas Farchione of Waterford, Wis., with the enormous 6.30 pound redear sunfish he caught on May 4 at Lake Havasu in Arizona. The fish ranks a new International Game Fish Association world record. By comparison, the Texas state record redear is 2.99 pounds.

News travels fast these days when somebody reels in a great big fish. Just ask John Galbraith of Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Galbraith is the owner of Bass Tackle Masters on Lake Havasu, a scenic, Colorado River reservoir located along Arizona/California border. He was at his shop tending to business on the afternoon of May 4 when Wisconsin angler Thomas Farchione walked in with a whale of a redear sunfish he’d just caught and asked to have it weighed on certified scales.

Galbraith has seen plenty of big redears over the years. He knew right away Farchione’s catch was something special.

Apparently, Galbraith wasn’t the only one who thought so. A store patron was standing in the doorway when the angler produced a kingsize panfish that would easily hide a frying pan. Unbeknownst to Galbraith, the man took a picture with a cell phone and uploaded it to Facebook.

Within minutes, Galbraith’s phone began to ring. The first call was from Western Outdoors News, a popular weekly publication based in San Clemente, CA., roughly 300 miles away. The second was from the local newspaper.

Both reporters wanted the scoop behind the photo of a behemoth sunfish that was quickly making the rounds on social media.

“I wasn’t even done weighing the fish and writers were already calling,” Galbraith said. “That was a little unusual. I was like, give me an hour and we’ll talk.”

A New World Record

There was plenty of reason for the sudden media frenzy. The enormous sunfish Farchione landed tipped the scale to a previously unheard of weight — 6.30 pounds.

It’s a pending All-Tackle world record redear sunfish for the International Game Fish Association. Measuring 17 inches long with a 20-inch girth, the fish eclipses the former world record of 5.78 pounds caught in 2014 by Hector Brito. Brito’s fish topped Robert Lawler’s 2011 world record of 5.55 pounds.

Like Brito’s whopper, the newest world record bit a drop-shot rigged night crawler. Galbraith said the fish was caught around an artificial fish structure in about 25 feet of water using a spinning rod combo and six-pound test line.

Lake With a History

Interestingly, both previous world records were also caught from Lake Havasu, a 19,300-acre reservoir that is fast becoming known as the Lake Fork of trophy redear lakes. The redear gets its name from the colorful edges on its ear flaps. Males are red, females orange.

Galbraith has an intimate knowledge of the lake’s history of kicking out giant sunfish. He weighed both of the previous world records.

“I’m kind of used to all the attention these fish get,” he said. “The third one has really drawn lots of interest, though. Probably because it’s the first one to crack the six-pound mark. It’s definitely a huge fish.”

By comparison, the new world record dwarfs Texas’ state record redear by more than three pounds. That fish, a 2.99 pounder measuring 14 inches, was caught in 1997 from Lady Bird Lake in Central Texas.

What is spooky about the deal is Galbraith honestly thinks there are even bigger ones finning around out there. He recently saw a picture of a fish he believes would have topped seven pounds.

“Unfortunately the guy didn’t realize what he had and he ate it without getting certified weight,” he said.

Galbraith says he has averaged weighing 15-20 redears in the four-pound range and 3-4 fish topping five pounds per year over the last two years.

“Three pounders are fairly common — they don’t even raise eyebrows out here anymore,” he said.

Something in the Water

What gives with all super-sized redear sunfish at Havasu?

No one knows for certain, but some experts and local anglers believe it could be linked to something in the water. Namely, quagga mussels.

Like the invasive zebra mussels that have proliferated in many Texas lakes in recent times, quagga mussels are native to eastern Europe. Quaggas were first discovered in the United States in 1989 after foreign ships unknowingly carrying microscopic quagga larvae discharged their ballast water into the Great Lakes.

The mussels have since been confirmed in several Western lakes, including Lake Havasu in 2007. The primary way mussels are spread is on recreational boats and other gear used in infested water and then transported to another water body.

While the mussels’ razor-sharp shells can be problematic for humans, and cause significant damage to water systems by clogging intakes if not kept in check, many locals contend the mollusks have been a blessing to Havasu’s prolific redear fishery.

The belief is the quaggas are providing an abundant, high protein food source to compliment other forage like redswamp crawfish and grass shrimp. Also known as “shellcrackers,” redear are gifted with pharyngeal teeth in their throats that help the panfish crush the mussel’s hard shells to get at the meaty goodies inside.

Galbraith has owned his shop for nearly 20 years. Over the last decade he’s watched Havasu transition from an outstanding redear fishery to one that is producing fish of colossal proportions on a regular basis. Galbraith claims it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between the arrival of quaggas and Havasu’s parade of world class lunker redears. Think of it like a buffet of energy where the fish are able to dine at will.

“In my opinion the mussels have had everything to do with it,” he said. “The lake record was a three pounder when the quaggas first showed up in 2007 and it’s gotten bigger ever since. Going from a three-pound lake record to a 6.30 pounder with three world records in a short time is no coincidence. The quaggas are the reason.”

Fisheries biologist Ty Hardymon with the Arizona Game and Fish Department says he believes it entirely possible that quagga mussels may be contributing to the trophy fish explosion at Havasu, but he doesn’t think the invasive mollusks deserve all the credit.

“It could be that the quaggas are part of a perfect storm out there,” Hardymon said. “I think there are a number of factors that play in that lake. It’s definitely possible, or even highly likely that the quagga mussels are contributing the growth of those fish. But I believe it also has to do with the extended growing season allowed by the warm climate, habitat availability and a variety of other resources. Plus, as a result of habitat selection, redears aren’t likely to encounter predators in Lake Havasu that will prey on them once they reach a certain size.”

Texas Redears seeing Zebras?

Zebra mussels — a cousin to the quagga — were first discovered in Lake Texoma in 2009 and have since proliferated in a host of other Texas lakes. Two dozen Texas impoundments are now considered to be “infested” with zebras, including two in East Texas — Richland Chambers and Livingston.

While redear sunfish coexist with zebra mussels in several Texas lakes, there have been no reports to indicate the sunfish are growing at accelerated rates in any of those waters, according to Craig Bonds, inland fisheries director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t eventually happen. Bonds thinks it would be pretty cool if it did.

“We can go on all day talking about the negative consequences of zebra mussels,” he said. “But if we have to adapt to live with them in places where they already exist, it would be nice if not all of the effects are negative. If we do indeed have some larger redear that grow in some of these lakes that are infested with zebra mussels, that would be a silver lining in my book.”

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

Still no evidence to explain mysterious fish kill on Lake Murvaul

From TPWD Reports

It’s been a month now since a mysterious fish kill was first reported on Lake Murvaul in East Texas and state officials say there is still no conclusive evidence as to what may have caused it.

The kill was first reported on April 16 after largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, spotted gar, shad and sunfish were discovered washed ashore, floating dead, struggling on the surface of the 63-year-old reservoir in Panola County.

Thousands of fish are believed to have died during the event, according to Bregen Brown, who heads up the Region 2 Kills and Spills team for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

On May 12, TPWD issued a news release indicating that the fish kill appears to have subsided since there have been no new reports dead fish or wildlife around the lake since May 3. However, scientists are continuing to investigate the event in hopes of unraveling a mystery still has anglers, lakeside residents and others that frequent the popular reservoir concerned.

According to the release, TPWD is awaiting further results from additional lab cultures and information from Baylor University regarding cyanobacteria present in water samples at have been collected for testing.

Here’s a synopsis of the investigation and what officials have learned thus far, according to TPWD:

“During the initial investigation, water quality was surveyed at multiple locations across the lake and affected fish were recorded,” the release said. “Water quality parameters were within acceptable ranges for Lake Murvaul. TPWD personnel collected and shipped fish samples to the Agency’s fish health lab in San Marcos for analysis.

TPWD personnel returned to the lake on April 27 to conduct an additional survey of the western portion of the lake for water quality data and collected more fish samples for analysis.

On May 3, TPWD personnel investigated Lake Murvaul again after suspected cyanobacteria blooms were reported. Water samples were collected and sent to Baylor University in Waco to be tested for the presence of cyanobacteria. The Sabine River Authority (SRA) participated in the investigation by collecting water samples to test for nutrient loads and chlorophyll-a content.

On May 6, Baylor University confirmed the presence of cyanobacteria that can produce cyanotoxin. Although it’s not certain cyanobacteria caused the kill, fisheries scientists are investigating that and other possibilities.

TPWD’s lab reported that the initial fish sample presented with a bacterial infection. Lab personnel will be growing these bacteria to determine if an opportunistic pathogen was present. Opportunistic pathogens are types of microorganisms that do not usually harm fish but can do so when a fish is not healthy enough to resist infection.

Although there is no conclusive research indicating cyanotoxins make fish unsafe to eat, any concerns regarding the safety of consuming fish from the lake should be addressed to the Texas Department of Safety and Health Services, Seafood and Aquatic Life Unit at seafood.regulatory@dshs.texas.gov. TPWD and DSHS are sharing information about the fish kill.”

Brown says TPWD will continue to monitor the situation and release any updates as they come available.

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