Photos: New Potential World Record Sunfish from Arizona’s Lake Havasu
Peggy Lawler says her husband is generally "a very low-key kind of guy," but he's having fun with the buzz this big sunfish is generating. "He's very serious about his fishing, and this is something he's always hoped for, to catch a really big fish," Peggy says. "But I don't think he ever dreamed he'd catch a world record."
Robert Lawler of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, wasn’t fishing for sunfish–he was barely fishing at all–when he landed a potential world-record redear May 2 on Lake Havasu. The fish blew away the Arizona state record by more than a pound and outweighs the current world-record sunfish by 1 ounce.
A bass angler who normally fishes upriver from Havasu, Lawler was on the way to one of his usual spots when he stopped his boat on a rocky point to check out a baitcasting reel he’d recently lubed. “I was checking my free-spool and anti-backlash adjustments,” he says. “I made one cast, made some adjustments, and cast again. On the way in, the fish picked it up.”
Lawler knew he had something nice on the line, but he figured it was a largemouth bass. “I didn’t know what I had until I got the fish in the net,” he says. “I realized, ‘That’s a redear and that’s a big fish.’ I thought something was wrong with it. It was completely bloated; the eyeballs were bugged out. The fish was just completely full of eggs. A huge female. If I had caught it after the spawn, this wouldn’t have been as big a deal.”
“The state record had recently been tied or beat, and I remembered that was a little over 4 pounds,” Lawler recalls. “I weighed the fish with a little scale I keep on my boat, and it showed over 5 pounds. I decided to go straight in and weigh it on an official scale.”
He took his catch to a tackle store run by John Galbraith, who recorded an official weight of 5 pounds, 8 ounces. That’s an ounce bigger than the current all-tackle world-record redear, a 5-pound, 7-ounce shellcracker caught in 1998 by Amos Gay in South Carolina.
“When I netted the fish, I knew I had something special–but I had no idea it could be a world record,” says Lawler, who has submitted documentation on the redear to the International Game Fish Association. According to IGFA rules, a fish under 25 pounds must surpass the previous record by 2 ounces to be considered a standalone record. If accepted after the IGFA’s 60-day waiting period, Lawler’s fish will share the record with Gay’s. The situation is similar to the 41-pound world-record brown trout caught by Roger Hellenin Lake Michigan last July.
“I stopped there just to cast the reel into the wind, to see how everything was adjusted,” says Lawler, who was using a Bass Pro Shop Extreme rod and reel combo spooled with 12-pound test monofilament, Texas-rigged with a 7-inch Berkley Power Worm. “It was a fluke, a no-big-thing big thing.”
Peggy Lawler says her husband is generally “a very low-key kind of guy,” but he’s having fun with the buzz this big sunfish is generating. “He’s very serious about his fishing, and this is something he’s always hoped for, to catch a really big fish,” Peggy says. “But I don’t think he ever dreamed he’d catch a world record.”
Lawler has fished seriously for many years, even convincing Peggy–“a kick-back-in-the-boat-and-read-a-book kind of lady”–to make a fishing trip of their honeymoon. But since retiring he’s made a project of hooking big fish. “I’d like to catch a 30-pound striper or a 10-pound bass. I used to deep-sea fish, and I had a friend who said, ‘If it can’t rip off a hundred yards of 40-pound, you’re not fishing, you’re just making bait.'”
Of catching a potential world-record fish while working the kinks out of a rod, he says, “I have bait in the water a lot; if you do that, I guess you’re gonna get lucky once in a while. There was no skill involved, just pure-D luck. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
He insists on calling it “a fluke, a complete fluke.” And yet … “I knew that rocky point held some good fish,” he admits. “I reeled it in slowly, just like I would for a largemouth, bounced it down the rocks.” No cast ever wasted; every practice for real. Or as Robert Lawler would say, “Every time I throw a weight in the water, I hope I’m gonna catch a fish.”