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State-record hybrid sunfish caught in southwest Michigan

Joel Heeringa of St. Joseph, Michigan, caught a new state-record hybrid sunfish July 9, 2018, on Lake Anne at Grand Mere State Park (Berrien County). The fish (confirmed as a hybrid sunfish by University of Michigan fish experts) weighed 1.8 pounds and measured 11.7 inches.

Michigan has a new state-record hybrid sunfish, out of Lake Anne in Grand Mere State Park in Berrien County. Joel Heeringa, of St. Joseph, Michigan, caught the fish July 9, while still fishing with a crawler. The record fish weighed 1.8 pounds and measured 11.7 inches.

Brian Gunderman, a DNR fisheries unit manager for southern Lake Michigan, verified the record. Because the fish was believed to be a hybrid, additional identification was required, delaying final confirmation. University of Michigan fisheries experts also examined the fish and confirmed it was indeed a hybrid sunfish. 

According to Gunderman, Michigan has several sunfish species in Michigan that can hybridize with each other. This group includes native species such as bluegill, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, and warmouth. It also includes redear sunfish (native to the southern United States), which he said were stocked in a number of lakes in southern Michigan during the 1990s-early 2000s. 

“Hybrid sunfish commonly occur in nature, and we catch hybrids during most of our lake surveys in this region of the state,” he explained. “Hybrid sunfish (usually male bluegill and green sunfish female crosses) also are produced in private fish hatcheries for stocking in ponds. There is a common misconception that hybrid sunfish are infertile. Hybrid sunfish are fertile. However, about 80-90 percent of hybrid sunfish are males, so it is rare for two hybrids to mate with each other. They are more likely to spawn with a purebred of one of their parent species.”

Gunderman said the new state record definitely was a hybrid sunfish, but it is not possible to conclusively identify the parent species without genetic testing. “The external characteristics were consistent with a bluegill/green sunfish hybrid. For the purposes of our State Record and Master Angler programs, all types of hybrid sunfish are lumped into one category.”

The previous hybrid sunfish state record actually was a tie between two fish: one caught May 28, 1988, by Daniel Manville on Arbutus Lake in Grand Traverse County and one caught June 1, 1988, by Lloyd Jarman, Jr. on Doan’s Lake in Allegan County. Both fish weighed 1.44 pounds.

State records in Michigan are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state-record weight and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/masterangler or contact Brian Gunderman at 269-685-6851, ext. 145.

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