SPICER — The thrill of the hunt leads Aaron Ardoff of Spicer to the waters of Kandiyohi County for monster sunfish, which he and his brothers love to target.
But by his own admission, he was mostly “messing around,” tossing a black and orange spinnerbait in the waters of Green Lake for the fun of tangling with bass or northern pike when he caught the sunfish that put him in the record books.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced on Monday that the 1-pound, 12-ounce hybrid sunfish that Ardoff caught Sept. 19, 2022, on Green Lake in Kandiyohi County ties the weight-based state record. A hybrid sunfish caught in the Middle Branch of the Zumbro River in 1994 has held the record on its own until now.
It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon when Ardoff, his brother and good friend decided to try a little fishing. “(We were) killing time,” said Ardoff. “Better than watching the Vikes that week, I think.”
“As soon as I started reeling, I could tell this wasn’t fighting like a pike or bass,” Ardoff told the DNR of catching the record fish. “When the fish got closer, I could see that it was a sunfish and I started panicking! I kept telling myself to not go crazy and just get it in.”
After landing the fish, Ardoff said he told his fishing companions that he was nervous about the fish. He suspected it might be a record, and quit fishing for the day. He initially thought it might be a green sunfish, which are typically much smaller than the far more prevalent bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish.
He knew that the state record green sunfish is 1 pound, 3 ounces, and he knew this hefty brute would shatter that record. He sent a photo of his fish to Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor with the DNR in Spicer, who in turn spoiled the dream.
Coahran identified the fish as a hybrid sunfish, which is usually the offspring of a male bluegill and female green sunfish.
Yet the fisheries supervisor also informed him that by the looks of the picture, he might have a record hybrid sunfish. They agreed to meet at 5:30 p.m. that day at Mel’s Sports shop in Spicer, where the catch was officially weighed and measured.
“Exciting,” said Ardoff of recently learning that his fish is now certified in the record books.
By no means is this Ardoff’s first big sunfish catch. He said he and his brothers have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 different replicas of big bluegills they have caught through the years.
His passion for catching sunfish started on Long Lake near Hawick, where he spent much of his summers as a youth at his grandparents’ place there. Once he caught a monster bluegill, he said he was hooked for life.
Now, it’s all about the thrill of the hunt for the big one. Last winter, he figures he fished 24 different lakes in pursuit of big sunfish. He is an estimator with Double J Masonry and Concrete of Willmar, so his best fishing occurs during the hardwater season when he has the most time.
Ardoff said he likes the waters in the Sunburg area best. The smaller bodies of water that don’t get the fishing pressure offer the best prospects for finding the big ones.
Ardoff will bring home some of his smaller sunfish to clean and give to friends, but it’s the pursuit of the trophy and not the table fare that motivates him. He said he and his brothers never keep a sunfish over 9½ inches, with one exception.
The exception is this one, which Ardoff brought to Lake Country Replicas of rural Hawick to have a mold made of the record keeper.
The age of the record fish is not known. Coahran said what’s known as “hybrid vigor” contributes to the growth rates of the male bluegill and female green sunfish crosses. The offspring of the hybrids do not exhibit the same growth, he said.
The fisheries supervisor said he occasionally receives calls from anglers who suspect they have a record sunfish. Most of the calls come from anglers on the waters of Green Lake, Nest Lake or Long Lake by Willmar.
Coahran has seen some nice sunfish from these waters, but he usually has to throw cold water on the hopes of the excited anglers. The state’s record bluegill is 2 pounds,13 ounces, and dates to 1948, and Coahran has yet to see one come close to that.
If he does, it might just be in the hands of Ardoff. Catching this record keeper has only fueled his passion for pursuing big sunfish.
And to be sure, a lot of his hunting will continue on local waters. He said there are a number of area lakes holding potential trophy fish. “People don’t realize how many quality fish are around until you target them and go for them,” said Ardoff.
Asked where he caught this trophy, he quickly answered: “In the mouth.” That’s all he will disclose as to his whereabouts on Green Lake that day.
Coahran said he wasn’t surprised to learn that Green Lake gave up a record maker. Ardoff is by no means the only angler who has figured out that the lake holds some very nice sunfish.
This is the second fish that has put Green Lake in the record books.
Rick Scalzo of Spicer got himself in the world record book at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin, for what remains the heaviest channel catfish caught under the ice. He landed a 36-pound, 42-inch channel catfish with a 23-inch girth on Green Lake in 2000.
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