The Swannanoa Swanns and big salmon

About two years ago, Swannanoa resident Mark Swann broke a North Carolina record for catching the largest salmon — twice in one month: He reeled in a 2.48-pounder on Aug. 3, 2007, and a 3.07-pound fish on Aug. 28. On June 20 this year, his daughter-in-law Ashley Swann broke the family and state record by catching a 3-pound, 9-ounce kokanee salmon from Nantahala Lake.

“I had no clue that I had broken his record until I reeled it in, and he said, ‘You just beat my record,’” says the younger Swann. “I had no intention of breaking his record – but I did.”

Both anglers caught their fish on a custom-built rod with a Penn 209 reel. Ashley used a custom-made lure to reel in the fish, which measured 21.5 inches in length and 12.25 inches in girth. It may have been a bit of rookie’s luck, too: This was Ashley Swann’s first time landing a big fish. In fact, it was her first time fishing on a boat. “I’ve only fished in creeks before and just caught little fish,” says Swann, who caught five other nice-sizes kokanee salmon. Although she had her father-in-law on board providing instruction and encouragement, it was still difficult to reel in that many big fish, she recalls.

“They fight really hard,” says Swann.

While the Swanns appear to have found the magic combination of luck, skill and custom-made, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists say some kokanee in Nantahala Lake may get as big as 5 pounds during the spawning run. The 1,065-acre lake, located in Macon and Clay counties, is the only body of water in North Carolina that supports a kokanee salmon fishery. Native in the West, the fish was stocked in Nantahala in the mid-1960s by the commmision in an attempt to establish the species as a forage fish for other predator fishes in the lake.

Swann’s fish was weighed on certified scales at Ingles Store No. 035 in Bryson City and was examined and certified by Jacob Rash, District 8 commission fisheries biologist. To qualify for the 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 and 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.

For anglers who catch a kokanee salmon that doesn’t quite measure up to this latest record-breaker but is 14 inches or longer or weighs 2 pounds or more, the commission has created a new kokanee salmon classification for its North Carolina Angler Recognition Program, which officially recognizes anglers who catch trophy-sized, non-record-breaking freshwater fish: The anglers win a certificate featuring color reproductions of fish artwork by renowned wildlife artist and former commission fisheries biologist Duane Raver.

For a list of all freshwater fish state records in North Carolina or more information on the State Record Fish Program, visit the Commission’s Web site, For more information on fishing in public, inland waters, visit the fishing page or call the Division of Inland Fisheries, (919) 707-0220.

— M.V.W.


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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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