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Origins of the Golden Rainbow Trout

...includes the separate history of the Palomino trout

Golden Rainbow Trout

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Some time ago I posted this photo with the caption…”Name this fish…”

I decided to look into this fish as I kept hearing it called a “golden” trout in several Facebook posts. Well, I have caught a few golden trout...and this photo is not a golden trout. My posting got numerous responses and a couple ended up being “correct”. I heard “palomino" trout, “lightning" trout, “golden” trout, “banana” trout and “albino” trout. To be honest, I have fly fished for trout in all but one of the western states for 40 plus years and never seen anything like it...hell, I never even heard about it! I do make it a point to stay away from places I know to be stocked. So, I spent 2-3 hours looking into this fish and how it came to be.

First, it is not a separate species or subspecies of any trout like a brown trout or a true golden trout. Based upon my reading and research, it is a golden rainbow trout and it is really just a color variation or mutated strain of the Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

My conclusion and that of the state that produced it is that its most proper name is golden rainbow trout. Many of the articles I found also called it a “banana” trout in the Rocky Mountain states and a “lightning” trout in the far western states. Many called it a “palomino” trout but there is another variation of the rainbow that looks similar but was developed in Pennsylvania. So the palomino is similar but different...see more below

The golden rainbow trout was first introduced to the public in 1963 as part of West Virginia’s centennial celebration. In the fall of 1949, “the Petersburg State Trout Hatchery in Grant County received 10,000 rainbow trout fry from a California strain as a gift from the White Sulphur Springs Federal Hatchery. Less than 300 survived, but those fish were bred over the years to create a brood stock that went on to eventually produce a single embryo that started the golden strain.” The few fish that did survive were bred and it is suggested that they went on to produce “probably millions” of normal looking rainbow trout.

Early in 1955, a very observant Petersburg Trout Hatchery Manager Vincent Evans noticed a yellow-mottled fingerling swimming among thousands of other trout fry. Evans named the juvenile fish “Little Camouflage” and moved it to a separate rearing pond. By mid-summer of 1956, the fish had grown to 14 inches and its spotted coloring turned into a wide band of golden scales. It was a female.

“In October 1956, 900 eggs from Little Camouflage were fertilized with milt from a regular rainbow trout male. When the eggs hatched at Petersburg, the small fry grew into fingerlings, but none showed a trace of their mother’s golden color. That winter, the fingerlings were sent along with 500,000 other fish to the rearing ponds at Spring Run. In February 1957, attendants noticed that several of the small fish were turning a pale-yellow color. Within a few weeks, nearly 300 became golden in color.”

“As the fish got older, they also got “golder.” In 1957, DNR’s fish division chief Dr. Edward C. Kinney and his staff conducted spawning experiments to produce trout with the desired color. Within two years, more than 90 percent of the eggs hatched showed golden coloring. Although the first fish in this experiment were small, additional selective breeding brought future broods up to the size and vigor of regular rainbow trout.”

DNR biologists decided West Virginia’s centennial in 1963 would be the appropriate time to properly release the golden rainbow trout by including them in regular rainbow trout stockings across the state. One golden rainbow trout was stocked for every 10 regular rainbows, a ratio maintained to this day.

The rise of the palomino rainbow trout stemmed from obtaining fertilized golden rainbow trout eggs from West Virginia. Subsequently, when these golden rainbow trout reached maturity, they were crossed with normally pigmented rainbow trout and the offspring resulted in the development of the palomino rainbow trout. Several articles describe the palomino trout as being of the same general color as a golden rainbow trout but the color was less vibrant. The initial stockings of palomino rainbow trout in Pennsylvania waters occurred during the 1967 season. However, due to their more brilliant coloration, the golden rainbow trout is used exclusively for production purposes rather than the lighter palomino rainbow trout.

It is clear from reading that both the golden rainbow trout and the palomino trout are very closely related genetic anomalies. It is also clear that first West Virginia and then Pennsylvania developed these strains in an effort to “enhance” their respective fisheries and now, many other states have followed their lead.

It is not an albino trout...just google “albino fish” and you will see that albino fish have little or no color.


To learn more about trout (species, subspecies and hybrids/variants) as well as other "Fish we Chase" here...

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