Gronaw: All that glitters — the golden trout

Gronaw: All that glitters — the golden trout
Matt Gronaw displays a fine golden trout of nearly 20 inches he recently caught and released on a pink Power Worm below a bobber. More and more agencies are stocking this popular color variation of the standard rainbow trout. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Throughout much of the Back East, trout fishing region local and state agencies stock what has come to be known as the “golden trout.”

Traditionally, they are supplemented for routine stockings of rainbow and brown trout and have been heralded as a treat for anglers seeking this unusual colored fish. They have been a popular addition to many state agencies programs for several decades.


How they got their origin is a rather unique and interesting story. Back in 1955, Vincent Evans, hatchery manager of the Petersburg, West Virginia, facility, noticed a single, golden-hued fingerling trout amid a crowded raceway of common rainbow trout. Taking an interest, he and other hatchery personnel isolated the little fish and nicknamed the small female “Little Camouflage.”

For the next several years, this single fish was nurtured and fed until she grew to a 14-inch length and was capable of producing eggs. Over time, her offspring (fingerlings from regular strain male rainbow trout) started to develop a dominant golden coloration that was highlighted by a pinkish stripe down the flank of the fish. Evans and other employees carefully selected brood stock to breed with these golden trout and by the spring of 1963 the department felt as though they had enough adult golden trout to stock them in the Mountain State’s rivers and streams.

That year, 1963, was the 100th anniversary of statehood for West Virginia, so they released the “West Virginia Golden Rainbow Trout” as a celebratory event for anglers.

It became an immediate hit with the majority of the fishermen and the catching of one of these gold fish was considered a trophy unto itself, regardless of size.

For the next several decades, various state agencies, hatcheries, and DNRs up and down the eastern half of the United States found ways to implement the stocking of goldens in their trout waters as well. As a matter of fact, West Virginia will be upping the ante for their stocking program in 2019 with a spring time kick-off called “Gold Rush” during the week of April 1-6, with the stocking of 40,000 golden trout statewide.

All this began with one, single fish — wow!

Over the years, and decades, the goldens have become very popular and they have a strong following in many California trout and pay lakes where they are called “lightning trout.”

Many anglers refer to them as “palomino” trout but most just call them goldens. Goldens can reach weights as high as 12 to 14 pounds, but most anglers view a 20-incher as a fine fish. Hatchery-sized, 10- to 14-inch goldens are extremely vulnerable to overhead predation from hawks, ospreys, and herons as they stand out like goldfish in a koi pond. In streams and small lakes, stocked goldens often give away the location of other trout species, especially rainbows, as they like to cruise with them and have similar feeding habits.

Game fighters, hatchery reared golden trout will take a variety of bait and lure options but can become skittish and selective once they are established for several weeks.
Game fighters, hatchery reared golden trout will take a variety of bait and lure options but can become skittish and selective once they are established for several weeks. (Jim Gronaw photo)

You just won’t see the rainbows, but they are there.

Larger, holdover adult goldens often become skittish and selective in their feeding habits, becoming difficult to catch. What seems to work for other stocked trout may not draw much interest from a big golden. When hooked, they fight with the same vigor and power of the other trout species.

Popular internet sites, such as YouTube, are loaded with photos and footage of anglers catching these brilliantly colored fish — some of which are huge. Favored baits include many standard items like small jigs and bead head nymphs, live baits like mealworms and waxworms as well as spoons, spinners and the normal array of Power Bait products.

Big goldens, however, tend to follow, then refuse, many lure and bait options thus frustrating anglers who can easily see how big the fish is that they are missing out on.

Many years ago, I watched as a 7- or 8-year-old lad fished diligently for more than an hour in an attempt to coax a big golden from underneath a rock ledge on a southern Pennsylvania stream. He would change baits every ten minutes or so as the fish would show a mild interest, then return to its lair.

Garden worms, mealworms, and even canned corn all got their fair share at fooling the fish. Finally, after more than an hour of tedious fishing, the boy squealed triumphantly as he hoisted the gyrating fish up on the bank.


The winning bait? A whole nightcrawler on a plain hook.

Throw in a measure of patience and persistence and that young man had a memory for a lifetime!

As Christmas and the New Year come and go, much of us will remember the fishing successes, and failures, that we had in 2018. But in mid-January the Maryland DNR will initiate a winter trout effort with stockings in many of our regional streams and creeks for local anglers, including plantings of golden trout.

Keep your eye on their website and key in on those waters, and maybe this winter you will strike gold.