By Montana Grant

Posted: February 19, 2023


Golden trout have become the new trout attraction. They are also known as “Shills”, “Palomino’s”, Bananas, Albino’s, and “Judas Trout”.

These names refer to the Golden Trout. You can catch these hatchery reared hybrid trout in many states, and in their home state of West Virginia. True wild Golden Trout exist in western lakes and originated in California.

Golden trout are not natural or a native species, they are hybrids. Many trout purists’ frown upon these colorful and strong fighters. Remember the saying that, “you can’t catch a fish that you can see,” holds true with the golden trout. They stand out like sore thumbs in the river, but rarely give your bait or lure a look. Anglers will sit on these Golden Beauties all day without netting one.

Biologically, Golden trout will not reproduce naturally with other species. Since the fish do not need to reproduce, food and energy goes into their muscle and size. They grow fast, fight hard, and offer variety to stocked fisheries.

We all enjoy catching fish but catching unique fish adds to the fun. Catching a golden fish is even cooler. Many states stock these hybrids in the waters where Put and Take fishing is allowed. The local Grand Slam can include these Golden beauties, as an add on.

Golden Trout originated in West Virginia. The Petersburg Hatchery worked for years to isolate the golden gene that led to this unique, mutated, rainbow trout subspecies. It took West Virginia several years to develop this strain. In 1949, West Virginia received 10,000 rainbow trout fry from a California strain of rainbow trout. All but 300 died. These fish were bred over the years to create a brood stock that went on to produce a single embryo that started the Golden strain.

In 1955 the Petersburg Hatchery noticed a yellow-mottled fingerling swimming with the rest of the trout. This fish was named “Little Camouflage” and moved it to a separate protected pond. In 1956, Little Camouflage had grown to 14 inches and the spotted colors had turned into a wide band of golden scales. It turned out that this unique fish was a female.

In 1956, 900 eggs from “Little Camouflage” were fertilized with milt from a regular male rainbow trout. The resulting fry showed none of the mother’s color characteristics. That winter, these fingerlings were sent to rearing ponds with 500.000 other trout. By February, hatchery staff noticed that 300 became golden in color.

As the fish aged, they entered their “Golden Years”. The staff repeated the experiment with the 300 survivors and 90% of the offspring showed Golden Colors. Through selective breeding, the hatchery was able to produce a consistent Golden trout. West Virginias Bicentennial was in 1963 so the Golden Trout was stocked across the state. One Golden was stocked for every 10 Rainbows.

My first experience with BIG GOLDENS was along the Schaffer’s Fork, in West Va. The Catch and Release area was stocked with tons of BIG trout, including Goldens. On that trip I netted a 25 ½ inch beauty. When you walked down the railroad track access, you could see these Giant Golden Pigs in every pool. My memories are still vivid because of these beautiful, huge, strong fish. My fishing buddy was a Maryland Cold Water Fisheries Biologist. He was also impressed, and Maryland stocks Goldens to this day.

It takes time for states to add these unique trout to their state’s watersheds. Previous hatchery managers, and administrators, sometimes feel these hybrids are a joke. Wild fisheries need no new competition. Despite requests from anglers, Golden’s are often left dead in the water.  Times have since changed and many states have developed their own Golden trout program. Every load of stocked rainbow trout will have Goldens in the school.

Now these gold nuggets are stocked from 10-25 inches. Fishermen that catch them brag about their colorful and fun experience. Anglers disagree on their catchability. Because they are so brightly colored, they seem to seek shade and heavy cover. They seem to be reluctant to bite until you are not paying attention. Once you hook into a monster Golden Trout, you too will become a Golden Trout Fanatic.

Generally, Goldens are stocked in waters that become too warm for them, or other trout, to survive annually. In this way, they do not become an environmental problem. The Golden trout is an exciting way to get kids involved in fishing. Others also challenge themselves to tackle this hard fighting trout.

Finding Golden Trout in a stocked stream is not hard. They stand out like a neon light. If you are wearing polaroid glasses, you will see them. Where the Goldens are, so are other trout. Some fishermen call them “Judas Trout” because of this. They give away the position of their more camouflaged rainbow trout brethren.

Golden trout fight hard! Inch for inch, these trout fight their butts off. If your line or reel has any flaws, they will be exposed by a hard fighting Golden. A thin line is needed to regularly fool these reluctant biters. A strong battle will result in a break off if your drag is not set properly.

Go for the GOLD!!!

Montana Grant

Join Montana Grants Facebook Group at Montana Fishing For Fun!

New Podcast!

Riley's Meats - Butte Wild Game Processing