This event gives anglers an opportunity to catch a West Virginia treasure.
This story was originally published in the March 2018 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit wonderfulwv.com.
written by Carlee Lammers
Any seasoned angler will tell you—land a West Virginia golden trout, and you’ve had a lucky day. This elusive, bright yellow cousin of the rainbow trout has become a prized catch in the Mountain State. Many people have been fishing their whole lives and have never caught one.
But this April, anglers will have a unique opportunity to strike gold. Lakes, streams, and rivers from Barboursville to Berkeley Springs will run gold when the state Division of Natural Resources releases nearly 25,000 golden rainbow trout for the state’s inaugural Gold Rush.
“Only one out of 10 trout is golden. It makes it pretty difficult to catch,” says Jim Hedrick, Gold Rush organizer and manager of the DNR’s Hatchery Program. “If you’ve never caught one and wanted to, here’s your chance.”
The story of the golden trout begins in 1949, when the White Sulphur Springs Federal Hatchery sent the Petersburg State Trout Hatchery in Grant County a special gift: 10,000 young rainbow trout. Fewer than 300 of those trout survived, but the hatchery continued to breed those remaining fish, eventually establishing a good brood stock.
By 1955, hatchery staff noticed gold spots on a fish they nicknamed Little Camoflauge. Because of her unique color, former Petersburg Hatchery manager Vincent Evans moved Little Camoflauge to a separate rearing pond, where she continued to grow. More than a year later, her gold spots had turned into a band of golden scales.
Hatchery staff selectively bred Little Camoflauge and her offspring for several years, perfecting coloring of the fish and getting their size comparable to the rainbow trout. “I don’t believe you’d ever see one of these formed in the wild on its own. I couldn’t imagine that you would,” says Jeff Williams, the current Petersburg hatchery manager. “We breed golden with golden and they produce golden fry. If you mix a rainbow in with the gold, they’re really pale. They don’t get the bright gold color. A true golden rainbow is really bright-colored.”
A few years later, the hatchery decided it was time to introduce the golden rainbow to the public. The fish were stocked alongside regular rainbow trout in 1963, to commemorate West Virginia’s centennial. The golden rainbow trout have remained a small part of the DNR’s stocking efforts since then, at a ratio of one golden trout of every 10 trout. “Basically it’s been a novelty ever since. Kids really like catching it because it’s gold. It’s special,” Hedrick says.
Some anglers will tell you the fish don’t bite as eagerly as the rainbow trout do, making them more difficult to catch. That might be a fish tale, however. Although they look quite different from their rainbow cousins, Williams says golden trout are genetically identical. “It’s basically a pigment mutation in the fi sh. They’re not an albino or anything like that,” he says. “It’s just a different color. It’s a mutation from the original greenish color of the rainbow.”
A Golden Opportunity
Beginning the week after Easter, more than two dozen public bodies of water will see more golden rainbow trout than ever before. “They are distributed the whole way across the state. We tired to make, as best we could, a Gold Rush stocking location as close to as many people as possible,” Hedrick says.
The goal of this first-ever Gold Rush is to get families and young kids excited about the golden rainbow trout and fishing in general. That’s why officials planned the event with families in mind. The selected stocking locations have easy parking and are located near other accommodations. And the weeklong event will take place April 2–8, when many students will be on spring break. “The beauty of this is, when we go to a stream or a lake and we stock golden trout, you don’t have to be there the same day,” Hedrick says. “They’re not going to catch them all.”
You don’t need a golden ticket to participate in the Gold Rush—just a current West Virginia fishing license with a trout stamp. All anglers 15 and older must also have a valid form of ID while fishing.
For more information about the Gold Rush, including a complete list of locations and how to get a fishing license, visit www.wvgoldrush.com.