This article was recently posted in the Maryland Fishing and Hunting Journal.

Shills, Palominos, Bananas, or Rainbow Albinos are all the same. These names refer to the Golden Trout. You can catch these hatchery reared hybrid trout in Maryland, Pennsylvania, other 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. Maryland stocks these hybrids in the waters where Put and Take fishing is allowed.

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 were stocked along 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.

It took Maryland a while to get on board with the golden trout in their stocking program. Previous hatchery managers, and administrators, felt these hybrids were a joke. Despite requests from anglers, Golden’s were in the dead zone. Times have since changed and Maryland has 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.

Pennsylvania stocked Golden Trout before Maryland. My first golden catch was a 14-inch beauty caught in Deer Creek, in 1966. The trout must have swum downstream from the Keystone State, and ended up along Telegraph Road, under an old wooden bridge. I tried to catch that fish for hours. I had it hooked several times but got so excited that I would lose him. Finally, with help from my Dad, the Golden Beauty was in the net. That was the only trout in my creel that day. This was probably the first documented Golden Trout harvest recorded in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun papers sportswriter, Bill Burton, took my picture and published the story.

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. Thin line is needed to regularly fool these reluctant biters. The strong battle will result in a break off if your drag is not set properly.

Maryland and Pennsylvania anglers have the potential to catch a Grand Slam. This means that in one day, you can catch every species of trout available. Brook, Rainbow, Brown, Golden, and Cutthroat.  Many of the hatchery eggs come from Federal hatcheries such as the one in Ennis Montana. Your Fishing License fees and trout stamp pay for the stocked and wild trout programs.

Go for the GOLD!!!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, catch him at