Throughout much of our region local and state agencies stock what has come to be known as the golden trout, which traditionally supplements routine stockings of rainbow trout and have been heralded as a treat for anglers who catch this unusually colored fish. They have been a popular addition to many state agency programs for several decades.

fishing for golden trout
The author with a stocky stocked golden trout.

Golden Trout History

How they got their origin is a rather unique and interesting story. Back in 1955 the hatchery manager of a Petersburg, WV facility, Vincent Evans, 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” length and was capable of producing eggs. Over time, her offspring 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 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 and catching 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 upped the ante for their stocking program in 2019 with a springtime kick-off called the “Gold Rush,” which included stocking 40,000 golden trout statewide. All this began with one single fish!

Over the years the goldens have become very popular and they have a strong following in many areas as far flung as California, where they are called “lightning trout.” Some anglers refer to them as “palomino trout.” Goldens can reach weights up to 12 to 14 pounds but most anglers view a 20-incher as a fine fish. Hatchery-sized, 10” to 14” goldens are extremely vulnerable to overhead predation from hawks, osprey, and herons, as they stand out like goldfish in a koi pond. Human angler-predators can use this to their advantage, too. 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. You just won’t see the rainbows, but they are there.

How to Catch Golden Trout

Larger holdover adult goldens often get 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. 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 PowerBait products. Big goldens, however, tend to follow then refuse many lure and bait options, thus frustrating anglers who can easily see how big a fish they are missing out on.

a golden trout on the fishing line
This spooky golden couldn’t resist the added appeal of a meal worm.

Many years ago, I watched as a seven- or eight-year-old lad fished diligently for more than an hour attempting to coax a big golden from underneath a rock ledge on a southern Pennsylvania stream. He would change baits every 10 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 shot 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.

My personal best golden was a stout, hook-jawed male that struck a tiny hair jig that I could barely cast on my ultralight spinning stick and four-pound mono. The fish had been cruising shallow with several other golden trout and actually took my jig once but quickly came off. After watching, following, and making many casts to this individual fish, I finally hooked it again and this time the tiny jig held.

Once stocked golden trout are in a stream or pond and survive some angling pressure, they become wary. Their bright coloration also makes them easy targets for birds of prey, so often, they develop a skittish, spooky nature. Try these options to cash in on gold:

  • Hair Jigs - We like to toss them below small bobbers and allow the wind or current to take them to the fish. The best sizes are 1/32-, 1/64- and even 1/80-ounce jigs and they can also be tipped with a piece of mealworm or PowerBait products, where legal.
  • Small In-Line Spinners – Small spinners like Dangle lures, size #1 and #0 Mepps, and Panther Martins can catch the eye of cruising goldens or those hunkered under an undercut bank. Single hooks hold more fish than those stock trebles. Don’t overlook hardware like Kastmasters and Swedish Pimple spoons.
  • Live and Prepared Baits - Some of our best gold has been mined with live mealworms, garden worms, or prepared dough type baits like the Berkley PowerBait lineup. Additionally, those Power Trout Worms in pink and orange can be good choices. Fish them on a Trout Magnet 1/64th ounce jig head either with current or drifting below a small float.

As our winter fishing shows and off-seasons come and go, many of us will remember the fishing successes and failures that we had in 2023. But the Maryland DNR and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have already begun this year’s trout stocking efforts in many of our regional streams and creeks, including the plantings of golden trout. Keep your eye on their websites and key in on those waters, and soon you might strike gold.

-By Jim Gronaw