Minnesota angler’s mysterious ‘giant goldfish’ helps shed light on species
Jun 14, 2019 08:33AM
● By Editor
By Zekriah Chaudry of The St. Paul Pioneer Press - April 14, 2019
Jason Fugate pulled into a bay on a lake 15 miles from his home in Baxter, Minn. It was 4 in the morning, and he had spent the night bowfishing, but his aluminum bow was packed away and he decided he would go back to shore as soon as the sun came up.
But then floodlights on the bottom of his boat illuminated something glowing in the water. He moved his boat closer until he had a better look at what it was.
“That’s a big-ass fish,” he remembers thinking.
It was. The fish was the biggest he had seen all day.
Fugate grabbed his bow and launched three barbed arrows into the water, connecting on the third try. When he reeled it onto his boat, Fugate noticed it wasn’t just a big fish. It was a big, bright orange fish.
Fugate returned to shore, unsure of what to do with the unusual catch. He sent a picture to his wife, who wondered if he had killed a mammoth-size goldfish.
SO WHAT WAS IT?
Alec Lackmann, an aquatics expert at North Dakota State University, was one of the scientists who studied the 33-pound fish. He described it as a one-in-many-thousands catch.
Fugate connected with Lackmann a few days after catching the fish, which turned out to be a bigmouth buffalo.
Such fish are native to Minnesota and are the largest member of the sucker family; they are also Lackmann’s area of expertise. Lackmann estimated the age of Fugate’s fish as at least 100 years old.
THE BIGMOUTH BUFFALO
Lackmann has been researching the ages of bigmouth buffalo since 2016. He learned the fish lives far beyond the 10 to 20 years previously thought. He did this by thin-sectioning otoliths — calcium structures — from the fish’s inner ear to estimate its age.
According to Lackmann, bigmouth buffalo and their conservation are now getting more attention.
A 2009 Minnesota state law allowed night fishing of “rough fish” with bow and arrows. It has grown in popularity, and since there is no limit, it has led to a lot of fish being killed.
This can be positive for getting rid of invasive fish but there is also a possibility it could be taking a toll on the bigmouth buffalo, he said. Native bigmouth buffalo are often lumped together with invasive fish like carp because they look similar in size and outward appearance, he said.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
While scientists cannot be sure of what caused the orange hue of Fugate’s fish, Lackmann’s hypothesis that it is likely related to a genetic mutation of the fish, its old age or a combination of the two factors. Research will continue to be done to find out more about the species, and Lackmann plans to use Fugate’s fish in his next study.Fugate is also on board with improving protections for bigmouth buffalo; he said he would not have shot the fish had he known of its rarity. He said he has a newfound appreciation for the species.
Fugate isn’t planning to tell anyone the lake he caught the fish in, preserving his lucky fishing location. He also wants to mount the fish on a wall in his home. His daughter calls it her “unicorn fish,” according to Fugate. But unlike a mystical creature, there are probably more of them out there, according to Lackmann.
To read the original article and see related reporting, follow this link to the Pioneer Press website. https://www.twincities.com/2019/06/14/minnesota-anglers-mysterious-giant-goldfish-helps-shed-light-o...