South Dakota produces unique ‘golden walleye’

A customer with northeast South Dakota-based fishing guide Joe Honer caught and released this unique golden walleye in the S.D. Glacial Lakes region late last week.

Joe Honer has been guiding for decades, but he’s never seen anything like the fish one of his customers caught late last week. Pursuing September walleyes in the Glacial Lakes region of northeastern South Dakota, Honer’s boat caught and released a gorgeous 14-inch golden walleye. Sandy Stewart from Nebraska caught the fish on an 1/8-ounce white jig tipped with a 3-inch white Gulp! minnow grub.

“We were just pitching jigs into shallow water,” Honer told Outdoor News this morning. “I’ve seen a lot of color varieties of walleyes over the years but never one like this. It was almost bright chartreuse with white on the top and bottom of the tail.”

Though some fish fade quickly when out of the water, Honer said this fish remained bright and golden while they snapped a couple quick pictures before releasing it.

“It’s the only one I’ve ever seen, and I spoke with some South Dakota Fisheries guys and they’d never seen anything like it either,” Honer said.

Brian Blackwell, a S.D. Game and Fish fisheries biologist from Webster said the images were the first he’d ever seen a golden walleye from the area.

“We have observed some white bass (Waubay Lake, Big Stone Lake) that are gold like this. I’m not sure of the cause, but possibly a genetic mutation. There is an article about a walleye caught from Oneida Lake, N.Y., in 2016 where it is suggested that the gold is the result of a genetic mutation.”

Blackwell provided that information concerning the Oneida fish below.

Dr. Robert Montgomerie, a Professor and Research Chair in Biology at Queen’s University, explained, “Normally, the fish scales receive incoming white light and different molecular structures convert white light to blue or yellow, which make the fish look green. In the yellow (gold) bass, it is likely that some spontaneous mutation occurred that prevented the scales from making the proper molecular structures to convert white light to blue. Without the structures that convert white light to blue, the fish looks yellow (gold) rather than green (which is what you see when blue and yellow combine). It’s not that the bass has gained a yellow pigment but rather lost the ability to produce the blue colours that make its scales look green.”

Loren Miller, a Minnesota DNR fisheries research scientist in St. Paul said that over the past couple years, he’s also been asked about a golden buffalo and golden crappie. He suspects these cases involve a “xanthic” pigment mutation.

“Xanthophore: A pigment-containing cell that contains carotenoids and pteridines, which impart yellow and reddish pigments. Maybe it’s rare because it takes multiple mutations or it happens more often but they rarely survive this long,” Miller said via email.

Eden-S.D.-based Honer guides more than 100 days per year and has been guiding full time for 14 years and part-time guide for another seven while working as a papermaker. Check out his guide service at

Outdoor News first saw the fish via Target Walleye, which has some other interesting images of other golden walleyes that you can view here.

Categories: News, Rob Drieslein, Walleye

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