Man Catches 'Extremely Rare' Golden Crappie on Minnesota Lake

A man has caught an "extremely rare" golden crappie fish on a lake in Minnesota.

Rick Konakowitz snagged the unusually colored crappie while ice fishing on Clear Lake earlier this month, KSTP reported.

Crappies are a genus (group of species) of North American freshwater fish in the family of sunfish called Centrarchidae.

The genus comprises two species—the white crappie and black crappie—both of which are among the most popular fish in North America for anglers. Crappies are considered to be one of the best-tasting freshwater fish.

Both crappie species can vary in color, and often have a silvery hue. Black crappies tend to be darker, although this is not always the case.

"Crappies usually have a white to silvery background, sometimes with a greenish tinge, and a black, splotchy pattern. There are two species of crappies, black and white. They look quite similar but white crappie have fewer black splotches and they tend to form a barred pattern," Loren Miller, a fish geneticist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told Newsweek.

Catching a golden-colored crappie is an extremely rare occurrence. But Konakowitz, 60, did just that.

"My initial reaction was I thought it was a sunfish while it was still in the ice hole due to its color. But after it was out I thought, 'What is this?' After looking at it I realized it was a crappie but didn't know why it was golden-colored," Konakowitz told Newsweek.

"I've heard of albino-type fish but this was not white. My fiancée took a picture, put it on Facebook, then we started getting replies from people googling it. That's how we found out it was a golden crappie and extremely rare. To me it was a once-in-a-lifetime fish. [I'm] getting a replica made of it."

Alec Lackmann, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said catching a golden-colored crappie was very unusual.

"They're extremely rare in wild populations," Lackmann said. "It was pretty striking to see such a vividly bright orange golden color like that."

Gold Pigments in the Skin

Miller said the gold color was the result of a "xanthic mutation," which results in the over-expression of yellow pigments in the skin. The lake where Konakowitz caught the golden crappie is only known to have black crappies, meaning it is a mutant black crappie.

"Dark pigments are suppressed leaving the yellows additionally enhanced," she said. "This type of pigment mutation affects many fish species, as well as amphibians and reptiles. It appears to be a recessive mutation, meaning two 'normal' carrier parents mate and produce some double-recessive mutants. It's possible that this individual mutated at an early stage knocking out normal pigment as all cells developed."

She said fish with such mutations are "rare" but not completely unheard of, although good estimates of their actual occurrence are lacking.

"To put it in context, I found an estimated annual harvest of seven million crappies in our state of Minnesota alone and this was the only golden crappie I've heard about for the past couple years. They are likely more prevalent at hatch, but you can imagine that most would have a tough time surviving in the wild when they look like a bright fishing lure."

Miller said she was surprised that this particular fish had survived given that its golden color makes it a target for predators.

"They glow, so obviously, out in the wild there are a lot of big fish out there waiting to eat them. So it is a surprise that many at all would make it to get that large, that old," Miller told KEYC.

"This fish probably had numerous brothers and sisters that were yellow but died or were eaten at a young age. So, it means those genes are in that lake too, which means another one could show up at another time down the line."

"It's a rarity for sure for any one individual to manage to catch one," Miller told KSTP.

Update: 02/21/22, 11:1 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include additional comments from Loren Miller.

A golden crappie fish
The golden crappie caught by Rick Konakowitz in Minnesota. Rick Konakowitz