Palomino vs. Golden Rainbow

There has been a lot of debate on the correct identification of the yellow trout that swim in the waters of Oklahoma. You have probably heard them referred to as Banana Trout, palomino or golden rainbows. This has sparked the interest of the NWO staff, so I decided to do some digging on how to correctly identify the yellow fish and educate all Oklahoma anglers. Growing up fly fishing and using the term palomino trout for all the yellow or golden rainbows I was pursuing, I was intrigued about the difference between the palomino and golden rainbows and wanted to investigate the matter further.

I wanted to get some truth data from sources outside a google search since you can’t believe everything you read on the internet (except this article). The first step was to contact an authority figure in the state where golden rainbows first appeared...West Virginia. I contacted the West Virginia State Trout and Stream Habitat Biologist, David Thorne. David has his B.S. and M.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Resources.

What is a palomino and what is a golden rainbow?

According to Thorne, they are the same fish. Specifically, mutated Oncorhynchus mykiss (Rainbow Trout). These mutated trout should not be confused with the Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) which is a separate subspecies found in specific high mountain lakes and streams in the west. Thorne stated that there are no differences between a palomino trout or a West Virginia golden rainbow, they are simply names that are used synonymously to describe the same fish, same subspecies, with the same mutation. 

This mutation was discovered in the 1950’s when one fish showed a light yellow color as a fry. This one fish was a female and the hatchery harvested her eggs and bred them. West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources then introduced the golden rainbow to the public in 1963 as part of West Virginia’s Centennial celebration. After decades of selective breeding, West Virginia’s version of the golden rainbow, or palomino, trout remains a popular sport fish throughout the state today.

Why call them palominos and not golden rainbows? 

I reached out to Jim from Cedar Springs Hatchery in Pennsylvania to find out a little more information on the golden rainbow trout. Jim owns and runs one of PA’s oldest and most notorious trout hatcheries. It was founded by his father after World War II. He filled me in on some history and how the trout got their name. 

As I previously mentioned, upon discovery, these trout became a big hit in their home state of West Virginia, and the idea of creating a program that allowed their fishing program to excel surfaced. This caught the attention of the state of Pennsylvania. They wanted to reap the same benefits of this marketable opportunity. After a few years of denial from WV, Jim stated that Pennsylvania Fish & Boat finally worked a deal with the West Virginia DNR. They agreed to share some of the WV Golden Rainbow eggs, under the condition that the mutated rainbow’s name be reserved for WV use only. He was unsure of the exact conditions, but due to this, the rise of various names for the trout arose. The name palomino trout surfaced and stuck. We ended the call with a confirming question, are there any differences in a palomino and golden rainbow? In accordance with our previous conversation with David Thorne, Jim stated that there is no difference between the two ("ONE") fish. The reason you see some palomino trout that are lighter in color and some brighter is due to the selective breeding for increased color, making the fish more aesthetically pleasing to the angler in pursuit. End of the day, same fish (two names).

How about Oklahoma’s banana trout? 

I reached out to Marvin from Crystal Trout Hatchery in Missouri (the facility that stocks the Blue River in Oklahoma) for just one more clarification. Amazingly enough, Marvin stated that the palomino and golden rainbows are just another name for the mutated rainbow. Now what makes Marvin’s story different from Jim’s story, is that Missouri did not use West Virginia's mutated trout, in fact they came across their own mutation by selectively breeding a ‘tiger striped” rainbow with various females until the golden colored offspring were a bright gold. From there they selectively breed the pals/goldies with each other. Again...end of the day, same fish (two names).  

What do I call them?

After reading it should be apparent that it doesn’t matter what you call them. If you want to use the noun palomino because it sounds better and won’t add any confusion with golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita), go ahead. Palomino has a nice ring to it, and sounds appealing, especially when you’re in the Rockies chasing bananas on the South Platte River in Cheesmen Canyon or fishing for them in Oklahoma. If you want to call them golden rainbows, go ahead! To each their own. 

At the end of the day it truly doesn’t matter what you call them. If the West Virginia biologist and the hatchery experts say they are the same fish, then you too can call them whatever you like. As long as you are enjoying the outdoors and catching fish, that’s all that matters. 

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Nate Satterelli 

Native Waters Outfitters