Man Catches Extremely Rare Vivid Orange Fish, Expert Reveals Mystery Behind Its Bright Color

June 12, 2019 Updated: June 12, 2019

A giant and extremely rare fish caught by a fisherman in Minnesota may be unusually bright orange in color because of its old age, according to experts.

Jason Fugate was bow-fishing with his friend Jamie Brichacek in the Brainerd Lakes area in April, when he hooked the vivid orange Bigmouth Buffalo fish, which weighed in at 33.1 pounds.

“I’ll be honest: I didn’t realize it was orange until I had it in the boat,” Fugate told Fox News.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was something sunken. As I got up closer it swam and came up a little bit and just had that big glow like it was just a big buffalo fish.”

The Bigmouth Buffalo, which is native to North America, is usually a dull brownish olive color and can weigh up to 65 pounds. According to Fox, it is the largest species of the “sucker” fish family.

Intrigued by its unusually intense orange coloring, Fugate decided to contact North Dakota State University biologist Dr. Alec Lackmann, who specializes in Bigmouth Buffalo.

Although Lackmann had seen thousands of photos of the species in the past, he was still stunned when he saw photos of special catch, he told KSTPTV.

“But when I saw the first pictures that Jason sent me I was actually pretty shocked because it was a bright, vivid orange,” he said.

“I had never seen something like that all across the entire body of the fish. So it was really striking and it surprised me, even though I’ve looked at thousands of Bigmouth Buffalo over the past eight or nine years.”

To find out just how old Fugate’s Bigmouth Buffalo fish was, the biologist extracted its otolith—ear stones found inside the fish’s head.

Lackmann then discovered it was among the oldest he’d ever seen, and he thinks its age, as well as the possibility of genetic mutation, could have played a role in its distinct coloring.

“One of my hypotheses is that it’s just a very old fish,” he said. “And it might have just accumulated a lot of things over its lifetime. And that’s why it was just so vivid orange like this.”

He explained that in the past, it was believed that the species could live “10 to 20 years max, maybe 30 years.”

“But some of the first fish I began aging in Minnesota were well over 85 years old, even up to 110 years of age,” he added.

Lackmann believes Fugate’s catch could be one of the oldest Bigmouth Buffalo fish he has ever come across.

“We know this fish is a centenarian, more than 100 years old, one of the oldest we’ve ever seen,” Lackmann told KSTPTV. “The oldest we’ve documented in our paper was 112 years old. We just cannot reveal the exact age at this time because it needs to undergo further analysis.”

Fisherman Fugate has decided to mount the fish on his wall, and explained it is special to him in more ways than just its unusual coloring.

In an interview with KSTPTV, he explained that he is suffering from a rare illness, Malabsorption syndrome, and that the fish “saved” him, as it is a reminder to always persevere.

“So about a year ago I started coming down with some illness. And since then I’ve lost about 90 pounds. It’s not a real good outlook for me,” Fugate said.

The disease means his small intestine is not able to absorb enough of certain nutrients and fluids, according to Healthline.

“You know I’m not always in a good place, so in a lot of ways that fish kind of saved me,” Fugate told KSTPTV.

“Why was I there? Why did I get the opportunity with this fish? It showed me, you know, to keep going, don’t give up.”

“Since it’s happened, it’s been a token of hope to me and my family with all the struggles that can happen,” Fugate told Fox News.

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