PHOTOS: Michigan Angler Reels in Rare ‘Xanthic’ Bright Orange Smallmouth Bass

by Amy Myers

No, it’s not a goldfish. It’s an incredibly rare xanthic smallmouth bass with bright orange coloring.

An angler from Michigan, Josh Chrenko, discovered the rare breed while casting his line on the Muskegon River near Newaygo, Michigan. It wasn’t a record-breaking catch, and the fish really didn’t put up too much of a fight for the fisherman. But once Chrenko saw that flash of orange inch closer to the surface, he knew he found a rare gem.

At the time, the fisherman took plenty of photos with the bizarre, neon smallmouth and posted the memorable catch to Facebook.

“Caught my first ever orange smallmouth,” Chrenko happily announced.

“I’m not making this up,” he added, explaining that the strangely-colored fish was not the product of any photo editing magic.

“This thing isn’t just kind of orange. It’s neon, goldfish orange,” the angler said, holding the flopping fish up to the camera.

In the following video, Chrenko filmed himself releasing the rare find back into the waters. At 23 inches, the fish was well within Michigan’s limits for smallmouth bass. However, this angler recognized just how special the fish was and knew he had to release it back into the water.

“Up until I caught this guy, I didn’t even know they existed,” Chrenko wrote on Facebook. “For someone that lives and breathes fishing for smallmouth, this is one I’ll remember my entire life.

“I can only imagine that this little guy had to overcome crazy odds to survive the first couple years of his life from predation,” he continued. “Being neon orange would make for a tough life as a small freshwater fish where pretty much everything is earth tones.”

Indiana Ecologist Confirms Smallmouth Bass Has Xanthochromism

Along with the fish’s golden scales, the fish also had bright orange eyes. This was indication that the smallmouth bass truly did have xanthochromism, according to Chrenko’s ecologist friend who works for the State of Indiana. Similar to albinism and melanism, the condition is a genetic mutation that affects the color of the fish (or other animal). Instead of appearing bright white or jet black, though, this fish’s body produced yellowish hues that replaced the typical red hues, causing the golden color to appear.

“There must be something in the gene pool,” Chrenko later noted to Premier Angler.

Another knowledgeable friend of the angler’s (this time a biologist) confirmed that “in nature, there’s about a 1-in-10,000 chance of even being born” with the orange-hued condition.

Naturally, this impressed Chrenko, considering how relatively large this smallmouth bass had become.

“This fish had to be resilient,” he said.

Even without the confirmation from his expert friends, Chrenko knew from his years of experience fishing on the Muskegon how rare this find was.

“I’m well connected in the smallmouth community and never saw anything quite like this,” Chrenko said.