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Fisherman touched by support from around the world after catching mystery fish in Brainerd Lakes area

Updated: July 12, 2019 06:41 PM

KSTP has learned new information about a mystery fish and the overwhelming support for a local fisherman with a mystery illness. 

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In May, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS learned about a Minnesota man who caught a very unusual Bigmouth Buffalo fish. It was rare for its age and bright orange color. No one has ever seen one like it.

KSTP traveled to Wild North Taxidermy, north of Brainerd, and were there when Jason Fugate picked up his trophy.

Jason now has a permanent reminder of the catch of a lifetime that happened at a time in his life when he was ready to give up.

"It's still a mystery," said Fugate. "The Bigmouth Buffalo is just not supposed to be this color."

Taxidermist Bruce Edberg says people stop by his shop and ask to see it. 

"They come in and they're just in awe. It is pretty exciting to do something different," he said.

RELATED: Minnesota man catches a mystery fish; Rare for its color, remarkable for its age

NDSU Biologist Doctor Alec Lackmann visited Wild North Taxidermy in May to look at the fish. He and his colleagues recently published a research paper on the Bigmouth Buffalo that's changing the way scientists look at the fish. 

Lackmann determined the Bigmouth Buffalo is more than 100-years-old. As for its bright orange color, according to Lackmann, "after reviewing possibilities of what may account for the orange color of Jason's Bigmouth Buffalo, it seems very likely that this was a xanthic individual, resulting from a genetic mutation. These are rare forms that express more yellow/orange pigments than usual. Xanthic members of some other fish species have been reported. Similar to the genetic differences accounting for albinism across many groups of organisms, xanthism also occurs and is extremely rare. One thing about Bigmouth Buffalo that adds another layer of uncertainty to this hypothesis is their tendency to accrue small orange spots with age. We are currently determining ways to test whether this individual was indeed xanthic, using some of the tissue samples we preserved."  

Lackmann told KSTP he has shown pictures of the Bigmouth Buffalo to commercial fisherman who harvest them and nobody has seen one like it. 

"It's my hope fish," said Fugate. "You know, it was a reminder to keep going and keep trying. Don't give up because you don't know what might happen."

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Jason Fugate caught this fish-- a golden bigmouth buffalo-- this past weekend in Crow Wing County. The fish weighed out at 32.8 lbs, 36-inches in length and a 26 inch girth. Have any photos you would like to share with us? Click the link in our bio. #KSTP #MNFishing #MNOutdoors

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Jason's wife Kelli says she's happy the fish will be on a wall in their home. 

"Because every time he sees it he's going to think about what happened that night and everything that's happened since," she said.

Jason has malabsorption syndrome. He's lost more than 90 pounds and all of his energy. He can't work and he can't find a doctor who knows what's going on. 

"You see a man that's down," said Edberg. "And this gave him more of a boost of energy in his life. And it was exciting to see that."

What has also given the Fugate's a boost is the outpouring of support from people all over the world offering encouragement and advice.

Friends in the Brainerd Lakes area are helping with fundraisers. There is a bowfishing tournament Aug. 24 to help raise funds. And family members have created a GoFundMe to help the Fugate's with expenses. 

VIDEO: Watch as fisherman describes what it was like to catch mystery fish

"But for everyone to reach out like that it makes me feel not as alone," said Jason. "And there's a couple people that I talked to that are going through some similar stuff."

"I can be going into the grocery store and somebody says, hey, aren't you the one that your husband caught that fish?" said Kelli. "I'm very thankful for everything that's happened and the people that have reached out."

And new friendships have been born. Jason and Bruce have gone bowfishing together. And he and Alec also stay in touch. In fact, Alec paid for the fish to be mounted after Bruce gave a big discount on his time and services.

Kelli says the excitement of the bright orange Bigmouth Buffalo fish has been a pleasant distraction after a year of struggles. And Jason stills wonders why he was the one to catch it. 

But orange is the color of joy and wellness and emotional energy-- all things Jason and his family need right now. Perhaps the bright orange fish is a sign that brighter days are ahead.

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Credits

Kevin Doran

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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