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

July 12, 2019 05:22 PM

Scientific testing has confirmed a fish caught in the Brainerd Lakes Area is very rare. It's a huge and bright orange fish that many have never seen before.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS unravels the mystery surrounding the fish and the fisherman.

Anglers bring a lot of interesting fish into Wild North Taxidermy, located outside of Brainerd. But this one is different, as it's a mystery.

It looks like a giant goldfish, but it's not-- they are carp.

What Jason Fugate caught bow-fishing in late April, on a lake he wishes to keep secret, is a bright orange, bigmouth buffalo fish-- the largest in the sucker family.

View this post on Instagram

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

A post shared by KSTP (@kstptv) on

Jason was wearing a camera on a head-strap. The video shows the fish appearing as a big, white blip in the water. He says it glowed. He fired twice and missed. He finally hit the big fish on his third try.

"Got him on the last shot" said Fugate. "Really it wasn't until after he was in the boat that I even realized what this fish was. And that it was so orange and you know, so big."

The bigmouth buffalo weighed 33.1 pounds and was 38 inches long. Remarkable for its size and rare for its orange color.

After checking with local experts, Fugate was referred to NDSU Biologist Dr. Alec Lackmann.  He's looked at thousands of bigmouth buffalo and just published a research paper Bigmouth Buffalo Ictiobus cyprinellus sets freshwater teleost record as improved age analysis reveals centenarian longevity.

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

Lackmann removed the otolith from the fish. The stones in the ear can determine age.

"One of my hypotheses is that it's just a very old fish," said Lackmann. "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."

Lackmann says bigmouth buffalo are misunderstood. They are native fish that are good for lakes and rivers. And they live longer than anyone realized.

"So it was previously thought that they 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," said Lackmann.

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

After careful examination back at his lab at NDSU, Lackmann confidently believes this is one of the oldest bigmouth buffalo fish he's ever seen. And its age may have something to do with its bright orange color. It could also have something to do with a genetic mutation. 

"We know this fish is a centenarian, more than 100 years old, one of the oldest we've ever seen" said Lackmann. "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."

Fugate is having the fish mounted. But to him, it's more than just a trophy on the wall.  

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

Jason's body stopped digesting nutrients from food. It's called Malabsorption Syndrome. He's lost a lot of weight and all his energy. It's been tough on Fugate's family.

"It would be nice if somebody could figure out what's wrong with him," said his wife Kelli Fugate. "Because we've had numerous doctors say well, it could be this, or it could be this, and then it's not that."

Kelli is optimistic the mystery fish her husband caught will draw attention to his mystery illness.

"Hopefully we get some kind of answers soon. That's my hope," she said. 

Jason has just started seeing a new doctor. He's having more tests done to try and identify why he's losing weight. As for his fish, he says when it gets back from the taxidermist it will hang on the wall of his house and serve as a reminder to not give up the fight.

"You know I'm not always in a good place, so in a lot of ways that fish kind of saved me," said Fugate. "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."

People have deep beliefs about why they catch fish. Often it's skill, sometimes it's luck, but in this case it's a mystery. 

Connect with KSTP

Join the conversation on our social media platforms. Share your comments on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.


Kevin Doran

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

Shooting in Minneapolis' Ventura Village neighborhood leaves 1 dead, 2 injured

US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia

Minnesota to expand vaccine eligibility once 70% of seniors receive doses