A Virginia man caught a fish that’s so rare, it was recognized by state wildlife officials.
Retired veteran John Byrd, of Bowling Green, Virginia, reeled in an 11.5-inch blue-mouth chain pickerel from a 14-acre private pond in Caroline County, according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
Chain pickerel inhabit various bodies of water in Virginia, though usually, the species has yellow to green scales, the DWR explained in a blog post on Thursday, July 13.
Photos of the chain pickerel that Byrd caught show the fish appears to have a vibrant blue mouth while its scales were alternating shades of blue, green and yellow.
“I’d never seen one that color,” Byrd told the Virginia DWR in a statement.
He went on to say he’s gone “fishing in that pond for more than 20 years.”
Byrd reportedly contacted the Virginia DWR about his unusual catch and got in touch with Scott Herrmann, the agency’s regional fisheries biologist.
Hermann confirmed that Byrd caught an “extremely rare” chain pickerel with a “wild genetic pigment mutation,” according to the Virginia DWR.
“It pretty much falls into the one-in-a-lifetime category of catches,” Hermann said in a statement.
“The normal coloration expressed in the green of a chain pickerel is from the xanthins of the yellow pigments,” he continued. “Blue pickerel express the rare mutation that is axanthic.”
Aside from the color, Hermann said the pickerel appears to be normal.
Byrd used a Whopper Plopper fishing lure to hook the rare fish, and he’s planning on keeping his catch, according to the Virginia DWR.
The wildlife agency’s blog notes that chain pickerel are “native” to Virginia and can be found in rivers, stream, reservoirs and impoundments.
Chain pickerel are a long and slim freshwater fish that have a dark, almost black coloration when they’re young, and then their scales usually turn to a yellow-green as they grow, according to the Virginia DWR.
The species reportedly got its name because they have a “chain-like, pattern of black lines” expressed on their bodies.
“Pickerels have fully scaled cheeks and gill covers,” the Virginia DWR wrote. “The blue-mouth mutation has been reported in chain pickerel in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but is quite rare.”
The Virginia DWR’s chain pickerel information profile states that the “best time” to fish for pickerel is from October to March, when water temperatures are between 55- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit.
The U.S. Geological Survey reports that chain pickerel can be primarily found on throughout “the Atlantic slope from southwest Maine to southern Florida,” but some have also been found in the Mississippi River basin, upland streams in southeastern Missouri, eastern Texas and parts of the Gulf Coast.