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Second-grader lands albino catfish while fishing from shore in Red Lake Falls

Jim Violette and his grandson, Kylar Violette, were fishing near the confluence of the Red Lake and Clearwater rivers in Red Lake Falls, Minn., recently, when Kylar hooked into an odd-looking fish that immediately caught his grandpa's attention.

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Jim Violette and his grandson, Kylar Violette, were fishing near the confluence of the Red Lake and Clearwater rivers in Red Lake Falls, Minn., recently, when Kylar hooked into an odd-looking fish that immediately caught his grandpa's attention.

"When he was pulling it in, I could see it in the water, and it was really light," Violette recalls. "I said, 'Don't touch that.' I didn't know what it was."

Kylar pulled the fish on shore, and it had whiskers and beady eyes -- just like the other catfish they'd caught that morning -- but this one was different.

It had pink eyes, pink whiskers, pink fins and whitish-yellow skin.

A second-grader at J.A. Hughes Elementary School in Red Lake Falls, Kylar, who's 7, had landed an albino channel catfish, one of those blips of nature that rarely occur in the wild.

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Violette said he's never seen a catfish like it. The fish wasn't real big, he said, maybe 3 or 4 pounds, but it put up a good fight and appeared to be just as healthy as the other fish they'd caught that morning.

"We've caught hundreds and hundreds of catfish, so it was a surprise," Violette said of the albino catfish. "I've never seen one."

Few anglers have.

Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, said he's heard of albino catfish and even saw one once -- in a public aquarium.

But after looking at a photo of Kylar's catfish, Drewes said he's never seen one like it.

"Pretty cool ... a very unique animal," Drewes said in an e-mail.

Lynn Schlueter, Red River fisheries biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Devils Lake and an avid catfish angler, said fish such as the albino cat Kylar landed result from a "really hard-to-find" recessive gene.

He said a hatchery in his home state of Nebraska reared several albino catfish in an experiment about 25 years ago. The fish were stocked in a reservoir and showed up in anglers' catches for years after that, Schlueter said.

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But the odds of winning the lottery would be better than the likelihood of catching another albino catfish, Schlueter said.

"They are absolutely rare in the wild and for any albino to get to that size" is very unusual, Schlueter said. "Because it's white, it stands out. Your life expectancy is kind of short when you advertise that you're lunch. Their survival is so poor because predation gets them fast. So, it's neat to see one get to this size."

Jim Violette, who lives just up the riverbank from the spot where he and his grandson were fishing, said they put the catfish in a bucket with water and ran up to the house to take some quick photos.

While not overly big, the catfish would have made a good candidate for mounting just because it was such a unique specimen. But Kylar had other ideas.

"I asked him what he wanted to do with it, and he wanted to let it go," Violette said. "It's in the Red Lake River."

As for Kylar, the albino catfish might have been exciting. But according to his grandpa, that's the way it always is when something tugs at the end of the line.

"He always gets excited when he catches fish," Violette said.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

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Kylar Violette catfish
(Submitted photo) Kylar Violette, 7, Red Lake Falls, Minn., caught this rare albino catfish recently while fishing near the confluence of the Red Lake and Clearwater rivers with his grandpa, Jim Violette. Kylar is a second-grader at J.A. Hughes Elementary School in Red Lake Falls.

Related Topics: FISHING
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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