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At a glance
This freshwater fish, found only in North America, is often mentioned together with its close relative the mooneye. In fact, unless you look closely, telling the two apart can be a challenge. Because it is a surface and midwater swimmer, the goldeye feasts on both insects and other small fish. Well known to gourmets, it has been popularized for its fine flavour.
Smoke-cured goldeye is sold as "Winnipeg goldeye" for a high price. Commercial fishermen seek out this fish because of its superior flesh qualities and exceptional flavour. Goldeye processing is done almost exclusively in the City of Winnipeg.
About the goldeye
Although physically similar to the mooneye, several physical characteristics set the goldeye apart from its relative. The goldeye's dorsal fin begins behind where the anal fin starts. Unlike the mooneye, the goldeye has a fleshy keel (underbelly) free of scales on the midline of the abdomen behind its pelvic fins.
The body of the goldeye is not quite as deep as the mooneye's, and its profile is straight, not arched. Beneath its short, blunt, rounded snout is a small mouth that contains many sharp teeth both on its jaws and tongue.
The goldeye's back is olive or brown; its eyes have a gold-coloured iris (hence its name). Its vision is adapted to the low-light conditions and turbid water.
Goldeye are small fish, averaging about 450 g in weight and 30.5 cm in length. Because of their size, they are not particularly appealing to sport fishermen looking for a big catch.
Goldeye feed at both midwater and surface levels. They feed primarily on aquatic insects and land insects that fall into the water. They also eat small fish and their preferred prey is the emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides).
Lifecycle and reproduction
Their sex and the region they live in determine when a goldeye reaches sexual maturity. Males have been known to mature as early as age two in the southern part of their range.
Because goldeye eggs are buoyant, they do not need substrate - a surface on which organisms attach to and grow on - in their spawning habitat. The water goldeye spawn in is turbid, making it difficult to observe the spawning process. Females produce anywhere from 6,000 to 25,000 eggs. It is thought that goldeye in some rivers may migrate upstream after spawning and travel downstream in the fall.
The underwater world of the goldeye
Goldeye prefer the warm, silty, slow-moving waters of large rivers, and the quiet, muddy shallows of lakes, and marshes. Their principal predators are large fish such as the channel catfish in the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Walleye, Sauger, Inconnu and Northern Pike are other fish that prey on the goldeye.
Fishing or harvesting the species
Commercial fishermen use gillnets to catch goldeye; anglers use light tackle with wet or dry flies, small spinners or natural bait. Lake Winnipeg was once the largest producer of these fish, but stocks were almost wiped out in the twenties as a result of overfishing. Today the main goldeye fishery is centered in the North and South Saskatchewan River.
Revised: October 2009