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The Black Spotted Gila Trout in Arizona and New Mexico: Endangered and Threatened Species With Limited Trout Fishing

Updated on January 15, 2018
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Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti, a wonderful geography of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

Gila Trout of Arizona and New Mexico courtesy of the New Mexico Game & Fish
Gila Trout of Arizona and New Mexico courtesy of the New Mexico Game & Fish

Another Endangered Fish Species

The Gila trout is a subspecies of the native trout with the origin being the southwestern part of the United States of America. The Gila trout are related to the Rainbow and Cutthroats of the salmonids group. For so many years now, the Gila trout have been considered an endangered species with extinction. That consideration, however, changed in 2006 after much work was done by the Game and Fish departments of Arizona and New Mexico.

All these organizations listed the Gila trout as a threatened species and therefore provided a rule which only allowed limited sport fishing at least for the first time in over half a century. Before the year 1950 when the fishing of Gila trout was uncontrolled, their numbers had been so depleted and reduced to the extent that they were not accessible by fishermen. However, by 2011, there is Gila trout fishing in both states.

Unusual and threatened species of Arizona trout - the Gila trout
Unusual and threatened species of Arizona trout - the Gila trout

Characteristics and History

A Gila trout has a yellow head with black spots. It has a maximum total average length of about 550mm which is approximately 21.7 inches. Gila trout are closely related to Apache trout but the latter has a spot behind the eye, on the head, and big noticeable spots on the body. The Gila trout is characterized by numerous small dark spots on the upper half of the body.

Gila trout were initially widespread towards the upper Gila River Basin. They however declined in numbers due to hybridization with their closely related Rainbow trout. Also their decline was enhanced by the predation and competition with Brown trout in addition to their deteriorating and degrading habitat. Forest fires burning over greater expanses and contributing ever more pollutants, ash, grazing near the streams, and activities (substances) to suppress those fires are more perils for Gila trout populations.Today, the distribution of Gila trout consists of fourteen populations in stream habitats in New Mexico and Arizona. Some of the locations in New Mexico include: Deadman and Massacre Canyons; Rainy Mesa, Raw Meat Creek, Hells Hole, Hard Scrabble Canyon, Loco Mountain.

Gila trout fly fishing in New Mexico and Arizona was restricted under the status of the trout being pronounced as an endangered species in1973. The down-listing of these threatened species was done in the states of New Mexico and Arizona to enable them to manage the population of these species by regulating sport fishing in selected areas. Guidelines were developed to allow for limited sport fishing in specific waters.

Stocking of non-native trout was replaced by stocking Gila trout. Several organizations built restoration streams which were guarded from fishing. With limited best fishing in such areas, the unique native species are given a chance to develop and reproduce enough. This also increases awareness of the public knowledge on conservation. Gila trout replicated from the native gene pool at fisheries are said to be reproducing on their own in New Mexico.

Fly fishing is the most renowned method for catching trout and salmon. Many fly anglers also catch other unintended species in the process of fishing for their main target species, the trout. An increasing number of anglers are nowadays attempting to catch as many different species as possible using the fly. However, with the advancement of technology and the development of many stronger reels and rods, larger species have become targets.

Fly fishing for trout is a very popular sport that can be done using various methods and any kind of the general types of flies. In other places, especially where heavy trout fishing areas are, successful trout harvesting comes from using nymphs that were designed to drift down to the bottom of the water. Nearly 90 percent of the feeding time of a trout is under the water. Therefore nymphing is the best fishing in Arizona.

Mora National Fish Hatchery & Technology Center in New Mexico has been the most important asset in helping strains of Gila trout to survive.This place has been the home of rescued Gila trout which were in danger from huge summer wild fires in their dry locales. Fish were transported directly to the hatchery. It has also been a valuable asset to scientists conducting studies of fish - in particular the best feed for young Gila trout to thrive.

The Fisheries Services of the US and the State wildlife and fisheries management agencies are responsible for the establishment of fishing rules and regulation that will work to reduce over exploitation of the Gila trout in Arizona and New Mexico. This has also enhanced the progress towards full recovery and management of the Gila trout within their threshold. In the current world, such support may come from both sports fishing enthusiasts and private landowners who might benefit also from allowing access to fishing on their property. In addition, the involvement of the public in this general action of restoration and conservation can provide an opportunity for their increment.

The bottom line behind all the restoration and control of fishing grounds is to establish a strategy to help sustain and maintain Gila trout population. A population is considered stable when it can sustain itself through natural reproduction and can persist under varying habitat conditions.

POST NOTE: As of June 16, 2012, conservationists are concerned that dirt, ash, and charred and broken pieces of wood are coming down waterways into the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Spruce Creek, Whiskey Creek, and Langstroth Creek are where biologists are netting the Gila and then transporting them by helicopter to a hatchery in northern New Mexico. Conservationists have been very proactive since restoring native trout to the area. Also, the recent severe summer fires in Arizona and New Mexico have made these individuals cautious and much better prepared to deal with problems of this kind.

Catching a Gila Trout

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© 2012 John R Wilsdon


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Nice to know that the Gila trout have come off of the endangered list and are now flourishing in Arizona and nearby places. Voted up, useful and interesting.


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