Gila Trout Recovery & Angling
NEW! We are accepting public comment on a proposal (click here for PDF) to conduct a Gila trout restoration project in Whitewater Creek on the Gila National Forest. Comments would be most helpful if received by March 25th, 2016.
Send comments to:
Ecosphere Environmental Services
Attn: Jonathan Olson
1660 Old Pecos Trail, Suite H
Fax: (505) 954-1882
Click the tab headings below for more Gila Trout Recovery and Angling information and regulations.
Gila trout have been described as “taking their colors from the New Mexican sunset”, an apt description. Their iridescent gold sides blend to a darker shade of copper on the gill covers. Small, profuse spots cover the upper half of the body and a faint, salmon-pink band is present on adults, particularly during spawning season. A yellow cutthroat mark is present on most larger fish and parr marks are commonly found on adults. Because Gila trout are often found in small streams, they rarely grow larger than 12 inches.
Gila trout typically spawn in early spring, when water temperatures are rising. They sexually mature by age 3 and live between 4 and 6 years. Gila trout are capable of hybridizing with rainbow trout which has greatly reduced the range of pure Gila trout.
Where are they found?
The Gila Wilderness was created in June 1924 at the urging of the conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold and was the world’s first designated wilderness. As part of congressionally designated wilderness, there are no roads and the only travel permitted is by foot or horseback. Logging is not allowed nor any commercial use except livestock grazing. Hunting and fishing activities, however, are open to everyone under laws set by the New Mexico State Game Commission.
Gila trout are relatives of the Pacific salmon, originally making their way up into the mountains of the Southwest by migrating from the Gulf of California. As the climate and landscape changed, they could no longer move between the mountains and the ocean. Their range was reduced to the mountain streams of the Gila, San Francisco, and Verde River Basins in New Mexico, where they evolved to survive harsh conditions. By the late 1800’s overfishing, land use practices that led to habitat deterioration and stocking of nonnative trout, which compete with, predate upon, and sometimes interbreed with Gila trout, began to take its toll on Gila trout. In the 1950’s, when Gila trout was officially described as a species, they remained in only five streams.
Gila trout was the first western North American fish to be actively managed to conserve it. Conservation efforts began as early as the 1920s when the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish established the Jenks Cabin Hatchery in the heart of the Gila and began raising Gila trout. Around the same time, the agency established a policy of not stocking nonnative salmonids into streams known to support Gila trout. In the 1950s, the first Gila trout streams were closed to angling. Despite these efforts, Gila trout was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act of 1974.
Today, Gila trout conservation is guided by the Gila Trout Recovery Plan (2003) and the Gila Trout Recovery Team, which is composed of professionals from NM Department of Game and Fish, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of New Mexico, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The agencies continue a program of stream restoration – removing nonnative species, constructing barriers to prevent nonnatives from reinvading, and returning Gila trout – and pure Gila trout currently inhabit eleven streams in New Mexico.
In addition to competition and hybridization with nonnative trout, wildfire is a major threat to the survival of Gila trout. Toxic ash flows following high-intensity wildfires often result in fish kills. Multiple wildfires have had the direct and immediate effect of eliminating fish from a stream and because of this, Gila trout are often evacuated from streams that are threatened by wildfires. The largest fire in New Mexico history, the nearly 300,000 acre Whitewater Baldy Fire, burned through nearly half of the existing Gila trout streams in 2012 and fish were eliminated from six of the eight streams that were within the burned area. Gila trout were evacuated from three streams following the fire.
Current conservation efforts (see Current Projects tab on this page) consist of returning Gila trout to the streams affected by the wildfire, continuing to establish them in new streams, and developing opportunities to fish for this rare trout (see Where to Fish tab on this page).
Content updated 12-08-2016.
Gila Trout Angling Streams
Click image above to enlarge map.
Wild Gila Trout Streams
Wild Gila trout populations can be found in three streams open to limited angling. Check the NM Fishing Rules and Info Booklet for current regulations.
Black Canyon above fish barrier: Open July 1 – October 31, catch and release, single hook/artificial lure.
Trout populations were severely impacted by the 2013 Silver Fire and subsequent flooding, but habitat and the trout population are beginning to rebound. Over 3,500 Gila trout were stocked throughout Black Canyon (above Black Canyon Campground) in September 2015. In March 2016 an additional 1015 Gila trout were stocked in Black Canyon.
Mogollon Creek from waterfall to Trail Canyon: Open July 1 – October 31, catch and release, single hook/artificial lure.
Surveys conducted upstream of the area open to fishing in spring 2013 indicate a good Gila trout population remains in Mogollon Creek. Mogollon Creek currently presents the only angling opportunity for wild Gila trout.
Willow Creek: Open year-round, 2 Gila trout limit.
Recent surveys (summer 2016) indicate a naturally reproducing population of Gila trout in Willow Creek. In addition, 3,000 5” Gila trout were stocked in November 2016.
Stocked Gila Trout Waters
Hatchery Gila trout are currently being stocked regularly in six streams and are occasionally stocked in Lake Roberts. Check the NM Fishing Rules and Info Booklet (link) for current regulations.
West Fork Gila River between Pine Flats and Ring Canyon: Surveys indicate a healthy population of Gila, rainbow, and brown trout are found in this section of the West Fork Gila River. It was last stocked with 1,200 Gila trout (4”) in November 2014.
Gila River Forks Area: Stocked with 2,300 Gila trout (5”) in November 2016.
Black Canyon below fish barrier: Stocked with 200 Gila trout in March 2016. Recent surveys indicate Gila trout are present in Black Canyon below the fish barrier.
Sapillo Creek: Stocked with 2,300 Gila trout (5”) in November 2016.
Gilita Creek: Gila trout have been stocked in Gilita Creek annually for the past three years. Most recently, 1,000 5” Gila trout were stocked in December 2016.
Mineral Creek: Stocked for the first time in May 2016 with 320 8” Gila trout and again in November 2016 with 530 12” and 500 5” Gila trout.
Lake Roberts: Stocked with 5,150 Gila trout (5”) in January 2016 and 320 20” Gila trout in June 2016.
The Department is currently working on multiple Gila trout recovery projects as well as projects to enhance Gila trout angling opportunities. These include:
- establishing a new population of Gila trout in Mineral Creek,
- restoration of Gila trout to Whitewater Creek,
- construction of a fish barrier on Willow Creek,
- beginning to grow out Gila trout at the Glenwood State Fish Hatchery,
- and proposed changes to Gila trout angling regulations.
A public meeting was held in Glenwood, NM on February 16, 2016 to present and discuss the proposed changes with the public. A copy of the presentation can be found here:Gila Trout Managment Update 02-16-2016