In a recent project with Arizona Game & Fish Department, Friends staff members Amanda Webster and Ben Kowalewski helped reintroduce Gila Trout to their native waters in the West Fork of Oak Creek. Over 20 volunteers participated, hiking 1-4 miles with buckets strapped to backpack frames, each carrying water and 15-20 trout. The fish were carefully deposited along different reaches of the stream with good flow and cover.
These trout began their journey in spring 2017 when they came to Sterling Springs Hatchery in Sedona as “eyed eggs” from Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico. During this stage of development, the fish are more durable and can be easily transported. One year later, those stocked in West Fork were in excess of population criteria for recovery efforts. Their release is intended for limited angling use.
Fishing between Call of the Canyon Crossing and Junipine Crossing is under special regulation: catch-and-release only, trout must be released immediately unharmed, none may be kept, and only artificial flies, lures, & single barbless hooks may be used.
The Gila Trout is one of Arizona’s two native trout species. Historically, this fish was native to the San Francisco, Verde, Gila, and Agua Fria River drainages. However, by the 1950s none were left in Arizona. One major cause of Gila Trout population decline was (and still is) hybridization with non-native Rainbow Trout. Thanks to successful recovery efforts in Arizona and New Mexico, the fish was re-classified as federally threatened in 2006. With the help of volunteers and participation from many organizations and agencies, the Gila trout is making a comeback in Arizona and now the Verde Valley.
Arizona Game and Fish will likely be stocking Gila Trout again in the fall. Find out about this and other volunteer opportunities by signing-up for Friends e-news and following our partners, Arizona Game & Fish Department and Arizona Trout Unlimited.
Featured image (top) courtesy of Arizona Game & Fish Department.