Gila Trout: A Native Trout Conservation Story


That’s the sound of a barbless beadhead nymph falling into a glassy glide of Mineral Creek, a headwater stream of the Gila River in southwest New Mexico.  There’s a short drift over a stony run, barely time to mend your line. Then follows that transmutation of fish flesh to your forearm—the taut tug of a trout on your 3-wt. fly rod.

Gila Trout (Photo: USFWS)

But it’s not just any trout. This one is yellow like a school bus. Petite black shards fleck its flanks over a hint of a pink stripe and fading oval parr marks. It’s not a rainbow trout—no, this fish is far less common. Rare, even.  It’s a Gila trout, a threatened species. 

The Gila trout was for a time the only trout considered endangered in the United States.  But decades of conservation work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service and other partners pushed the fish toward recovery.

The pretty trout stared into the dark abyss of extinction. Gila trout were off limits to anglers for 50 years until it was down-listed. In 2007, select waters in the Gila National Forest were open to anglers and remain so.

The crystalline water of Mineral Creek above the storied ghost town of Mogollon, New Mexico, is but only one place to catch Gila trout. Conservation work—much heavy lifting—employing pack mules with panniers filled with young trout, to helicopters dropping a tank along remote streams, or carrying in on foot freshly fertilized trout eggs in backpacks have improved the lot of Gila trout, and grown the number of places where you can catch them.

Jill Wick (NMDGF) and Andrew Dean (USFWS) ready a batch of Gila trout eggs to be placed in gravel in a remote Gila NF stream. The eggs were fertilized at Mora National Fish Hatchery (Photo: USFWS)

Success begets success. Excise taxes on rods and tackle and fishing license sales fund much of this on-the-ground conservation work via the Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

Learn where to go, here.

  –Craig Springer USFWS

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bill Jones says:

    I would only suggest that images of these animals only show them being displayed with their gills being kept under water in order to encourage much less stress inducing human handling, and perhaps even making mention of low-stress release techniques. I am really excited to read about the great projects being undertaken on behalf of these fabulous trout. I hope to flyfish a bit in Gila streams this summer , if I can find an appropriate location. -Bill Jones, Stevensville, MT

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