This past week, I had the opportunity to join the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Native Trout and Chub program’s restocking of Gila Trout into the upper and lower Marijilda Creek on Mount Graham. We were joined by volunteers from the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited Arizona. Both trips carrying 600 fish were physically demanding. The hike was uphill and it was about 40 degrees out.
Today, more volunteers will be carrying 250 Gila Trout to Raspberry Creek, which will be another arduous hike of about 4 miles carrying buckets of fish.
Mount Graham and the surrounding National Coronado Forest area is beautiful. As I drove into the Shannon Campground that we met up at, clouds hung low over the hills and the sun shone a few rays through, illuminating the valley below.
The road up was winding and it was hard to not look at the fantastic views below. At one point, I drove around a curve only to come face to face with a mule deer doe and her fawn.
Everyone at the stocking was friendly and enthusiastic about the work despite the cold temperatures and long hike ahead. At the upper Marijilda Creek, we carried about 120 or so Gila Trout ranging in size from as little as three to five inches. Stocking the fish was a bit complicated as we had to carefully locate large and deep enough pools in the Marijilda Creek. We also had to ensure fish were spread out along the portions of the creek so they don’t overeat any particular area.
While this work is difficult, it’s becoming increasingly important in Arizona. The Gila Trout, as well as the Apache Trout, are the most threatened trout species here. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has been instrumental in maintaining an active Gila Trout recovery program. Currently there are seven recovery streams spread across the Agua Fria River, Blue River, lower Gila River, and Verde River drainages. Additionally, they are stocked into the East Verde River, Frye Mesa Reservoir, Watson Lake, Lynx Lake, and Goldwater Lake for non-recovery purposes to maintain sport fisheries.
Some of the threats this species faces are quite obvious — drought, poor water quality, and wildfires are some of the prevalent issues facing species in the wild as well as sports fisheries who often supply trout for restocking. However, a major issue facing Gila Trout is their ability to breed with other trout species. Gila Trout are capable of hybridizing with Rainbow Trout which has greatly reduced the range of pure populations of Gila Trout.
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