The Gila trout is one of Arizona’s two threatened native trout species and is also found in New Mexico. Body color is iridescent gold on the sides that blend to a darker shade of copper on the gill plates. Spots on the body are small and profuse, generally occurring above the lateral line and extending onto the head, dorsal fin, and caudal fin. Dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins have a white to yellowish tip that may extend along the leading edge of the pelvic fins. A faint, salmon-pink band is present on adults, particularly during spawning season when the normally white belly may be streaked with yellow or reddish orange. Parr marks are commonly retained by adults, although they may be faint or absent. Like the Apache trout, some Gila trout may display “bandit” like horizontal bars across their irises.
Location and Habitat
Gila trout are found in moderate to high gradient perennial mountain streams above 5,400 ft elevation with stream temperatures below 77°F. They require clean gravel substrates for spawning, adequate stream flow to maintain water depth and cool temperatures, and sufficient pool density and habitat that provides refuge during periods of drought or warm temperatures.
In Arizona, Gila trout are found in six recovery streams spread across the Agua Fria River, Blue River, lower Gila River, and Verde River drainages. The Department maintains an active Gila trout recovery and management program to increase their existence in Arizona within their historical range. Gila trout are also stocked into the East Verde River, Frye Mesa Reservoir, Watson Lake, Lynx Lake, and Goldwater Lake for non-recovery purposes to maintain sport fisheries. Angling is currently closed in all recovery streams occupied by Gila trout.
Gila trout typically spawn in early spring, when water temperature is rising and runoff flows are declining. Gila trout are generally sexually mature by age 3 and their life expectancy may range between 4-6 years. Gila trout are capable of hybridizing with rainbow trout which has greatly reduced the range of pure populations of Gila trout and continues to be one of the largest threats to Gila trout.
They are opportunistic feeders, mainly feeding on aquatic and terrestrial insects and invertebrates.
They are easily caught fishing nymphs, wet or dry flies, and they will also take small spoons and spinners. The same techniques used to catch rainbow trout work very well for Gila trout.
As Gila trout recovery streams are established and meet necessary population criteria to withstand limited angling use, they may be opened to angling for the public in the future. Currently, all Gila trout recovery streams in Arizona are closed to angling. However, Gila trout in the East Verde River, Frye Mesa Reservoir, Watson Lake, Lynx Lake, and Goldwater Lake can be angled. There are also opportunities in New Mexico to catch Gila trout during a limited angling season with catch-and-release only regulations.