Gila trout: All you need to know

Gila Trout: (Oncorynchus gilae gilae) 

Species Summary and Status: The Gila trout is one of the rarest trout species in the United States. The historical distribution of the Gila trout originally included nearly 620 miles of small stream habitat within two separate population centers: one in the upper Gila River basin in western New Mexico, and the other in the headwaters of the Verde River in central Arizona. 

By the 1950s, its range was reduced to only four streams in the Gila River headwaters in New Mexico, and none were found in Arizona. The Gila trout was listed as federally endangered in 1967 and re-classified as threatened in 2006 after efforts to restore populations were successful. Currently, five remnant lineages exist (Main Diamond, South Diamond, Whiskey Creek, Iron Creek, and Spruce Creek.)

Looking Forward: 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 New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. 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 to streams.

In 2014, there were as few as eight remaining populations of Gila trout in only 30 miles. Due to ongoing restoration efforts there are now pure populations of Gila Trout in 21 streams in New Mexico and four streams in Arizona. 

Just this past fall, conservation partners stocked the upper section of Whitewater Creek north of Glenwood, N.M., making that system entirely inhabited by native Gila. 

On May 1, 2021, Arizona Department of Game and Fish reopened angling opportunities for Gila trout on Dude Creek near Payson, Ariz. Gila trout have been made a registered species for completion of the Western Native Trout Challenge in Arizona. You can learn more about the new angling opportunities for Gila trout in Arizona, here.

Additional Resources: Trout Unlimited. 2015. State of the Trout: A Special Report on the Status and Trends of Native Trout In the United States. Trout Unlimited, Arlington, Va.

By Trout Unlimited Staff.