Gila Trout Make Return To Dude Creek


Traveling the Control Road north of Payson across the bone-dry Dude Creek, gawkers may wonder where is the much-publicized waterway in which the Gila trout reintroduction is to take place?

Ranger Steve Gunzel of the Payson Ranger District assures everyone that the creek -- most often dry near the Control Road -- is filled with pools and flowing at the upper end near the Highland Trail.

The reason the creek, which is a south-flowing tributary of the East Verde, is not easily observed at the lower elevations near the road is that it begins to flow underground about three miles after it descends off the base of the Mogollon Rim.

The only way for a firsthand look at creek waters is to four-wheel the 45-minute trek to the top of the Dude area, Arizona Game and Fish Officer Rory Aikens said.

Which is exactly what some media and AG&F invitees will be doing on the Sept. 29 reintroduction day.

The evening prior to the retroduction, invited guests will participate in a campout and dinner hosted by the American Fisheries Society. The following morning, Aikens and other game department officials will shuttle the visitorsto the top of Dude Creek where they will await the arrival of a helicopter carrying about 150 Gila trout.

The trout will be gathered one day earlier by New Mexico game officials at Spruce Creek Gila Wilderness area and packed out by mule train. After being transferred to a hatchery truck at the Glenwood Ranger Station, the fish will be kept alive on the seven-hour journey to Arizona in self-powered aerated buckets.

The fish are scheduled to arrive at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery at about 2 p.m. on the reintroduction day.

Helicopters will then complete a long-line pickup of the trout and begin transporting them to the upper Dude Creek pools.

According to Aikens, the helicopter will long-line bucket the trout to awaiting ground crews.

The helicopter will pickup the empty buckets, return to Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery for the next load and repeat the process until all trout have been relocated.

"It'll be a history making event," Aikens said.

The announcement that the long-anticipated trout reintroduction was going to take place came Sept. 13 in Phoenix from Game and Fish Director Duane Shroufe.

Shroufe hinted at a possibility of sport-fishing the trout in the future, but that won't occur for years, and only if the introduction is successful enough to allow the fish to be removed from the endangered species list.

Gila trout, a fish native to Arizona, were once found in the headwaters of the Verde River, disappeared at the turn of the century because of habitat degradation and the introduction of non-native trout into their habitat.

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