High country angling for the endangered Gila trout species could become a reality in a few years, Arizona Game and Fish officials predict.
That fishing prospect -- once believed highly unlikely -- was made partially possible by the reintroduction of 22 new trout into the Dude Creek May 5.
According to Game and Fish officials, those few fish set the stage for a possible downlisting of the endangered species to a "federally threatened" status late this summer or early in the fall.
Game and Fish biologist Kirk Young, who has been working on the reintroduction project, said along with the Gila Trout Recovery Team's downlisting, recommendation would be a plan to seek a special federal rule to allow some limited taking of Gila trout.
Fishing for the species is more likely to occur first in New Mexico where Game and Fish officials have worked on the comeback of Gila trout for more than 30 years. That state is said to have sufficient populations in various streams to support some limited fishing in the near future.
In Arizona, there is not yet a "fishable population" of Gila trout, but once that occurs, limited angling could become legal.
In the most recent stocking of the trout, the fish were placed in a different stretch of Dude Creek than the original brood stocked last fall.
By placing the trout in a different section of the creek, officials took another step toward establishing a "fail-safe" population in the state.
Fail-safe populations are necessary before federal officials will consider downlisting an endangered species.
Although both stockings were with trout taken from Spruce Creek in New Mexico, the second go-around was with fish set to enter their spawning period.
After being taken from the New Mexico creek, the species was housed at the Mescalero Federal Hatchery where four of the females spawned are providing hundreds of fingerlings for future stockings.
Next fall, Game and Fish is scheduled to establish a second Arizona population in Raspberry Creek in the San Francisco River drainage.
If game officials are successful in the reintroduction of Gila trout, Young said, it would make Arizona the only state in the union with two fishable populations of wild native trout that were once critically endangered the Gila and Apache.
The Apache trout, now listed as threatened, can be fished for in the Greer area of the White Mountains.