I have been continually impressed with the hard work and dedication of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) to improve our fishing opportunities and fish habitat in Arizona. AZGFD is responsible for managing our fish and wildlife, and takes that charge very seriously. They effectively utilize scientific research to help make informed and sound management decisions.
You might be familiar with the extensive stocking program of trout in Rim Country and throughout the state. Perhaps you didn’t know that the Canyon Creek and Tonto Creek hatcheries are responsible for providing 35 percent of the sport fish production in the state. Each year, this amounts to 300,000 catchable trout.
They also raise between 900,000 to 1.25 million fingerlings and sub-catchable trout that are then moved to other hatcheries for further growth and distribution to streams and lakes around the state. Stocking sub-catchable fish allows the hatcheries to get more fish into productive waters quickly where a great aquatic insect food base will grow the fish in their new environment to a catchable size and beyond.
Tonto Creek Hatchery has several raceways of rainbow trout. These fish are stocked in many lakes and streams in Rim Country throughout the summer. They raise tiger trout that are stocked along with rainbows in Willow Springs Lake and Woods Canyon Lake. Tiger trout are also stocked in Becker Lake and Carnero Lake in the White Mountains.
Tonto Creek Hatchery raises brook trout that are eventually stocked into Big Lake and Crescent Lake in the White Mountains. They raise sub-catchable Apache trout, an Arizona native, that they deliver to Silver Creek Hatchery for additional growth and later stocking in Silver Creek and other White Mountain waters.
At Canyon Creek Hatchery, in addition to rainbow trout, the staff produce cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling that are later stocked in the White Mountains. This year’s sub-catchable cutthroats have already been stocked into Big Lake, as have the grayling into Lee Valley Reservoir and Ackre Lake.
The Canyon Creek staff is working hard to establish the facility as a premier location to raise Gila trout. It is the only hatchery raising Gila trout in Arizona. These fish are stocked in some streams that are off-limits to fishing as these recovery populations hopefully re-establish themselves over time in Arizona streams where they were historically found. They are also raising Gila trout for recreational purposes to give anglers an opportunity to catch these native trout in recreational stocking locations.
Currently, the Canyon Creek Hatchery has over 17,000 Gila trout between three and seven inches outside on their property and 75,000 sac-fry inside their facility. These young fish have just hatched and are depending on their egg sac for their nutrients until they are ready to feed on their own.
Raising Gila trout that retain their wild pedigree is an incredible challenge that the Canyon Creek Hatchery staff is excited to undertake. These important fish to Arizona are very skittish. They require overhead cover, not typical in regular raceways. They stop feeding when normal hatchery operations such as cleaning the tanks occurs; so these fish demand special care.
It is not uncommon for staff at both hatcheries to be up at all hours of the day and night responding to the needs of their fish, or chasing off predators that get on to the property and are looking for a fish dinner.
The hatchery staffs are dedicated to providing the most effective and efficient ways to produce the best fish for us to catch each year. They are fantastic problem solvers as they strive for the greatest yield of healthy fish each year.
In part 2, I will share some of the work that AZGFD does to study fish populations in lakes and streams, and how they have added a great deal of fish habitat to improve conditions for fish and enhance angler success.