Fly fishers can be a bit obsessive. We are known to tie flies that are almost too small to see on the end of our line to fool very selective fish. We are always trying to make the perfect cast that drops our fly lightly on the water to elicit that anticipated strike. But probably at the top of our list of obsessions is our fondness for trout.

We have two great hatcheries in Rim Country with dedicated staff at both facilities. The Tonto Creek Hatchery accounts for 15% of the trout stocked in Arizona, while the Canyon Creek Hatchery produces about 20% of the trout in the state.

As trout lovers, what we never would have imagined was the possibility that the East Verde River would become a stream designated for recreational stocking of Gila trout, one of the two native trout of Arizona. Because these fish are so beautiful and such a blast to catch, I suspect that the members of the Payson Flycasters Club/Gila Trout Chapter of Trout Unlimited (PFC/GTTU) probably spent most of our fishing time this summer on the East Verde River.

That Gila trout are in the river is because of the vision of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), and the tremendous efforts by the Canyon Creek Hatchery (CCH) staff to raise these challenging native trout.

Unlike rainbow trout that have been raised in hatcheries for about a century, Gilas still keep quite a bit of their wildness in the hatchery setting. Even as fry and fingerlings, they panic when staff approach to feed them or clean their tanks. The CCH staff learned that to calm these fish down and get them to eat properly so they would grow quickly, they had to treat them like wild fish.

That meant that they had to devise ways to provide cover for the fish, as well as clean the tanks and feed them with minimal human contact. This may seem like a lot of trouble compared to the much more manageable rainbow trout; but to anglers that appreciate fish that act wild as soon as they are stocked, that is exactly the fish we want to be raised in our hatcheries.

To add an even greater burden to the task, CCH has undertaken a remarkable goal that they will realize this spring when they will have successfully reared eggs from Gila trout broodstock on-site. These fish are being produced with the express purpose for recreational fishing. Once the program is up and running, AZGFD hopes to stock other waters besides the East Verde River with these native Arizona trout.

Because these fish require specialized care and equipment, some additional purchases are needed that are outside of the allocated budget provided to all hatcheries.

The Mogollon Sporting Association led the way by providing a donation of $25,000 to Canyon Creek Hatchery to help them raise native Rim Country trout. Recently, the PFC/GTTU, Old Pueblo Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Tucson, and two Valley fly-fishing clubs – Arizona Flycasters Club, and Desert Flycasters Club – donated more than $5,000 for the Gila trout program.

So far, they have used donations for:

• New plumbing for the Gila broodstock building

• Special broodstock feed

• Fencing and a gate for the broodstock building to keep out predators

• Materials to build decks around all six broodstock circular tanks to allow access for staff currently accessing each tank by a step ladder

• Skid mounted pressure pump to clean tanks, standpipes, screens, and culture tools

• Metabolic assay testing to determine which eggs have the highest metabolic rate

• Barrels of hydrogen peroxide for medical treatment of broodstock

• Replacement components for automatic belt feeders to extend the life of existing feeders, including the mechanical clock mechanism that ensures they spread feeding over a 12-hour period

• Automatic feeders for raceways, spare batteries, and charger

some things that

CCH staff still need:

• Decking construction around the six broodstock circular tanks

• Netting for raceways to protect Gila trout from predators and provide a visual barrier along with the overhead cover to reduce stress on trout

• Oxygen generators to increase the trout carrying capacity in the broodstock circular tanks

• Fish culture tools for each tank to avoid contamination between tanks

• Improved incubation trays to provide an optimum rearing environment and increase survival rate from egg to fry

• Additional metabolic rate testing and genetic testing to optimize future generations of broodstock

• Formalin to treat eggs during the first stages of incubation

With the state of Arizona budget severely affected by COVID prevention and recovery costs, AZGFD cannot access funds that have been targeted for hatchery renovations. This program, just getting off the ground, can’t afford any delays. Our organizations plan to continue to support the Gila trout program.

Do you love catching Gila trout? Do you appreciate the economic benefit that this trout brings to our community as anglers travel from across the state and country to catch a Gila trout?

Visit www.paysonflycasters.org to find out how you can help the Gila trout program at Canyon Creek Hatchery. Receive a ‘I support Gila trout in Rim Country’ pin or patch if you donate more than $25.

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