Ever since I was a kid, March has always been a month of great anticipation for me of that first stream trout stocking. Both the Tonto Creek and Canyon Creek hatcheries are busy getting the fish ready for their first delivery to Rim Country and White Mountain waters in about a month.
One of my favorite pre-COVID activities was to take my grandkids up to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery to look at the trout in the raceways, and throw food pellets to the giant trout in their display pond. Hopefully, we will return to those days soon. Kids love it, as do out-of-town visitors and just about any angler I know.
During the closure, you might enjoy looking at a short video that shows these dedicated Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) employees raising trout from eggs, to fry, to fingerlings, all the way to catchable size in their raceways https://youtu.be/Z7KNph-Lxe4.
To describe the hatchery staff as dedicated does not fully describe the efforts they go to provide trout for us to catch every year. Their jobs are really 24/7 in all kinds of weather. Besides the feeding and care of trout in the nursery building and raceways, they must remain on guard for predators like bears, raccoons, herons, eagles, and ospreys that are attracted to these fish anytime of the day or night.
The stocking of these trout is the culmination of their work, which again is a labor of love as they drive thousands of miles to lakes and streams throughout the state, and then carry the fish great distances by net or bucket to the streams for anglers to enjoy catching.
Tonto Creek Hatchery accounts for approximately 15% of the trout production in the state and averages about 50,000 pounds of fish each year.
Apache, brown, brook, rainbow and tiger trout are all raised at the hatchery. Silver Creek Hatchery receives the five-inch Apache trout from Tonto Creek Hatchery, grows them to adult size and then stocks them in selected White Mountain streams. The brown trout are transferred to the Page Springs Hatchery when they are about three inches long and then stocked in several of the lakes around Flagstaff when they have grown to adult size. The brook trout are stocked into Big Lake, and some are also stocked in Perkins Tank outside of Williams.
Rim Country gets a lot of the rainbow trout from Tonto Creek Hatchery. The tiger trout are stocked into Woods Canyon Lake and Willow Springs Lake as well as Carnero and Becker lakes in the White Mountains, and Kinnikinick Lake outside of Flagstaff.
It takes five to six months to raise the trout from eggs to fry to fingerlings that are then transferred to the outdoor raceways to grow to catchable size. In the raceways, they grow almost an inch per month.
In past years, the trout were stocked when they reached about 10 inches. Starting in 2021-2022, the hatcheries will grow their fish to an average size of about 12 inches before releasing them into the streams and lakes.
This change reflects input from angler surveys taken by AZGFD showing that anglers would like to catch larger trout. This increase in size is expected to result in higher success rates for anglers, as bigger fish are generally hungrier and therefore easier to catch. To accomplish this change will require more time and care in the hatchery, and more raceway space.
For this reason, the daily bag limit will be reduced from six fish to four. If you keep your fish, four bigger trout will actually provide more meat on the table than six smaller trout. While they allow no fishing on the hatchery property, you can fish all along FR 289 after you turn off SR 260. While fish are stocked just downstream of the hatchery property entrance, most of the pullouts along the creek are stocked and provide even easier access.
Tonto Creek is stocked weekly from April through September. Be aware that because the road from SR 260 up past the Horton Creek bridge parking area is often quite congested, there are parking restrictions along the road to allow passage for emergency vehicles.