Pirch-Sam Simmons

Sam Simmons stocking fish into the East Verde River.

As we approach the Labor Day long weekend many of the high country trout waters will receive their final visits of the Arizona Game & Fish Department stock trucks.

The ever-popular East Verde River is scheduled for 500 catchable size Gila trout to be disbursed from Washington Park downstream for approximately 10 miles.

The year 2020 will go down in history as the transition year from stocking rainbow trout to the indigenous Gila.

With the excellent water flow from the Cragin Reservoir (Blue Ridge Lake) this popular stream has plenty of cover for trout to survive and thrive.

Last winter’s above normal moisture in the form of rain and snow put this reservoir at full capacity.

The pumps will reduce the water flow markedly in late October and parts of the upper East Verde will dry up, reducing trout habitat.

The Gila trout have spread out after the weekly stocking and most spots that have cover will likely have a trout.

This was made possible by the employees of the Canyon Creek fish hatchery where the Gilas were grown for two years before being released for sport fishing.

Trevor Nelson the hatchery manager and his team have been diligently working on raising the new species of trout for the future of the East Verde and other local waters.

I spent some time following Sam Simmons, a fish culturist at the hatchery, on one of his many trips to the East Verde this past summer.

He has a college degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin Platteville before moving to the wide-open spaces and mountains of the West.

His passion for trout fishing has developed into his professional career working for the AZGFD. The quote, “Do what you love and love what you do” fits in Sam’s case.

When he is not working, he spends a great amount of time along the waters of the more remote streams in the high country fly fishing for wild trout.

His youthful, athletic body allows him to stock Gilas into some of the distant waters of the East Verde away from the normal crossings. This allows trout to spread throughout the entire stream, which improves fishing markedly for the recreational angler.

Because of his diligence and the other hatchery employees, the East Verde is the healthiest it has been in many years with the number of trout in the water throughout the entire stream.

The size of the fish stocked does vary from 8-15 inches, which is amazing considering they come from the same eggs developed into fry. Some trout just grow faster and larger than others in the same time cycle.

The rearing ponds at the Canyon Creek hatchery are filled with smaller trout for the next spring and summer stocking program.

With the reintroduction of the Gila trout into the East Verde the research team from the AZGFD are also active weekly along the creek monitoring the fish.

There are actually a limited number of trout that are tagged and monitored electronically to study their location and habits throughout the season.

It is remarkable to know that some tagged fish have survived in this popular fishing destination for well over 100 days.

The Gila trout-stocking program is a success story in the making for the Rim Country.

Other waters are being examined for pilot programs of inhabiting once empty streams with this colorful sport fish.

Kudos to everyone involved within the agency in making more fishable waters for recreational anglers in Arizona.

This weekend, take a friend fishing in God’s creation, the Arizona high country.

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