A Flagstaff angler recently hooked Arizona's first-ever Gila trout record in Frye Mesa Reservoir near Safford following the stocking of these colorful native salmonids into the reservoir.
Robert Woods caught a 19¼ inch, 3.35-pound Gila trout at the reservoir Feb. 28 and brought it into the department's Flagstaff regional office for verification.
It's not only the standing state record right now, it is also the first-ever record for this native fish.
"Angling history is seemingly being made each time we turn around. These are exciting times for anglers in Arizona," Fisheries Chief Kirk Young said.
Frye Mesa Reservoir is the only legal place in Arizona to catch the native Gila trout. The federal government has labeled the fish threatened because of its small numbers and loss of habitat.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission created the first-ever season on Gila trout at Frye Mesa Reservoir on Feb. 4. It's a one-fish limit, however, and some people already have been cited for catching more.
"Arizona has never had an open season on Gila trout. They were thought to have been extirpated from the state before we had regulated fishing seasons," explained Young. He estimated all the fish were gone from Arizona around 1900.
This has all been possible because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico had larger surplus Gila trout available that were not conducive for stocking in small recovery streams.
Those larger Gila trout were stocked into Frye Mesa Reservoir on the Coronado National Forest on Feb. 27. Game and Fish previously has stocked smaller Gila trout across the state to help re-establish the fish here, including on the Prescott National Forest.
The Mt. Graham area now is the only mountain on the planet where people can fish for native Gila trout and native Apache trout, along with non-native rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout. Game and Fish likes to call it the "Mt. Graham Grand Slam."
Game and Fish Department Fisheries Biologist Jason Kline explained what the one-fish limit means.
"Basically it means you may have one fish in your possession, not one at home and one on your stringer," he said. "The reason we allowed for the harvest of one was so that anglers could turn in a state record or keep a unique trophy fish."
Game and Fish officials also are encouraging anglers to practice catch-and-release on these natives - there are only so many to go around.
"This is an incredible opportunity to catch a native trout," Kline said. "Please consider releasing these colorful native trout so that others can experience these remarkable angling memories."
Arizona is not the first state to have a season on Gila trout. New Mexico has had a limited season on Gila trout in specific waters. For more information go online to wildlife.state.nm.us/recreation and click on "fishing information," then click on "Gila trout fishing."