July 3, 2008

Gila Wilderness Open to Fishing Through Oct. 31


Gila: Iron Creek has two-bag limit, open all year

For many anglers, July 1 has always meant opening day on the spectacular and now wildly popular Valle Vidal in Northern New Mexico.

But this year savvy anglers can beat the crowds by heading south into the rugged Gila Wilderness to stalk the rare and beautiful Gila trout.

Fresh off the endangered species list after a long-running, and often heroic, recovery effort, the Gila trout is up for grabs in three creeks in the Gila Wilderness and National Forest from July 1 to Oct. 31.

"These guys jump, run and fight worthy of a wily native fish," said Greg McReynolds of Trout Unlimited in Albuquerque. "They're absolutely beautiful."

McReynolds fished Black Canyon last summer with State Game Commissioner Dutch Salmon, a veteran Gila fisherman and Silver City resident.

The two ventured into the Gila Wilderness after Black Canyon and Iron Creek were opened up to fishing for the first time since 1966.

Mogollon Creek

This year, anglers will find a new stream -- Mogollon Creek -- added to the list of waters open to fishing by the state Game Commission in February. The creek is open to Gila trout fishing from the waterfall barrier near the intersection of Forest Service Trail 153 to the confluence of Trail Canyon.

To get to Mogollon Creek, follow N.M. 180 to Cliff, then take N.M. 211, which turns into N.M. 293, to County Road 147. Follow the road to the intersection of a ranch road, heading east, to the F.S. 153 trail head, said Jerry Monzingo, a forest fisheries biologist for the Gila National Forest. Use the Gila National Forest map for guidance or see more detailed instructions at www.outdoorsnewmexico.com.

Once on F.S. Trail 153, hike up the side of Seventy-Four Mountain before traversing to a nearby ridge and dropping down into the canyon. This is a 612 mile hike, and one can fish upstream for another four miles.

"We were in there last October, and there's an amazing amount of good-sized fish," Monzingo said.

"They're lively fish," said Salmon, an author, columnist and owner of a bookstore. "And, as long as you sneak up on them (and) don't spook them, they'll take just about anything."

Iron Creek

Anglers venturing into the Gila must be prepared to hike several miles to get to Gila trout in Iron Creek as well. The creek is open to fishing for Gila trout from the waterfall barrier to upstream areas.

Take Forest Road 159 through Mogollon to Sandy Point and then follow F.S. Trail 182 for about four miles to Hummingbird Saddle. At

F.S. Trail 172 head east for a couple more miles before dropping down into the canyon.

Anglers can also take Forest

Road 159 to the Willow Creek campground and hike up F.S. Trail 172 before dropping down into the canyon above the barrier, Monzingo said.

Black Canyon

"A typical Gila fishing trip requires a day's hike in, then you fish for a day and then hike back out again," Salmon said.

Even Black Canyon requires a long ride over a rough road and some stream-side bushwhacking. Black Canyon is open to fishing from the lower Black Canyon Campground to upstream areas and can be found off Forest Road 150.

Details, details

All three streams require the use of artificial flies or lures armed with a single barbless hook. Black Canyon and Mogollon are catch-and-release streams, while Iron Creek has a two-bag limit.

The Gila trout in Iron Creek might look pure, but they are suspected of having some rainbow trout blood in them, hence the lack of a catch-and-release requirement.

Iron Creek is open all year, while Mogollon and Black Canyon are open July 1 to Oct. 31.

The Gila offers a unique experience to those willing to make the trip, Salmon said.

"Most days I go fishing, I don't see anybody, and if I do, it's usually a backpacker or birdwatcher," he said.

Salmon noted there isn't even a fly shop in any of the little towns on the outskirts of the massive Gila National Forest, which attests to the area's low-key angling status.

Anglers wishing to fish these streams need to go to the state Department of Game and Fish's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nm.us/ index.htm to get a free, Gila trout fishing permit. A regular fishing license is

also required.

Those venturing into the Gila should be well prepared to deal with highs in the 90s, afternoon thunderstorms and a long hike into a remote location.

Contact Karl Moffatt through his blog at www.outdoorsnewmexico.com.

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