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Fishing for the Formerly Endangered Apache Trout in Arizona

Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti and a mix of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

State fish of Arizona: the Apache trout

State fish of Arizona: the Apache trout

Arizona's State Fish

The Apache trout, also known as the Arizona trout, is designated as Arizona's state fish. It's one of only two species of trout native to Arizona (the other is the Gila trout). It's spotted like the ordinary rainbow trout, but has even more spots, and has a golden-yellow coloring with white on the tips of its fins. The eyes are distinctive, with pronounced black pupil with a black band extending from both sides of the pupil, looking like a stripe or mask over the eye.

The Apache trout is a unique part of the Eastern Arizona ecosystem. And because of its uniqueness, this Arizona fish species is getting some help. Thanks to the efforts of Arizona fish and game authorities and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, the future is brighter for the Apache trout. Full recovery is now a possibility.

Bringing in an Apache trout is a sporty experience. In addition to flipping and flopping on the surface as it is reeled in, the Apache trout shows off a golden belly and a yellow-gold coloring on its sides. The back is dark green in color. It has many black spots on its sides, tail fin, and dorsal fin.

One reason for the name of the fish is that there is an appearance of a black "war paint" stripe through each eye. Others believe the eye appears to have a mask in it.

One reason for the name of the fish is that there is an appearance of a black "war paint" stripe through each eye. Others believe the eye appears to have a mask in it.

History of the Apache Trout

In 1873, the U.S. Geographical Survey discovered and collected specimens of the fish. It was incorrectly classified as a Colorado River cutthroat trout.

In the nineteenth century, Apache trout reproduced vigorously and large numbers inhabited the streams and lakes of the White Mountains. But by the end of the nineteenth century, early settlers had overfished the area. To try to alleviate the overfishing, government agencies decided in the early 20th century to introduce non-native trout. But the non-native species endangered the native Apache trout even more, because they were able to out-compete the Apache trout for food.

The Original Apache Trout Population in East-Central Arizona

Apache trout are native to streams above 6,000 feet (1,800 m) elevation in the Black, White, and Little Colorado river drainages in east-central Arizona. One or two headwater streams in the nearby San Francisco River drainage also may be within the historic range of this species. All native populations are clustered around 11,420 feet (3,480 m) Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in the White Mountains. Apache trout have been introduced in other areas of Arizona.

Arizona is one big scenic state, with great biodiversity! East Central Arizona is rich with Ponderosa pines and fishing lakes. The area of the roadmap below, around McNary, Arizona, includes Christmas Tree Lake, Cyclone Lake, Hawley Lake, Earl Park Lake, Sunrise Lake, Rainbow Lake, Show Low Lake, and A-1 Lake.

White Mountain fishing areas—road map

White Mountain fishing areas—road map

Effects on the Population of Hybridization and Stocking

In 1969, the Apache trout found itself on the list of endangered species. The biggest threat to Apache trout populations is hybridization. Since the Apache trout can easily breed with other species of trout such as rainbows and browns, it is in danger of being out-competed by Apache/Rainbow and other hybrids

Efforts to keep its original habitats uncontaminated are ensuring the continued viability of Apache trout. Areas were protected and gravel stream beds modified so that genetically pure Apache trout would be isolated from other species, allowing them to come back. This species of trout is still listed as threatened, but its populations continue to increase.

While upstream native habitats are preserved, many lakes and streams that were not the Apache trout's ancestral homes have had the fish introduced. In an attempt to enrich sport-fishing in Arizona, many fisheries are rearing this kind of trout from eggs. When stocked in colder waters, the Apache trout adds to the variety of angling experience present in Arizona.

The Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery, on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, raises pure-bred Apache trout for sport fishing. A federal fisheries facility on the reservation stocks and shares the fish with the Arizona Game and Fish Department for stocking in neighboring national forest waters. Many streams are open to anglers.

Fishing for Apache-Rainbow Hybrid Trout in Arizona

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Arizona's Transition Zone

Arizona can be divided into three geographic zones. The northern part of Arizona is higher in elevation and is called the Colorado Plateau. For 200 miles, the southern border of the plateau runs diagonally from east of Kingman, Arizona to roughly Silver City, New Mexico.

South of the plateau is a band known as the transition zone, about 60 miles wide. Its moderate-elevation terrain begins roughly at Black Canyon City north of Phoenix, AZ. Within the mountains of the transition zone lie the stocks of Apache trout. Most of these places are rather isolated. The area has an extensive hiking trail system that provides an avenue to the trout if one is willing to expend energy.

Many of the native places of the Apache trout are on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the transition zone. The rest of the spawning places are in the Sitgreaves National Forest, within the zone.

The portion of the state south of the transition zone is referred to as the Basin and Range area. It is lower in altitude and much drier. Its prominent feature is desert.

Physiographic regions of Arizona

Physiographic regions of Arizona

Apache Trout Update

The Arizona Game and Fish Department's Silver Creek Hatchery produces about 80,000 Apache trout of a catchable size per year, from May through September. In 2017, the hatchery was contaminated by a bacteria kidney disease (BKD), and no stocking took place.

In 2018, a team of biologists captured Apache trout in the East Fork White River and collected their sperm. Using the principles of cryopreservation, they then froze it. The sperm is stored in Georgia where extensive research on cryopreservation of fish has been conducted. In the future, the sperm may be used to improve the pure Apache trout stock when and if needed.


Springer, C (2018, January 15). Saving the Apache Trout. Retrieved from

Tomelleri, J. (2019). Apache Trout. Retrieved from

Arizona Game and Fish Department. (2019). Apache Trout - Arizona's State Fish Returns Retrieved from

Conservation Resource Index: Apache Trout (2009, September). Retrieved from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 John R Wilsdon


John R Wilsdon (author) from Superior, Arizona on July 30, 2011:


I hear you loud and clear. Will try to let you know when I have another hub on wildlife. Thanks for the comment.

MattyLeeP from Tucson, AZ on July 17, 2011:

Being from Arizona also, being a fisherman, and trout being my second favorite fish, this hub was the first to actually anger me.

Our state, like many others, is responsible for ruining the natural characteristics fishing has to offer. I don't want to fish from a man-made lake that has catfish raised in Alabama in it.

I want a lake or river, older than dirt and a flowing with history. I want my fish to be so big and old that he gives me a black eye and dies of cardiac arrest. This doesn't happen in Arizona, I don't know if it ever did....

If you have any other info like this about Arizona please share it.

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