On day two, we awoke to clear skies, though the morning fog predicted that the monsoon storms would surely arrive later in the day.
We decided to get an early start, head off to the Black Mountains, and find a high country stream that would not have felt the effects of runoff… and might just hold some rare Gila trout.
Believe it or not, we aren’t crossing a creek here, this is the road, partially washed over by the rainwater. The image makes a good point, however, that “everything washes downstream.” In a fragile environment with rare trout, minimizing this effect makes sense.
We planned to hike three miles up a creek in the Black Mountains to find clear water and Gila Trout. When we got to the stream, we were happy to find the water high, but fairly clean. In other words, we knew if we could find the trout, we could catch them.
I still couldn’t get over how lush and green the landscape was in this alpine region of southern New Mexico.
Even with the regular monsoon rains, though, locals Garret Veneklasen and Greg McReynolds (who both work with TU) assured me this was a 10-year event. Normally this grass would be low and brown.
I’ve had the good fortune of fishing with Chris Hunt of Trout Unlimited in some spectacularly wild places, for some incredibly beautiful species. Last year, we caught the Colorado Cut Slam together (A Greenback, a Colorado River strain, and a Rio Grande cuttie, on three consecutive days in Colorado).
Here in New Mexico, Chris Hunt and I we were marching upstream to catch a rare Gila trout, which neither of us had ever caught before. As we walked the river, we were looking for insects like caddis flies, and mayflies, which might clue us in on what fly pattern to use. By now, I had already decided on a small stimulator.
Finally! We made it to the fishing spot. As is always the case when you hike a distance to find a place to fly fish for trout, when you get there, you feel it was worth the trek, even before that first cast. I could tell the water was “fishy” here, with undercut banks, deep pools and riffles trout thrive in.
First cast… bingo! This Gila trout ate my small stimulator fly within the first two seconds after it hit the water. I cast right into the heart of a run, and the fish made a vicious lunge at the fly. Things like that happen in wild places where trout don’t see a lot of pressure…
The Gila trout may not be the biggest or toughest fish I have ever seen caught on a fly rod, but it is certainly among the most beautiful. When you stop to consider how this species has persevered in this one place, for thousands of years, you cannot help but appreciate the experience of catching these fish.
Sure, big fish are great fun, but the backcountry angler has a soft spot in their heart for a baby fish, hatched in a river. It’s a great sign to see any natural recruitment of species, especially one as rare as the Gila trout.
TU volunteer Garrett Veneklasen coordinates fishing trips to some of the most exotic travel destinations in the world, but he says he lives near the New Mexico high country for a reason…
It didn’t take long for TU intern Dylan Looze from Round Rock, Texas to tie into his first Gila Trout. Dylan hadn’t done any fly fishing for trout before this trip… but he brought a fine cast honed in the wind of the redfish flats on the Texas Coast.
Mission accomplished. We all caught Gila trout. But not before a lot of planning and some serious high country hiking. Sometimes the “with whom, where, when, why, and how” of fly fishing, is as important (or more important) than the “what.” That was certainly the case in this adventure for Gila trout.

Editor-at-Large Kirk Deeter and photographer Kevin Cooley set out to explore the Gila Mountains of New Mexico, where Deeter hopes to fool a rare Gila trout. The duo is joined by Chris Hunt, Greg McReynolds, and Dylan Looze of Trout Unlimited, who have made incredible efforts to save the precious habitat that supports these elusive beauties of the high-mountain brooks. What begins as a fish quest becomes an eye-opening adventure for Deeter, who was pleasantly surprised by what he finds in the outdoorsman’s oasis.