Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Return to Black Creek

Posted: 27 Jul 2009 10:25 AM PDT

Dr.-Larry-with-Miles Some of you may recall a post I did last fall about a backpacking trip my wife and I took to check out the progress of the Gila Trout restoration effort here in Southwest NM. That trip was fantastic. The scenery in this area of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness is most excellent. And the fishing was really good.

This year we've had a strange summer, so far. Coupled with lower than normal snowfall in the mountains last winter we've had an erratic summer monsoon. We had a week of good rains in late June followed by less than normal precipitation. Typically this time of year you can count on an afternoon rain but that has not been the case this year. We've had darn little rain so far and it's starting to show.
You can really tell the difference on Black Canyon Creek. There is about half the amount of water in the creek this summer that we had last fall. We even encountered sections of the creek that were bone dry. As you can imagine this can be hard on Gila Trout.
Our New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been working on restoring the Gila Trout for many years now. This is our native species and for a variety of reasons it was placed on the endangeredDr-Larry-fishing-Black-Canyon-Creek species list in 1973. In 2006 the Gila Trout was down listed to a threatened species and certain streams are now open to limited fishing for the first time in many, many years.
The rationale for native species restoration projects is that these species have evolved over time in specific locations and adapted to the conditions present in those locations. As you can imagine, the mountains of Southwest New Mexico can present some pretty unique conditions. 
The Gila river is the last free flowing river in New Mexico and the river is what makes our part of the country so unique. Perennial water is scarce in these parts. Our riparian areas are true jewels of biodiversity. We saw Elk, Mule Deer, Javelinas and a beautiful cinnamon colored Black Bear this trip. Black Canyon Creek is a relatively lush environment with Cottonwood, Willows,Mixed Conifers, Oak and Box Elder.
You would think you were in Montana looking at the north facing slopes coming out of Black Canyon. On the south facing slopes you'll see Juniper, Pinon, Prickly Pear and Agave. Looking at these slopes you'd think you were in Old Mexico.
The winter snow pack in the high mountains and the summer monsoon give us about 90% of our annual moisture and when that is in short order everything suffers. Our critters are adapted to the vagaries of flood and drought at least in the short term. The Gila Trout can survive much higher temperatures than other species of trout. West Slope Cutthroat and non native Rainbow trout start to die when water temperatures reach the mid sixties. Non native Brown trout can survive in temperatures slightly higher than that, but the Gila Trout is the real survivor. They can tolerate water temperatures as high as 80 degrees F for short periods.
Hiking-black-canyon-creek I fear we are in one of those periods now. I fished briefly and caught a few small trout. I quit fishing because I could tell I was only adding to their stress.
My wife and I took a couple of creek baths over the weekend. Mid sixties water is pretty darn cold and my guess is that the water temperatures in some parts of Black Canyon Creek are heading towards the mid seventies. Refreshingly cool for us but toasty for a trout, even a Gila Trout. The deeper, shaded holes are cooler and that is where the fish are clustered - hanging on and holding out for a return to normal monsoon flows.
I borrowed a page from the ancestral Mimbreno and Warm Springs Apache cultures that lived in these areas for centuries before we came and bowed in the four directions praying for rain in Black Canyon Creek.
If you have some spare time in the next few weeks maybe you could do a little rain dance for us. The Gila Trout will thank you for it.


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