Fresh off the endangered species list after a long running, and often heroic, recovery effort, anglers can fish for Gila trout in three creeks within the Gila Wilderness and National Forest beginning July 1st.
And Outdoors New Mexico has the maps and directions you’ll need to navigate the backcountry of the Gila National Forest and Wilderness where these wonderful fish reside.
Iron Creek is now open year round while Mogollon and Black Canyon creeks are open between July 1st and October 31st.
Anglers wishing to fish for Gila trout need to go online to the state Department of Game and Fish’s website and download a free, Gila trout fishing permit. This is required in addition to possessing a regular fishing license.
Special thanks to Jerry Monzingo, US Forest Service Fisheries Biologist with the Gila National Forest for preparing the following text and maps for public use.
Monzingo is a 13-year veteran of the US Forest Service and a native of Cliff, NM. He holds a BS in Wildlife Biology from Western New Mexico University in Silver City and when he’s not working he can be found helping his wife and two sons raise livestock for 4-H and FFA competition.
Mogollon creek is a tributary of the Main Stem Gila River,located in the Gila Wilderness on the Wilderness Ranger District.
The stream is expected to provide excellent opportunities for some exciting Gila trout fishing.
To access the stream, travel approximately 30 miles northwest from Silver City, NM on State Highway 180 West to the small town of Cliff, NM where gas and groceries are available.
From Cliff travel northeast on State Road 211 for approximately 2.25 miles to 916 Ranch Road which is a county maintained dirt road that can get sloppy when wet.
Head North on 916 Ranch Road for approximately 7-8 miles to an intersection, take a right and head east for approximately 6.5 miles to the “74 Mountain” trailhead where there is a small parking area and trailhead sign.
There is a stream crossing along this 6.5 mile road that is typically dry during the summer months but during monsoon season could flow high enough to prevent passage and leave one stranded on the other side for several days.
So be prepared.
From the trailhead your hiking adventure begins.
Trail #153 begins with a relatively mild hike of about 1.5 miles through pinon-juniper canyons to the base of “74 Mountain”.
The trail up “74 Mountain” is rocky and steep and will require some sweat, so take plenty of water and note that in July and August it can be brutally hot and dry.
Leave the trailhead by daylight or before to minimize discomfort.
Once you reach the saddle near the top of “74 Mountain”, the trail winds mid-slope around the east facing slope of the mountain for approximately 1.75 miles to a junction with trail 189, West Fork Mogollon Creek Trail.
Stay right along the top of the ridge on trail 153.
From the junction of 153 and 189 you will travel approximately 1.5 miles on the ridge and then begin your descent into Mogollon Creek.
The hike down is steep and moderately difficult with plenty of switchbacks.
Once you reach the bottom, fishing for Gila trout is open from approximately a half mile downstream of the trail to approximately 3.5 miles upstream at the confluence of Trail Canyon and Mogollon Creek at the intersection of trails 153 and 301.
At the junction of trail 153 and 301, trail 153 turns north up Trail Canyon and is impassable. Trail 301 continues up Mogollon Creek but fishing is not allowed upstream of the trail junction.
There are numerous great camping spots along the creek but be sure to practice minimum impact camping and pack out what you packed in, after all, this is the first designated wilderness area in the Nation.
A note of caution, be mindful of weather conditions that can change rapidly in southern New Mexico.
From July through August expect afternoon thunder storms that can be quite severe. Avoid being out on the trail during a lightning storm and pack a poncho.
Mid-day temperatures during the summer can reach the upper 90’s, so plenty of water and cool, loose clothing are essential.
Download a map to Mogollon Creek here .
Johnny Zapata, a Forest Service Range/Wildlife Technician, Wilderness hauls Gila trout by mule into Black Canyon during a restocking effort in 2007. Photo courtesy of Jerry Monzingo, Fisheries Biologist, US Forest Service, Gila National Forest.
There are two routes that can be utilized to access Iron Creek from the northern boundary of the Gila Wilderness.
Choose one or the other depending on your hiking capability and ability to deal with higher altitudes.
From the town of Glenwood, NM travel north on State Highway 180 for approximately 4 miles to State Road 159, also known as Bursum Road.
Follow 159 east for approximately 16 miles to Sandy Point Trail Head.
The first 10 miles of 159 to the Ghost Town of Mogollon is paved but is very steep, narrow, and windy.
Once to Mogollon the road turns to a gravel and dirt surface for the remainder of the way to Sandy Point.
The trail head at Sandy point provides parking, a toilet and camping is allowed.
From Sandy Point at an elevation of 9,100 feet. you will begin your ascent to 10,500 feet, the highest elevation on the trail near Hummingbird Saddle.
Start downhill through Hummingbird Saddle and the trail skirts around the north slope of Whitewater Baldy, at 10,895 ft. the highest peak on the Gila.
Approximately 0.75 miles south of Hummingbird Saddle turn east on trail 172 and travel approximately 3 to 3.5 miles northeast.
There is no trail dropping into Iron Creek so you have to pick you poison and just drop off trail 172 into the creek where you think you may be able to pick your way through rock outcrops to the bottom.
See the map for Iron Creek for a possible route.
To access Iron Creek by the second route continue along State Road 159 for another 10-12 miles past Sandy Point to Willow Creek campground at 8,000 ft.
From the trailhead at Willow Creek hike 1 mi. south on trail 171 to Iron Creek Lake, there are no fish in here and then turn south on trail 172.
Take 172 southwest for approximately 4 miles and again pick a spot to drop off into Iron Creek.
From Iron Creek Lake at 8,300 ft it is a steady climb to 9,400 ft. along 4 miles to the drop off spot.
Alternatively you can take trail 151 from Iron Creek Lake and drop into Iron Creek and fish your way up the creek to the fish barrier located approximately 3.5-4 miles upstream of where trail 151 hits the creek.
Hiking up the creek will be rigorous as willows are thick.
If you are coming from the north through the Forest you will have to avoid Forest Road 28 near Gilita Creek as it is washed out and is currently under construction near the confluence of Gilita Creek and Willow Creek.
From 28 you can take Forest Road 119 to Bearwallow Mountain then Forest Road 153 to State Road 159 to circumvent the construction area.
As noted earlier, it will be hot during the month of July when the fishing season begins, however, higher elevations will be a little cooler.
But be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms and dropping temperatures afterwards. Remember you are in the Gila Wilderness, pack out what you pack in.
Download a map to Iron Creek here .
Black Canyon is the one Gila trout stream within in the Gila National Forest which anglers can drive to and fish.
But even so it can be a long, challenging trip.
From Silver City take State Hwy. 180 E 6 mi. to NM-152 at town of Central also known as Santa Clara. Turn right onto NM-152 and after 15 miles turn right, east, onto state road 35 and continue for approximately 17 miles in a northwest direction to Forest Road 150 also known as Northstar Mesa Rd. Turn right on Forest Road 150 and continue for 18 miles to Black Canyon.
It should ne noted Forest Road 150 is a dirt and gravel road that requires high clearance vehicles especially where it traverses Rocky Canyon. Sections of the road can become slick and muddy with precipitation. There are no services for approximately 80 miles in Winston, NM.
From I-25 north of Truth or Consequences take exit 83 to NM 195 then NM 181/US 85 to NM 52. Continue north for 28 miles on NM 52 to Winston, NM where gas and food is available. From Winston continue approximately 10 miles to NM 59 and follow NM 59 for approximately 31 mi. to Beaverhead, a Forest Service work station. The road is paved to this point. At Beaverhead turn left onto Forest Road 150/NM61 a gravel and dirt raod and proceed approximately 25 miles to Black Canyon.
Camping is available along Black Canyon downstream of Forest Road 150. Campgrounds have toilets and picnic tables.
Lower 1 mi. reach of Gila trout area is accessible from FS 150 where it crosses the creek. To access the upper reaches of the creek you must head back north on FS 150 and climb out of the canyon to a trail that will take you around the private property located in Black Canyon. See the attached map. Sections of the trail are not a system trail and are not marked or maintained.
Download a map to Black Canyon Here.
Those seeking more information about these directions, road conditions and other information about the Gila wilderness and forest areas can visit the Gila National Forest’s website or call their office in Silver City at (505) 388-8201.