Apache Trout are one of two native trout species in Arizona and also Arizona’s state fish!
Common Name: Apache Trout
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus apache
Appearance: Apache Trout are yellow-gold in color along their sides and dark olive on their backs. Spots are irregular and sparse along the body, sometimes extend below the lateral line, and are bold on the dorsal and caudal fins. The dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins are white tipped. Apache Trout may have a dark spot present on either side of the pupil resembling a black stripe or mask. Adults are typically 5-9 inches in length but can reach up to 24 inches.
Diet: Apache Trout are primarily insectivores, feeding on both aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.
Habitat and Range: Apache Trout require cold water with high dissolved oxygen content. They are found in the small, cold streams and in some lakes in the White Mountains of Arizona. They are native to the upper Salt River drainage, including the Black and White Rivers and their tributaries, and in the upper Little Colorado River drainage. Apache Trout are endemic to Arizona meaning the occur no where else in the world.
Spawning: Apache Trout spawn in the spring like other trout of the Oncorhynchus genus. Like other salmonid species, Apache Trout may “pair up” with a mate over gravel substrate. Females dig a redd (nest) in the substrate with their tails and deposit their eggs, and the male then expresses milt over the eggs. Males tend to defend and chase off other competing males away from the redd and female. Larvae hatch from the eggs hatch approximately 30 days after deposition, and burrow into gravel, and about 30 days later the fry emerge from the gravel.
Threats: Threats to Apache Trout range from the presence of nonnative species to habitat degradation. Nonnative salmonids, including Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Brook Trout, affect Apache Trout in a variety of ways. Rainbow Trout can hybridize with Apache Trout, causing pure Apache Trout genetics to become intermingled with Rainbow Trout genetics. Brown Trout and Brook Trout affect Apache Trout by competing for food and space with Apache Trout. Also, as fall spawners, Brown Trout and Brook Trout may have a competitive advantage because their young emerge and occupy territories before young Apache Trout emerge in the spring.
Habitat degradation has also impacted Apache Trout. The Southwestern states have experienced a drought since the mid-1990s, which has reduced suitable stream habitat for Apache Trout. Wildfires and subsequent large precipitation caused floods full of ash and debris that resulted in a loss of habitat and fish kills. In addition, over-grazing of livestock in and around streams leads erosion and instream sedimentation, again resulting in the loss of habitat.
Current Status: The Apache Trout was Federally Listed as Threatened in 1975, and is considered “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). Wild populations currently reside in the upper sections of White, Black, and Little Colorado Rivers and their tributaries. Hatchery raised Apache Trout are also stocked in Lee Valley Lake and sections of the Black River and Little Colorado River.
Actions: Arizona Game and Fish Department, White Mountain Apache Tribe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Forest Service have been working together as the Apache Trout Recovery Team to protect and restore Apache Trout in their historical native range. Actions have included removing nonnative fish species, barrier construction to prevent upstream migration of nonnative fish into Apache Trout occupied reaches, habitat improvements, and the reintroduction of Apache Trout into historically occupied streams. While Apache Trout are protected under the Endangered Species Act, some populations are open to fishing, which has increased the support from anglers to restore Apache Trout populations. Today, Apache Trout populations are on the rise, and with the help of government agencies and nonprofit organizations, the Apache Trout Recovery Team continues to make progress in restoring Apache Trout in their native range.
To follow the work being done with this species click here.
Behnke, R. J. 2010. Trout and Salmon of North America. Simon and Schuster. pp. 123-129
Minckley, W.L. 1972. Fishes of Arizona. Arizona Game and Fish Dept. Phoenix, AZ.
USFWS. 2009. Recovery plan for Arizona trout, Oncorhynchus Apache. Apache Trout Recovery Team. USFWS, Albuquerque, NM.