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Tackling the competition: Department of Game and Fish launches New Mexico Trout Challenge

A brown trout slashes the water. It is one of five fish that anglers must catch to complete the New Mexico Trout Challenge. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

As a competitive fisherman, Norman Maktima has dropped his hook into rivers and streams worldwide.

But he’s missed out on one of the top spots right here in his native New Mexico.

With a new program from the state Department of Game and Fish, Maktima now has the perfect excuse to visit the southwestern part of the state in search of the elusive Gila trout.

The department enacted the New Mexico Trout Challenge in January as a means to encourage anglers to catch each of the five trout species in the state; the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, Gila trout, brown trout, brook trout and rainbow trout. Most of the species can be found throughout northern and central New Mexico waterways, but the Gila trout is unique to the southwestern part of the state.

“I’m pretty interested in it,” Maktima said. “My girlfriend is the one that pointed it out first. She’s excited about adding all the species to the list. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I’m willing to give it a go. It will take me down to Gila, which I have not fished.”

Maktima, who also is the senior guide for Santa Fe’s High Desert Angler, said he’s looking forward to seeing a new part of the state, which is the very idea of the Trout Challenge.

“It allows for a little more exploration and adds to the adventure aspect,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I like fly-fishing. Learning about the adventure aspect, learning more about different areas to fish and having a good time because of it.”

Silver City angler Jerome Amaro, who is already participating in the Trout Challenge, might be a good one to ask for advice about the area, because he’s been fishing the local waters for years and was excited to hear about the Trout Challenge.

New Mexico Trout Challenge coin. (Photo courtesy New Mexico Department of Game and Fish)

“Something like this has been in the works for a while and I’m glad they finally took the fish by the fins and really made it happen,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s all about fishing, getting people on the water. That’s really the big picture.”

What Amaro said he particularly likes about New Mexico’s Trout Challenge is it can be undertaken by anybody.

“What’s really cool about this one is it doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie, a bait fisherman, lure fisherman or a fly fisherman,” he said. “There is no distinction. I think that’s neat. It doesn’t create these artificial classifications for anglers. It’s a matter of getting out on the water and I think it’s really neat.”

Participating anglers will need to download the Powderhook application on a smartphone or tablet to track their progress. Information such as the lake or stream where the fish was caught, how much the fish weighs and a picture of the fish are just a few examples of the information required. For anglers who do not have a smartphone or tablet, there are alternative ways to enter this information, including calling the Information Center at 888-248-6866.

Gila trout is one of the five fish sought in the New Mexico Trout Challenge. (Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

The Trout Challenge is open-ended, and all who completes it will receive a NMTC coin for bragging rights. Nicolas Villescas of Albuquerque was the first person to complete the challenge.

“If you look at other states, New Mexico and California are about the only states that have more than four different trout species,” said Ross Morgan, public information specialist for Game and Fish’s northwestern region.

“I thought it was a perfect fit for the state of New Mexico,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people to get out and challenge themselves. It’s a great way to promote fishing in New Mexico. A lot of people out there didn’t know New Mexico had that many species of trout. It’s great to see it take off. It’s been a hit. It’s pretty incredible to see that many people excited about it.”

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