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Area Demographics

Birding, history and geological adventure is what you will find down “The Birth Place of Wilderness” The Gila River from Winkelman, Arizona. 


Renowned for its 280 species of bird population habitat the Gila River is one of the longest Rivers in the West. 


The Gila River is a 649-mile tributary of the Colorado River it is joined by the San Carlos River from the north in San Carlos Lake. At Winkelman, Arizona it picks up the San Pedro River and then is joined by the Santa Cruz River south of Casa Grande. The Salt River, its main tributary, joins in the Phoenix metro area, and further west the Gila receives its last two major tributaries, the Agua Fria and Hassayampa Rivers, from the north.


Bring your tent, RV and fishing pole and come Explore the Wild in one of Arizona's remote destinations.

Fish Species

Here are some of the common fish found in the Gila River,  Largemouth bass, Sunfishes, Channel catfish, Flathead catfish, Gila trout.   The Gila River is home to what now is the protected Gila Trout. The Gila Trout looks similar to an Apache Trout with smaller spots and a more brown that yellow base color.

Fishing Strategy

Giant cats are where it’s at so if catching a giant flathead catfish is your ticket to happiness, then here are a few tips on landing your trophy flathead. Keep in mind it is going to be much more difficult than finding a channel or blue cat of interest, simply because of their lifestyle.

The prime fishing time for catching flathead catfish is during the warm months. Their preferred water temps are 75 – 84 degrees. Flatheads prefer feeding at dusk, during the night or before the sun comes up. The best places to find them are in deep slower moving pools where the water is murky and/or near the base of dams. They like to surround themselves with lots of vegetation or rocky covering. Their meat is white, firm and flakey and has a good flavor however during the summer months; the meat can taste a bit muddy.

The gear for Flatheads needs to be pretty solid. Flathead catfish can be got on a rod and reel, but if you want to catch the largest flathead use droplines, set lines or trotlines. This technique involves dropping heavy-grade tackle and hooks into the water and then securing the line to a tree or partially submerged limbs. If you want the challenge
of catching a flathead on a rod and reel, use a heavy-action rod at least 7”, a good bait-casting reel and a minimum of 30-lb test line, a 2/0 hook for smaller bait should be sufficient and for larger bait 4/0. You should only use stainless steel hooks.

AZGFD recommends using live sunfish, carp and waterdogs for larger flatheads and worms and chicken liver for smaller flatheads. Make sure you read the fishing regulations for special instructions about the use of live bait fish.

Boating Options

Gila River boating offers a way to enjoy a ten-mile section of Gila River upstream from Winkelman. This float has gentle rapids, except during flooding periods. Canoes, kayaks, and small rafts can do the river in two to three hours, depending on put-in, flow, and winds. Trees and other hazards make tubing and boating dangerous.


The Gila flows all summer due to releases from Coolidge Dam. The boating season lasts from March to August. Put-in points may require high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles. No permit is needed if you start near Christmas on BLM land for a six-mile trip. If you have a state recreation permit, you can put in near Dripping Springs for a ten-mile run.



From Globe take Hwy 77, 25 miles south to Dripping Springs.
Take-out is normally at the park in Winkelman. (Needles Eye Wilderness farther upstream has no public land or river access.) Several companies offer raft trips.


Contact Tucson BLM for a complete list of Outfitters.
Permits are required.

Camping Options

There is a developed campground off Rt 3 on San Carlos Lake (reservation permit required). Gas, groceries and permits are available at the San Carlos Marina. Further on down the river in Winkelman you will find several dispersed camping spots along the river.   Winkelman River Park is located on the Gila and provides tent camping spots, 8 pull thrus, full hookups, electric, 30 amp, water, and toilets.


You can access the river from several points.  If you are just going for a fun family outing then we recommend going to Winkelman River Park located at E Quarelli St, Winkelman AZ 85192.  This is a recreation site where you can go fishing, swim, camp and Explore the Wild.

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