Easy-In Steelheading

When Bob Robinson has a few morning hours to satisfy his fly-fishing habit, he heads — of all places — into the heart of White City’s industrial zone for one of the area’s best spots to flick flies at steelhead.

A stretch of the Rogue River running through the Denman Wildlife Area’s Modoc Unit is one of the upper Rogue’s seven best park-and-cast spots to try your luck for steelhead.

It’s public land, accessible without four-wheel-drive and loaded with little pockets and seams of water that usually teem with steelhead. Best yet, Robinson needs no boat to get there.

“It’s a nice stretch of water and I can usually pick a fish or two if I work hard,” says Robinson, 67, of Ashland.

Two hours and one 8-pound steelhead caught-and-released later, Robinson pulls off his waders and re-assimilates into the Rogue Valley’s daily bustle, happy to have his steelhead jones fixed.
“If all you have is two or three hours, you can’t go out on a driftboat trip,” says Robinson. “That’s a day-long commitment. That’s why I like this bank access.”

Parachuting in and out of the Northwest’s storied steelhead fisheries at a moment’s notice is a huge benefit of Rogue Valley living.

The Modoc Unit is one of numerous public-access spots along the upper Rogue where fall fly-fishers can find relatively easy angling access without investing a full day.

From TouVelle State Park off Table Rock Road all the way upstream to Cole Rivers Hatchery’s aptly named Hatchery Hole, the upper Rogue’s Lucky Seven steelheading spots offer a chance at success for traditional fly-fishers, as well as those armed with spinning rods, plastic floats and weighted flies.

In the Modoc Unit’s case, fishing can be so good at times it’s kept under lock and key.

Actually, the gate on TouVelle Road off Modoc Road is meant to keep out illegal dumpers. Free keys to the lock are available at the Denman office, where 6,414 keys have been given out since the program began more than a decade ago.

Here is a run-down on seven easy-access spots to park and fish for steelhead along the upper Rogue:

The Sewer Hole: Downstream from the downstream portion of TouVelle State Park, off Table Rock Road, White City. Also known as a hole that rhymes with Sit, the sewer hole is where the discharge tube dumps water from Medford’s water-treatment plant. But it’s also a steelheaders’ gold mine.

The water regularly holds migrating steelhead. Also, recycled hatchery steelhead are released at the TouVelle boat ramp, and they almost always drop into the Sewer Hole for a few days before heading back upstream.

The whole area fishes well, but fly-casters do best in the upstream end.

To get there, park at the TouVelle ramp and wade a few hundred yards downstream from the ramp until you reach where the river hugs the far bank.

Upper TouVelle: up from the upstream portion of TouVelle State Park, off Table Rock Road, White City. This stretch starts on the island just upstream of ByBee Bridge. Spey rod anglers like to park at the upper parking lot and hike upstream to cast while wading in the mouth of Little Butte Creek. Also, the riffle between the parking lot and the creek mouth fishes well with streamers or nymphs.

Modoc: Along TouVelle Road off Modoc Road across from Upper Table Rocks parking lot, White City. Beyond the gate are hundreds of yards of good cobblestone riffles that are fishable under most water conditions. Some recycled steelhead get released there.
The water right below the power lines (look up, you can’t miss them) has been one of the better spots this year. This is public land, part of the Modoc Unit of the Denman Wildlife Area. To get a key, visit Denman’s office at 1495 E. Gregory Road during regular business hours.

Elks Picnic Grounds: Off Agate Road near the old tallow plant, White City. This out-of-the-way place is accessed along the drive to the Elk’s Lodge picnic grounds (don’t block the gate or roadway, please).

Walk into classic steelhead ledge water fished best when the sun is off the water. It’s a swinger’s delight, running streamer flies over the gurgling water. Spin fishermen using Ugly Bugs and plastic bubbles also can do well. Only drawback is there’s little room for more than a few casters.

Rogue Elk Park: At the Rogue Elk Boat Ramp along Highway 62 near Trail. Steelhead that already have finned 152 river miles obviously need a rest, and they often take it at the first riffle upstream from this boat ramp. It’s good for swinging flies, as well as nymphs with conventional gear or spinning rods and bubbles. A bit small, so two’s a crowd unless you’re together.

Park at the boat ramp lot and hike upstream through the largely unused campsites to find the riffle just around the upstream bend.

McGregor Park: Takelma Drive off Highway 62 just west of Casey State Park, Trail. This U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park is so under the radar that even vandals haven’t discovered it. But smart steelheaders have.

The stretch is loaded with fishable public water, but the best fall steelhead spot is just upstream of the Highway 62 bridge. Cross the bridge and park in the clearing on the upstream left side of the bridge. Wade out and fish the far channel with nymphs or streamers.

Hatchery Hole: At Cole Rivers Hatchery, off Takelma Drive, just upstream of McGregor Park. It’s not the prettiest place to fish, and casting flies from the concrete dike sure feels like fishing inside the hatchery itself. But more and more fly-casters and flies-and-bubbles anglers are finding they’d rather catch fish and pose their pictures so the dike’s not visible.

The dike side is good for flies and spinning rods. The near side at the boat ramp is popular for fly-casters in waders casting nymphs. You can wade and cast all the way down to the turn in turn in the bend, where steelhead often congregate. Just make sure you have studded shoes and decent insurance because the currents can be troublesome.

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