TRAIL — High water and the removal of two Rogue River dams likely helped the year's first Rogue winter steelhead reach Cole Rivers Hatchery this week, the third-earliest showing of the run's first fish in at least 23 years.
Hatchery technicians collecting fish in the hatchery fish trap discovered two female hatchery winter steelhead, one weighing about eight pounds.
They easily stood out among the mangier-looking late-run summer steelhead and coho collected during the weekly sweeping of the pond.
"I personally saw only one," hatchery Manager David Pease says. "It wasn't a wall-hanger, but it was a pretty fish."
It was also pretty early.
Only the first fish in the 2014 and 2015 runs made it earlier, hatchery records show. The 2014 run to the hatchery was the earliest, arriving Dec. 30, 2013, while 2015's first fish arrived Jan. 8. Last year's first steelhead made it there Jan. 20.
Biologists say it's no coincidence that the three earliest returns came during high-water events since Savage Rapids Dam near the town of Rogue River was removed from the Rogue in 2009 and Gold Ray Dam was removed from the Rogue in 2010 near Gold Hill.
"In my mind there's no question they contributed," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist.
High water gets winter steelhead migrating, and those two dams sported antiquated fish ladders that also were tough for steelhead to find because other flows in high water created "false attractions" that lured steelhead away from those ladders, VanDyke says.
That often put a halt to fish movement during what otherwise were good migration times. Now the Rogue flows unimpeded by artificial structures for the 157 river miles between the hatchery and the ocean.
"Now they can move along the river's edge and don't have to face those big structures," VanDyke says.
First 'Hikers Rendezvous' planned
ASHLAND — The Ashland Outdoor Store on Thursday will launch its inaugural Southern Oregon Hikers' Rendezvous to give people in the hiking community a chance to meet fellow outdoors enthusiasts and gather information on new trails.
The rendezvous will run from 6:15 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the store, 37 Third St., Ashland.
Store owner Steve Rice says he wants this to be the first of regular monthly rendezvous at the store.
Gabe Howe, founder and executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club, will offer a presentation about new hikes in the region.
Howe will detail backpacking trips in the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area, a remote arm of the Siskiyou Crest, and areas around Oregon Caves National Monument. All three are connected to the Pacific Crest Trail.
Howe will provide details of the routes, and maps will be available. He will also discuss trail conditions and the historic trail-maintenance backlogs among federal land-management agencies.
There will also be a raffle with chances to win an SMC membership and gear provided by the store. Beer, wine and snacks will be provided by Indigo Creek Outfitters.