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Taylor Grimes, with Rogue Jet Boat Adventures, leads a crew up the Rogue River at TouVelle State Park. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

Flyfishers hope to ban Upper Rogue jetboats

A local fishing club and a river-side landowner have turned to the Oregon State Marine Board in an attempt to jettison an excursion tour-boat operator from a 24-mile stretch of the upper Rogue River over user conflicts and safety concerns.

The Rogue Flyfishers Association and landowner Greg Layton have filed a petition to ban jet-powered boat engines on the Rogue upstream of the Table Rock Road bridge as a way to limit where owner Taylor Grimes of Rogue Jet Boat Adventures can operate.

The petition claims that "traditional uses" such as driftboating, kayaking and fishing are in disharmony with Grimes' operation within a three-mile stretch of the Rogue where Grimes says he runs up to four trips a day during the summer tourism season.

Layton, who lives on that stretch from TouVelle State Park up to Rattlesnake Rapids, says the river's narrow and often shallow reach there, along with the speed needed to power a jetboat through it, puts other users at risk either from a collision or from the 25-foot tour boat's wake.

Grimes and some flyfishers have been at odds since shortly after Grimes began his operation in 2011, and the Jackson County Marine Program says it has received complaints from both parties over the years, but no accidents have been reported.

Layton says the petitioners seek the jet-motor ban to eliminate conflicts.

"It just seems to be a use that's not conforming to that part of the river," says Layton, who owns a jetboat that he says he occasionally uses in that stretch. "It has the potential to dominate the usage.

"I know he tries to be careful, but there are still limitations," Layton says. "It's inevitable there will be some kind of mishap."

Grimes says the upper Rogue is "a multiuse river" and that a jetboat ban would transform it into a river "more along the lines of what one or two user-groups want.

"I don't think the public will really tolerate that," Grimes says.

Grimes says his operation, which is permitted to carry up to 18 passengers and runs up to four trips a day, is not like the larger Hellgate Excursions operation on the Rogue out of Grants Pass or similar operations out of Gold Beach.

"We don't want Hellgate up here either," Grimes says.

Rogue Flyfishers President Dave Roberts says the petition also focuses on a small but growing segment of private jetboaters running in the Shady Cove area in late summer. Their operation in that stretch and at that time disturbs salmon spawning gravels and endangers inexperienced river floaters who flock to that stretch, Roberts says.

"Those people don't have a clue," Roberts says. "They can't get out of the way. I'm just worried about safety." 

The Marine Board is taking public comment on the petition through March, Marine Board spokeswoman Ashley Massey says. Marine Board staff will review the comments and present them to the five-member board at its April 19 meeting in Salem.

If the Marine Board accepts the petition, then its staff would draft a proposed rule that would go out for public comment. A rejection of the petition would end the matter.

The board historically has been "pretty conservative" about restrictions between conflicting users, and there needs to be a "demonstrative safety issue" to restrict user access, says Randy Henry, the Marine Board's boating safety program manager.

"That's why we're gathering the public input, to see if it rises to that level," Henry says.

A jetboat ban in that stretch also would affect a small group of commercial fishing guides who use that stretch, particularly during the spring chinook salmon season. The petition is written to legislate air-propelled boats from the same waters, which at least one airboat owner uses frequently in the summer, Layton says.

It would not restrict the use of smaller, propeller-driven outboard motors popular among driftboaters there.

Grimes' season begins in May and runs into early September, with summer days the busiest. This will be the company's seventh season running trips upstream and downstream of TouVelle State Park.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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