Early fish really were steelhead

I heard on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers telephone recording last week that the Cole Rivers Hatchery count included three summer steelhead. I know removing Gold Ray and Savage Rapids dams likely help salmon and steelhead migrate up the Rogue River faster now. But summer steelhead all the way into the hatchery in early May? My guess is that these are just late-run winter steelhead that happened to show up in a time arbitrarily chosen for summer steelhead. What gives?

— James L., via email

We at Since You Asked Central found it hard to believe summer steelhead would be at the hatchery this early, and hatchery Interim Manager David Pease was a fellow doubter when he received a call from the hatchery's trap facility May 9.

The crew was there corralling the first 38 spring chinook salmon to enter the hatchery, and they reported catching three Rogue summer steelhead in the trap as well.

"I'm thinking, B.S.," Pease says.

The technicians placed the steelhead in a large plastic tote filled with water and Pease went to check them out. Pease reached into the tote expecting to find a soft, thin winter steelhead that survived its spawn and ended up in the hatchery instead of swimming back to sea.

"I grabbed one of them and thought, 'Oh my gosh,' " he says. "It was chrome bright. Unmistakably a summer steelhead."

Rogue summer steelhead normally don't show up until late May or June, he says.

The three steelhead were all hatchery fish, Pease says. Instead of keeping them around until the December spawning time, technicians punched a small hole in their left gill plate to denote them as recycled "retread" steelhead, and they were released into the Rogue at Gold Hill to run the angling gauntlet again, he says.

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