Burst in Rogue salmon quells talk of in-season closure

A recent boost of spring chinook salmon returns into the upper Rogue River has state fish managers putting on hold any possible angling rule changes to protect wild chinook.

Counts at Gold Ray Dam near Gold Hill through Friday showed 3,470 spring chinook — of which 845 are wild fish and the rest are hatchery-bred fish, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

That's still far behind the 10-year average for late May but enough to quell last week's talk of a possible repeat of last year's emergency requirement that anglers release all wild spring chinook and shut down fishing a month early on part of the upper Rogue.

"So far we've had some 200- and 300-fish days and it looks like that will continue to hold," said Dan VanDyke, the ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist in White City. "This has us thinking we'll be watching it closely and not take any immediate action."

ODFW biologists likely will meet again Friday White City to pour over updated fish counts, VanDyke said.

VanDyke's new assessment has resonated among upper Rogue salmon faithful at places like Pat's Hand-Tied Flies, a Trail shop where anglers have worried that they would be forced to release big salmon already tough to catch.

"Oh, man, you just made my day," shop owner Susan Billows said Wednesday. "Several people every day have asked about an early shut-down. It really hurts us. It even impacts how we order things."

Fishing success has even picked up in recent days in the upper Rogue, where bank anglers are finding more chinook on their lines during the traditional daybreak bite.

"Things are looking up," Billows said. "People are bringing in more fish to the store every day."

In mulling angling changes, ODFW biologists are using benchmarks established in the draft Spring Chinook Salmon Management Plan developed in recent years with the help of a public advisory committee.

The counts through May 15 showed just 1,248 salmon. Based on that, the prediction was that the overall run would produce fewer than 5,000 spring chinook over Gold Ray Dam, the level the advisory committee set for triggering in-season angling changes.

Under strikingly similar circumstances last year, the ODFW beginning June 5 ordered only catch-and-release fishing for wild, unmarked spring chinook. Anglers, however, could still target fin-clipped hatchery chinook, which dominate the Rogue run but are caught at disproportionately lower rates than hatchery fish.

Also, the stretch of upper Rogue from Gold Ray Dam to Elk Creek was closed July 1 — a month early — to all chinook angling to protect wild salmon holding in deep holes until they spawn in August and September.

In the ensuing 10 days, counts almost tripled to where projections now are for more than 5,000 wild fish to reach the upper Rogue in this run, VanDyke said.

"It's still not a good run, but it has improved," VanDyke said. "We'll see what happens."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com

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