New state rules allow Illinois River anglers to keep one steelhead a day

Winter steelhead anglers on a stretch of the Illinois River will be able to keep some wild steelhead for the first time in 17 years under new sport-fishing rules adopted Friday in Forest Grove.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a change allowing anglers to keep up to one wild winter steelhead a day, and no more than five per year, on the remote stretch of the Illinois between Briggs Creek and Pomeroy Dam in Josephine County. The stretch remains closed to bait fishing.

In other moves, the commission rejected a petition to extend by 60 minutes the fishing deadline of 7 p.m. at the Rogue River's Hatchery Hole during spring chinook salmon season.

The commission also rejected a package of public petitions seeking to open fishing from floating devices on the Applegate River, where fishing from boats has been banned for decades.

The change on the Illinois modifies a strict catch-and-release policy on the Illinois enacted in 1992 amid the early stages of petitions for listing West Coast salmon and steelhead runs as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Illinois winter steelhead petition was the first proposed wild salmon listing under the act, eventually paving the way for the listing of regional runs of wild salmon and not just those on single streams.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists supported the change.

"That's good news I never expected," said Gary Emerson, a long-time Illinois fisherman.

Emerson said the stretch's remote location, difficult access and its continued ban on bait fishing should keep anglers' impacts on the wild run to a minimum.

The commission voted to retain its 2003 rule banning fishing after 7 p.m. in the upper Rogue off the Cole Rivers Hatchery dike from April 1 through July 31. The original rule was installed to decrease drunken lawlessness and illegal snagging of spring chinook salmon there.

The Rogue, Applegate and Illinois rules were part of a statewide package of rules that went through nine months of public petitions, input and debate. They go into effect Jan. 1 and were expected to remain intact, other than for emergency changes, through 2012.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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