Signs are good for a rebound on the Rogue

Signs are good for a rebound on the Rogue

Rogue River anglers who have suffered through a lull in salmon and steelhead seasons can take heart that there finally appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel that isn't a freight train.

After three straight down years in spring chinook and summer steelhead returns, anglers are hoping that last year's forgettable seasons represent the bottom of the bucket and that returns to the Rogue will start to climb again.

Last year's spring chinook run was well under half the 10-year average and the summer steelhead run over Gold Ray Dam was about 40-percent down from its 10-year average.

Both runs are expected to be somewhat underwhelming this year, state fishery managers say.

"We're certainly suspecting that we'll be flat on spring chinook," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist. "And there's no reason to expect we'll be anything but down from the 10-year average with summer steelhead.

"But really, it will depend upon the conditions," VanDyke says.

Also, returns of fall chinook are down coastwide, leaving ODFW fish biologists in the midst of mulling over whether to trim back the wild fall chinook daily and seasonal bag limits on all coastal estuaries and rivers.

Agency biologists are in the midst of collecting public comment on how to manage this year's fall chinook fisheries, and a decision is expected in June by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

However, there are indications that the cyclical ocean conditions that likely triggered the recent downturns have themselves turned around.

Larger winter steelhead seen coastwide suggest that the salmon and steelhead that survived the poor early feeding conditions have found enough shrimp and krill since then to put on some serious poundage.

"I think there's some indication that things will improve in the short term," VanDyke says.

So don't overlook the forest because there are still some trees there.

Overall run numbers are indicators of the big picture, but there are enough hatchery and wild fish expected to hit the Rogue this year that individual days can still provide the scrapbook-worthy fishing experiences that make the Rogue famous.

"You'll still have good days regardless," says Mike Jackson, a Rogue angler and former guide. "You'll always have a great time on the water with family and friends. It's not just about catching your limit every day.

"We've had these hard times in the past and it always bounces back," says Jackson, of Eagle Point.

Both the spring chinook and summer steelhead fisheries focus on harvest of fin-clipped hatchery fish and the release of wild fish so they can spawn.

The early portion of the spring chinook run already is entering the Rogue, with only a handful of fish over Gold Ray Dam and into the upper Rogue, where they concentrate before spawning in late summer and early fall.

Bank-fishing access is best at the far-upper end of the stretch, with the Cole Rivers Hatchery dike and Casey State Park off Highway 62 the two most popular public bank-fishing access points.

Most bank anglers cast corkies with pieces of yarn, drift-fishing through holes where the chinook typically hug the bottom. The best fishing is at first light, so most anglers trudge to their favorite bank spots to fish before breakfast.

Boat fishing for spring chinook remains extremely popular, with driftboaters and powerboaters favoring roe or large Kwikfish lures for salmon.

Wild spring chinook can be kept by anglers at the tail end of the run, when returning wild fall chinook start following the last of the wild springers upstream.

Wild and hatchery summer steelhead start making their way into Jackson County in June, with late July and August often providing some of the best times to fish for these aggressive fish.

Summer steelhead can be caught while either wading or fishing from driftboats or powerboats. Before the flies-only season opens on the upper Rogue on Sept. 1, even novices can catch them on roe, worms, spinners, plug lures, corkies, a vast array of flies, and even pink rubber worms made for bass fishing.

Though the wild fall chinook run is expected to be down, it's just down from excellent returns earlier this decade and similar to returns of the early '90s, says Todd Confer, an ODFW fish biologist in Gold Beach.

The Rogue's fall chinook run is nearly all-wild, with only a small hatchery program on Indian Creek just east of Gold Beach.

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