Steelhead rule-changer did it for others

One of the men responsible for allowing anglers next year to keep a wild Illinois River winter steelhead for the first time in 17 years says he won't take advantage of the new rule.

Chuck Closterman, who wrote and stumped for the angling regulation change adopted Friday for 2009, says he is glad Oregon's winter steelheading faithful will be able to decide for themselves whether to take home one of Southern Oregon's greatest of fishes.

But he's already made his decision. He won't do it.

"My personal opinion is I don't take a wild steelhead," says Closterman, from Grants Pass. "If someone in my boat decides to, he can, as long as it's legal."

Killing one wild steelhead a day, and up to five a year, will be legal again on the Illinois between Briggs Creek and Pomeroy Dam, a popular yet rugged fishing stretch among Josephine County's heartiest steelheaders.

The rule is one of only eight changes proposed by the angling public to survive months of debate and scrutiny before adoption Friday by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The rule, which replaces a 1992 regulation that required the release of all wild steelhead in the Illinois, goes into effect Jan. 1.

Closterman is a member of the Middle Rogue Steelhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited, whose members have sought the regulation change for years on the Illinois, which biologists say is one of the Rogue River basin's better producers of wild steelhead.

And that was a key in getting a 4-2 vote among commissioners who considered the change during the commission's meeting in Forest Grove, Closterman says.

Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist, says the system's robust steelhead population easily can withstand limited harvest from the change.

Southwest Oregon's main streams all produce good runs of wild winter steelhead, largely because of good spawning and rearing habitat on National Forest land, "and that's equally true for the Illinois," says VanDyke, who did not support the Illinois proposal in 2004. His support this time around was an important cog, Closterman says.

"I think if the biologists think it's OK, we'll support it and let people make their own decisions," Closterman says.

Closterman says the Illinois is the last of the major southwest Oregon rivers to see the so-called "1-and-5" rule for wild steelhead over 24 inches long. It joins the mainstem Rogue, Chetco, Elk, Sixes and Coquille rivers in sporting that limited level of killing of wild steelhead.

The Illinois rule was one of four proposals involving southwest Oregon waters that were adopted by the commission.

One rule lowers the striped bass minimum size from 30 inches to 18 inches.

A second change expands the fishing-closure area for fall chinook salmon on the upper South Fork of the Coquille River.

The final new rule for southwest Oregon reduces the fishable waters for chinook in Isthmus Slough of Coos Bay.

Only one change to marine rules will go into effect Jan. 1. That one expands the sport-crabbing season in the ocean from Dec. 1 through Oct. 15.

All the rules passed Friday were expected to remain intact, unless modified for emergencies, through 2012.

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 angling from floating devices on the Applegate River, where fishing from boats has been banned for decades.

That proposal, which also came from Closterman's TU chapter, was sought as a way to gain more public access to hatchery winter steelhead on the Applegate.

"The Illinois change and the Applegate change were the two things we really pushed for," Closterman says. "Half a loaf is better than none."

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

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