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Rogue Fish District Update

March 2017


This email is part of a series intended to share information and provide facts related to the fish resources of the Rogue River and management of those resources.  I hope you find this information both interesting and helpful. 

This is an exciting time on the Rogue!  A lot of good work is being done to give our fish the best chance to thrive in a future that looks increasingly chaotic for natural systems. I hope you will consider giving your time to protect and restore habitat in the watershed and help grow more fish.

Dan Van Dyke
Rogue District Fish Biologist

Dan Van Dyke
Rogue District Fish Biologist

Adult coho
Adult Coho Salmon

Rogue Watershed Spawning Cycle

The spawning cycle continues.  Coho Salmon and almost all Summer Steelhead have spawned.

Spring Chinook (Sept-early Oct)
Fall Chinook (Oct-January; spawning later with distance downstream)
Coho Salmon (roughly late November through mid-January)
Summer Steelhead (mid-Dec through mid-March)
Cutthroat trout (similar to summer steelhead)
Winter steelhead (mid-March through June)
Suckers (April)
Pacific Lamprey (roughly April-June)

Coho Salmon Adult Abundance

Every year, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) estimates abundance of Rogue River Coho Salmon by comparing the number of unmarked wild Coho to marked hatchery Coho caught at our Huntley Park seining project on the lower river near Gold Beach.  Then when the hatchery run to Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery is completed, we can produce a very good estimate of the number of wild Coho returning to the basin to spawn that year.  Follow these counts bi-weekly during sampling:

Rogue River fish counts.

Below is a graph of wild Coho numbers since 1980:

Rogue coho wild adults 1980-2016

Rogue Coho are unique in Oregon

Rogue River Coho Salmon are part of the Southern Oregon Northern California Coho (SONCC) populations found at the southern end of Coho distribution on the West Coast (populations in Oregon Figure 1). Because of this, they are susceptible to much more extreme weather patterns than are Coho Salmon in Oregon Coast Coho populations.  The Rogue watershed is naturally much hotter and drier in summer than the Coquille, Siuslaw and Nehalem watersheds, for instance.  

Oregon Coho Populations
Figure 1: Oregon Coho populations or ESUs (Evolutionary Significant Units). The table gives the length of Coho Salmon rearing distribution in 1st-3rd order streams in each area.

Coho Salmon juvenile surveys

ODFW has conducted snorkel surveys of headwater streams in the Rogue Basin since 1998. Examples of these streams include Sucker Creek in the Illinois subbasin, Wolf Creek in the Grave Creek subbasin, East Fork Williams Creek in the Applegate subbain, and Neil Creek in the Bear Creek subbasin.

For stream sites sampled in 2016, 32 percent had juvenile Coho and there were 0.06 juvenile Coho/square meter of pool habitat. Coho occupancy on Rogue survey streams has ranged from 28 to 84 percent since 1998, and excellent fish numbers will result in 0.7 juveniles per square meter.

The full report, and prior years monitoring, can be viewed here.

What does that mean?

Because juvenile Coho typically spend a year in freshwater prior to entering the ocean, instream rearing conditions are a major factor in Coho production.  Different from most of coastal Oregon, summer rearing conditions such as warm stream temperatures are a primary limiting factor for our juvenile Coho in the Interior Rogue, Applegate, and Illinois basins (SONCC).  For Oregon Coastal Coho (OCC) and the coastal SONCC populations the main limiting factor is habitat complexity and a lack of over-wintering rearing habitat.

An expert panel convened by ODFW identified the primary limiting factors affecting Rogue Coho, and this report can be viewed here.  

Coho need shade
Shade helps to keep stream temperatures cool in the summer.
Wolcott Diversion
New fish screen at Walcott Diversion on Little Butte Creek

Good projects completed in 2016

ODFW applauds the following habitat projects completed in the past year that address primary limiting factors for Rogue Coho or help minimize risk for these fish.  


  • ODFW worked with the United States Forest Service (USFS) to make repairs to the fish ladder at Illinois Falls.  This ladder ensures Coho access above the falls to 202 miles of spawning habitat over a wide range of flows.
  • USFS placed large woody debris (LWD) in upper East Fork Dunn Creek to improve instream habitat.  Large woody debris scours rearing pools in streams and slows streamflow to allow other habitat features to develop.  
  • ODFW updated a fish screen on the Seyforth Irrigation diversion on Sucker Creek and is preparing a new screen for the Floyd diversion on Althouse Creek.  Screens keep juvenile fish from entering irrigation ditches and ending up on agricultural fields. 

Middle Rogue Applegate population

  • The Applegate River Watershed Council (ARWC) is restoring riparian vegetation on Thompson Creek from the mouth to river mile five; includes both sides of the stream for at least a quarter mile.  Riparian vegetation keeps streams cool, reduces erosion, and provides food for beavers.  Beaver dams provide good habitat for a variety of species including fish.
  • ODFW installed a new screen on the Beaver Creek Diversion.
  • ARWC acquired passage design grants for culvert replacement on Butcherknife Creek, dam removal on Palmer Creek (with USFS), and fish passage at Forest Creek.

Upper Rogue

  • The Freshwater Trust (TFT) and Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) are restoring riparian vegetation on both sides of one mile of Neil Creek, just south of Ashland.
  • ODFW worked with Jackson County Roads to install baffles on a culvert on Bitterlick Creek (Little Butte) to reduce velocity and help fish pass upstream.  Additional work is probably needed to address the jump into the culvert.
  • ODFW installed a new fish exclusion screen on the Walcott Irrigation Diversion on Little Butte Creek.
  • Work continues on habitat projects within the Elk Creek watershed near Trail, OR.  Partners include Bureau of Land Management, USFS, Rogue River Watershed Council, and ODFW.
  • TFT and BOR worked with private landowners and are restoring riparian vegetation (and placing large woody debris) along the South Fork Little Butte just upstream of Lake Creek, OR.

El Ninos, drought, and fish numbers

Instream habitat restoration is key to “raising the bar” for salmon and steelhead abundance.  Populations of salmon and steelhead will always rise and fall over time; however, habitat restoration will not only produce higher highs but also higher lows.

The Rogue experienced extreme conditions for fish during the multi-year drought of 2013-2015.  In addition, the ocean experienced one of the stronger El Ninos on record in 2015-2016.  El Nino conditions can dictate the quality of ocean rearing habitat that juvenile fish encounter at sea.  The food supply is greatly reduced in quantity and quality.

For people who work and care for Rogue fish, we need to remember to look back to previous extremes to help track our progress.  The last multi-year drought combined with a very strong El Nino took place in the late 1980s through early 1990s (El Nino of 1991-1992). 

Below is a graph of Coho adult abundance two years before, during and two years after the ‘91-92 El Nino, and a graph from two years before and during the ‘15-16 El Nino.  Two more years of data for the most recent El Nino are needed, but returns to date are encouraging.

Rogue Coho El Ninos

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