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Rogue District Update

September 2017

If it’s hot for us, it’s hot for salmon and steelhead. Please do your part to keep streams cold and clean. Protect and restore streamside trees and shrubs, conserve water, and volunteer!

Adult Spring Chinook Salmon
Adult Spring Chinook Salmon

Rogue Watershed Spawning Cycle

The spawning cycle for 2017-2018 has begun. In 1943, biologist Cole Rivers wrote that the first Rogue Spring Chinook begin to spawn around Sept. 1 in the vicinity of McLeod. Right on cue, at least 23 redds (the nest salmon build in the gravel) and 25 spawning adults were observed by ODFW on a float between Cole Rivers Hatchery and Shady Cove on Aug. 30.

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

Summer snorkel survey
Summer snorkel survey on Rogue River tributary

ODFW surveys summer 2017

Each summer, ODFW crews from the Corvallis Research Lab conduct randomly selected surveys of fish habitat and snorkel surveys for the presence and density of juvenile fish. Locally, Jenna Ortega and Patrick Kohl are surveying streams in the mid-Rogue, while Marshall Wolf and Crystal Nichols make up the upper Rogue survey crew. Some of the major streams being surveyed in summer 2017 include: six sites in the Evans Creek subbasin; Deer Creek, Althouse and the East Fork in the Illinois subbasin; Waters, Butcherknife, East Fork Williams and some mainstem reaches in the Applegate subbasin; Sardine Creek and Sams Creek; Wagner and Neil in upper Bear Creek; South Fork Little Butte and Antelope Creek; Trail Creek; and West Branch Elk Creek.

Snorkel survey

ODFW Huntley Park seining project

ODFW’s annual monitoring project at Huntley Park is well underway, as a crew nets a deep pool in the lower river three days each week in the same manner since the early 1970s. The catch provides the basis for estimates of abundance for Fall Chinook salmon, late run Summer Steelhead, and Coho Salmon. Returns are very good considering the chaotic environmental conditions the fish have faced over the last several years. The catch to date of Fall Chinook and Summer Steelhead adults are above the average return over the last 10 years, while the catch of half-pounder steelhead is well above average. The first Coho Salmon of the year have also been caught. The numbers can be viewed here.

Estimates of Rogue wild half pounder steelhead abundance

El Ninos, drought, and fish numbers

The Rogue experienced extreme conditions for fish during the multi-year drought of 2013-2015 combined with one of the stronger El Ninos on record in 2015-2016.

Drought will obviously affect fish by reducing the space available to live—streams get very small or dry up completely. Summer steelhead spend multiple years in freshwater as juveniles, so instream habitat conditions can be strongly influenced by drought. El Nino conditions dictate the quality of ocean conditions that these juvenile fish encounter during their first year at sea by directly affecting the quality and amount of food available for young salmon and steelhead.

As 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). Above is a graph of wild half pounder Summer Steelhead abundance two years before, during and after the 91-92 El Nino, and from two years before and during the 15-16 El Nino. The 2017 count so far also looks good, so while two more years of data for the most recent El Nino are needed, returns to date are very encouraging!

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. 

Summer flows and reservoir releases in the Rogue River

Did you know that ODFW Rogue District biologists work closely with the Watermaster and the Corps of Engineers to make recommendations on reservoir releases from Lost Creek and Applegate? One of the primary purposes of Corps dams on the Rogue is to provide “fishery enhancement.” This is done through an allocation of stored water for fish, beginning late spring through the fall, and by safe operation of the dams for fish outside of an emergency flood control operation. ODFW conducted years of research (with funding from the Corps) to learn the best ways to operate the dams to help the Corps meets its fishery objective.

A big snowpack and healthy rainfall ensured sizable river flows all summer in the Rogue this year. Normally the release from Lost Creek is reduced in July to make sure enough water is available to minimize pre-spawning loss in adult Fall Chinook Salmon in August. This year the release has been reduced gradually over the summer as the reservoir drops down to the level needed each fall for flood control, as required by the Corps. River flows have been well above average, which is good news for native fish

You can track streamflows using USGS streamflow gauges. The river flow at Agness on the lower Rogue can be viewed here. ODFW studies have shown the river flows measuring around 2,300 cfs at Agness will minimize the risk of disease and pre-spawning loss of fall Chinook salmon between Aug. 10 and Sept. 10 each year. 

Fish and water use

In most places in Oregon, water rights that have been issued exceed the water available in streams. This is a dire situation for Oregon’s native fish species, and was chronicled in an Oregonian series in 2016.  You can learn more about this situation by reading the series at the following link: 

Oregonian article "Draining Oregon."

Opportunities for Volunteerism

Want to get involved to help Oregon’s fish resources? Consider volunteering with ODFW’s Salmon Trout Enhancement Program. Upcoming projects include:

  • Small stream trapping October-February
  • Spawning surveys for adult salmon and steelhead on select stream reaches Sept-May
  • Ongoing riparian restoration projects (blackberry removal, willow propagation, winter tree planting, summer watering)
  • Downstream fry trapping April-July
  • Carpentry skills for miscellaneous small projects
  • Help organize and participate in family fishing events
Angler Education Instructor
Angler Education Instructor teaching fish biology to young and old.

Interested in becoming a Certified Angler Education Instructor?

Help pass your knowledge onto the next generation! Angler education instructors don’t need to be the best angler on the Rogue. In fact, if you are new to fishing, this would be a great opportunity to meet more folks that may share a similar love of the outdoors while being active in their communities.

Volunteers willing to be leaders to organize events at schools are needed, especially in the Upper Rogue Valley (Jackson County).  A very well established program sponsored through the Middle Rogue Steelheaders of Grants Pass is very active in the Josephine County area schools. ODFW provides all the training you need, background checks, and resources for teaching angler education to youth in schools such as water safety, knot tying and casting. Angler education classes typically culminate with a field trip to a local pond or reservoir.

More information can be found at:

Already have an angling or outdoor recreation club going? Are you looking for stewardship opportunities? Give our local STEP Biologist a call or email and he will try to steer you in the right direction, come and give a talk to your organization about current Rogue fish and wildlife happenings, or just talk about what’s hot, and what’s not!

Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program

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