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Rogue Fish District Update

June, 2019

Hello, Oregon Hunter/Angler

This email is part of a series intended to share information and provide facts related to Rogue River fisheries and fish management.  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.  Please consider giving your time to protect and restore habitat in the watershed and help grow more fish.

Wild juvenile steelhead

Wild juvenile steelhead just prior to ocean migration. Want more fish? Help grow fish to this size through habitat protection and restoration. Help grow survivors!


Volunteers help with wild steelhead monitoring

The Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) is all about citizen volunteers helping ODFW maintain healthy and sustainable populations of salmon, steelhead and trout.  STEP volunteers do a wide variety of projects to help complete fish district management objectives.  A current project is an expanding program of trapping young of the year steelhead fry that are migrating downstream to find summer rearing habitat in larger streams or the Rogue River.

Fry trapping projects are carried out for a variety of reasons. In 2006, ODFW discovered the unscreened Tokay Canal diversion on Jones Creek near Grants Pass was unintentionally pulling juvenile steelhead out of Jones Creek and killing them in irrigation headboxes, leading to lower returns of adult steelhead. The following year, STEP trapped above the diversion and released them safely into Jones Creek below the diversion, saving thousands of young wild steelhead. In 2013, the Tokay Canal diversion was siphoned under Jones Creek, eliminating the problem and allowing yearlings to migrate upstream to overwinter and fry to migrate out safely and effectively for the first time in years. STEP continues to run fry traps every spring to help monitor the recovery of steelhead in Jones Creek.

ODFW biologist Bridget Worthington with expert fry trap volunteers Kirk Kowalke, Harry Foster and Greg Carratt.

ODFW biologist Bridget Worthington with expert fry trap volunteers Kirk Kowalke, Harry Foster and Greg Carratt.

With the help of volunteers from the Middle Rogue Steelheaders, Rogue Fly Fishers, Southern Oregon Fly Fishers and the Rogue River Watershed Council, STEP expanded this project to other streams including Birdseye (2017), Galls (2018), Sams (2019) and Fruitdale (2019) creeks. The data collected will help illustrate the general trend of fish production and outmigration on each respective creek, often before and after restoration projects to address impacts from habitat degradation (road barriers, dams, riparian removal, excessive water withdrawal and/or mining). Many restoration opportunities are available on these creeks to help improve fish habitat.

Young of the year steelhead fry being counted prior to release

Young of the year steelhead fry being counted prior to release.


Half pounder steelhead abundance increasing 

Half pounder steelhead will migrate into the Rogue River later this summer.Steelhead in the Rogue are unique in Oregon - soon after migrating to sea as smolts, most summer steelhead and good numbers of winter steelhead turn back into the river late summer through winter as 12-14 inch “half pounders.” The fish later go back to sea before re-entering the Rogue the following year (can be 1-2 years later) to spawn.

With the exception of 2015, returns of wild half pounders since 2013 have been in the top ten largest returns observed during ODFW fish monitoring in the lower Rogue (Huntley Park seining project). The three largest counts of wild half pounders are 1) 2018, 2) 2013 and 3) 2017 which is encouraging for biologists and anglers, and coincides nicely with dam removal.

Laura Street

Laura Street enjoys exploring Southern Oregon.


New Biologist Laura Street

Laura Street is the newest employee of the Rogue Fish District.  Her fisheries career began in Southeast Alaska at a remote field camp monitoring a sockeye salmon run alongside coastal brown bears.  She also has a diversity of fish research experience from rafting coastal rivers in Oregon to snorkeling Washington river canyons. She has been working in the Columbia River Gorge most recently on the Hood and Deschutes River monitoring salmon and steelhead.  Laura is enjoying exploring the hiking and fishing opportunities Southern Oregon has to offer.


Living with beavers, improving fish habitat

To restore habitat on streams and rivers, fisheries biologists design projects to add complexity in the form of large wood, pools and streamside vegetation.  These projects can be costly and take years to provide outcomes, but luckily beavers offer to do this for free. 

Beaver dams create pools that provide habitat and nutrients for juvenile salmon and steelhead to forage in as well as retain gravel for spawning.  The pools often provide the best rearing habitat during the dry summer months in southern Oregon.  Unlike our constructed dams, beaver dams are rarely impassable to fish so adult and juveniles can navigate through or over them during migration. 

Though beavers do remove some trees to create their dams (willows, cottonwood and big leaf maple all resprout after being cut), they eat a wide variety of native plants including grasses and forbs, and the increase in water level associated with beaver dams encourages new riparian vegetation to grow.  Unfortunately, conflicts with landowners can happen when beavers cut down valuable trees, leaving some frustrated landowners to turn to lethal measures for removal.  ODFW would like to help landowners live with beavers so we can produce more and healthier salmon and steelhead in partnership with these landscape altering rodents.

STEP Biologist Ryan Battleson received a grant from the STEP Advisory Committee to purchase fencing to help protect trees from beavers.  ODFW is reaching out to landowners in certain areas of the watershed where fish will benefit most from beavers and beaver dams.  The first “beaver emphasis area” is the Elk Creek subbasin in the upper Rogue, a very important producer of coho salmon, summer and winter steelhead, and other native fish.  The STEP program sent out a letter to landowners in this area to let them know about the program and increase education and awareness about the positive impacts of beavers.  If you know a landowner having a tough time living with a beaver, give ODFW a call for advice or to see if fencing material is still available.


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