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Rogue Fish District Update

December 2021

The holidays provide an opportunity to celebrate the good work being done for fish in the Rogue watershed. There are lot of people and organizations working hard to free the productive capacity of this highly productive river from the chains of 100+ years of poor development practices.

 While salmon and steelhead abundance will always rise and fall over time, restoration raises the bar for this natural cycle. More wild steelhead and salmon will be produced, and wild fish will gain resilience to projections of a changing climate

Please enjoy this list of 10 conservation and restoration highlights from the past decade. Next month, ODFW will focus on work done in 2021.

Dan Van Dyke


Chinook redds (visible as clean oval patches in the river substrate, above the Gold Ray dam site.

1. Chinook spawn in former reservoirs of older mainstem dams.

In 2010, the aging Gold Ray Dam was removed. Removal was a top priority for fish passage improvement because of the miles of habitat upstream and the number of native fish species migrating past the dam. The fish ladder at Gold Ray was out of date.  Adult salmon and steelhead had trouble passing the dam when flows were very low or very high.  Upstream movement by wild juvenile steelhead was blocked. With the removal of Gold Ray, a dam at Gold Hill and the notching of Savage Rapids Dam (and don’t forget Elk Creek!) the Rogue River ran free in its lower 157 miles, and 2011 started the biological clock for measuring fish response.

In the first years after removal of these dams, chinook immediately began spawning in former reservoir areas (photo above). ODFW counted the number of redds above Savage Rapids and Gold Ray 2010-2014.  While it takes 25+ years to measure fish response (it takes time to tease out environmental variation that affects the abundance of salmon and steelhead), it’s exciting to see fish returning and reclaiming their historical spawning grounds.


Kane Creek culvert barrier before improvement.


Kane Creek culvert barrier after improvement.

2. Fish passage improved in Kane Creek; significant producer of summer steelhead.

Fish passage in Kane Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River near Gold Hill was dramatically improved when the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) used a restoration fund to replace a culvert barrier with a bridge and improve passage at a concrete box culvert (photos above).

The projects were completed by 2013 and since then, both adult and juvenile steelhead migrate freely to spawn and rear. Jumps that hindered migrating wild steelhead have been eliminated and these fish now have improved access to about five miles of habitat.


Jones Creek railroad culvert before improvement.


Jones Creek railroad culvert after improvement.

3. Fish passage improved in Jones Creek; significant producer of summer steelhead

In Jones Creek near Grants Pass, three projects completed in the last decade removed the final significant barriers to fish migration.

For years, wild juvenile steelhead were killed by entering an irrigation canal at an unscreened diversion. This was eliminated when the Tokay Canal was placed in a siphon under the creek in a project by the Stream Restoration Alliance and the Grants Pass Irrigation District. At East Fork Jones Creek, a small dam was removed, and on West Fork Jones, ODFW constructed baffles to improve passage at a culvert on the creek.

Volunteers in ODFW’s Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (including members of the Rogue River Watershed Council, the Middle Rogue Steelheaders and local flyfishing clubs) are monitoring steelhead fry production in the forks of Jones Creek to evaluate fish response. 

During past drought years, fish production was limited to the lower 1/10th mile of Jones Creek below the railroad culvert (photos above). Since the projects have been completed, steelhead fry are produced in the forks each year despite the current drought cycle.

Passage projects have kept many miles of Jones Creek producing wild steelhead -  miles that were formerly blocked during dry years!  Jones Creek is a success story for wild steelhead and shows the value of restoring fish passage as we face increasingly erratic weather patterns.


Illinois Falls fishway following repairs and renovation.

4. Illinois Falls fishway repaired.

Back in 1961, ODFW built a fish ladder at Illinois Falls on the Illinois River. After 50 years of use, that structure was outdated and failing.

In 2016, the ladder was upgraded and repaired by ODFW thanks to funding from the agency’s Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program (photo above). The project ensures that fall chinook salmon, coho salmon and winter steelhead are able to migrate successfully into the bulk of the habitat in the Illinois watershed through a wide range of river flows.


5. Little Applegate Stream Habitat Enhancement Project completed

The removal of Farmers Dam in 2012 on the Little Applegate River marked the completion of the Little Applegate Stream Habitat Enhancement Project (LASHEP). In total, LASHEP resulted in the removal of two dams, the protection of an old irrigation water right for instream flow, and the development of a new streamflow monitoring gauge to ensure that instreams flows are met.

An example of August streamflow before the project is shown in the 1967 photo above. In 2021, a declared drought year, the flow in August averaged about 4.0 cfs compared to 1.8 cfs in 1967.

The Little Applegate and its primary tributary Yale Creek make up a wild steelhead sanctuary. A natural falls near the mouth is thought to block the upstream migration of salmon, leaving many miles of cold water habitat available to produce both summer and winter steelhead. 

LASHEP is a big win for wild steelhead production in the Rogue watershed!  Additional opportunities remain to ensure passage to even more miles of habitat upstream.


Wimer Dam before removal (Scott Wright, River Design Group).


Wimer Dam after removal (Scott Wright, River Design Group).

6. Two abandoned dams on mainstem Evans Creek removed

Wimer and Fielder dams on Evans Creek, abandoned irrigation dams, were removed in 2015 (photos above). Fish ladders at the dams were rudimentary and inadequate. 

During the 2001 drought, several fall chinook died after jumping out onto bedrock trying to swim through the ladder at Fielder. Passage by juvenile fish was almost certainly blocked.

The first year of passage past these dams was 2016, and the first post-dam returns began in 2020. Remember that it takes 25+ years/multiple generations to measure fish response to restoration actions, but already encouraging signs for fish are being observed in Evans Creek.

Prior to dam removal, ODFW had not verified the presence of fall chinook in West Evans Creek. In fact, a downstream migrant trap was operated on West Evans Creek for six years between 1998 and 2004 and no fall chinook juveniles were collected. 

After dam removal, juvenile fall chinook have already been observed during snorkel surveys.  There is also evidence that the distribution and abundance of Pacific lamprey is already improving.


Half pounder steelhead in the net at Huntley Park, prior to being counted and released.

7. Record catch of wild half pounder Rogue steelhead in 2018.

ODFW monitors the return of half pounder steelhead at the Huntley Park seining project on the lower Rogue (photo above). 

Since 1987,ODFW has counted both wild and hatchery half pounders in the annual catch at Huntley. The 2018 return of wild steelhead half pounder set a record for the survey, with an estimated return of over 72,000 wild fish! The next highest wild return was 69,000 wild half pounders in 2013 and 63,000 wild half pounders in 2017. 

Abundance continues to fluctuate, but the returns in these years are encouraging for biologists and anglers and coincide nicely with mainstem dam removal. This may be an early indicator of fish response to the collective work to restore fish passage in the Rogue. 


Willows planted in the drawdown zone at Lost Creek Reservoir

8. Little Butte restoration crescendo

Work done on Little Butte Creek could stand alone as a highlight reel for fish habitat restoration.  Three major habitat projects completed on Little Butte Creek and tributaries in the last decade will produce more wild fish for years to come.

First, a large meander on lower Little Butte on ODFW’s Denman Wildlife Area, lost to channelization in the 1950s, was restored. The length of Little Butte was increased by 2,800 feet of stream as a result.

Then ODFW constructed a fish ladder on a dam just downstream of the forks of Little Butte, greatly improving fish passage during the April-October irrigation season. Finally, ODFW installed a screen at an irrigation diversion on Lost Creek a tributary of South Fork Little Butte (photo above). Juvenile coho salmon and wild steelhead may now migrate safely to sea instead of entering a canal.

Multiple partners and fund sources contributed to the meander project, and ODFW’s Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program provided critical funding for all the above. More importantly, restoration projects continue, all good news for wild steelhead, coho, chinook, Pacific lamprey and Klamath smallscale suckers!


New fish screen on Lost Creek (Little Butte) will protect wild steelhead and coho salmon.

9. Planting of willow trees in reservoirs for warmwater fish is for the birds (too). 

Willows have been planted in the drawdown zone at Lost Creek Reservoir to improve habitat for warmwater fish species (photo above). Volunteers from local bass clubs provide the labor for this valuable work to create habitat out of the featureless nature of reservoir drawdown zones. 

As the trees have matured, they are providing wildlife habitat as well. Retired wildlife biologist Norm Barrett observed over 30 bird species in an around the willows in one area that was planted at Lost Creek - just one example of how habitat restoration benefits a broad swath of Oregon’s fish and wildlife species.


Adult Klamath smallscale sucker captured in Lazy Creek in 2011.


Adult Klamath smallscale sucker captured in Lazy Creek in 2011.

10. Spawning suckers confirmed in Lazy Creek in downtown Medford

The Small Stream, Urban Stream, Intermittent Stream Project gets volunteers involved in work on streams that are too often ignored. This Salmon Trout Enhancement Program project begins with the operation of upstream migrant hoop traps to collect data on the fish using small streams. 

Hoop trapping on Lazy Creek documented multiple native fish species using this urban Medford stream, including Klamath smallscale suckers (photos above). Additional surveys found mature suckers male and female suckers. We believe the suckers are using Lazy Creek for spawning,

A small dam has been removed on Lazy Creek to benefit juvenile steelhead, salmon and suckers, and more work is planned to improve passage.


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