Rogue Report [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Rogue Report

03-20-2006, 11:31 PM
Hi, All,

Got a chance for some excellent R&R rafting the Rogue this weekend from Grave Creek to Foster Bar, the designated wild and scenic section.

Very easy trip, as the water was at least ten feet higher (!) in the canyons than I'd ever seen it. We passed over bus-sized boulders that were invisible at these flows. Quite a difference from running the river in October.

The river was a bit roily, but certainly fishable. I struck out, but talked to some gear fishermen who were camped alongside us at the big Tate Creek campground. The told me this was an annual trip for them and last year they'd had incredible luck, catching around 80 steelhead in three days for their party of five. This year, their luck wasn't quite as good, as they'd landed only eight so far.

Well, this was certainly intriguing. I asked how big their fish were and the reply was that these steelhead were half-pounders. This really puzzled me, as I thought the half-pounder run was a a fall one.

But, sure enough, pretty soon one of the party came along dragging a couple of half-pounders on a stringer. Silvery little things, about 18 or so inches long. I got up close and asked if I could see the fish as I was having a rough time of it, and at least wanted a good look at one.

Mystery solved: the two fish the man had were indeed fall-run half-pounders, headed downstream back to the sea. The fish had silvered up nicely, were in fair condition, except for some loss of dorsal fish tissue due to fungal rot, and were even fin clipped (adipose). I complemented the man on his catch and walked back to our camp. I thought it impolitic to tell the man what he really had, although perhaps I should have...I don't know.

I think most of us have unwittingly and ignorantly killed kelt steelhead (fish that have spawned and are headed back to sea). We do it once or twice; learn from our mistake(s) and don't do it again. Biologically, though, does it matter to kill kelts, particularly half-pounders of hatchery origin?

Well, yeah, if they're wild fish. Give them a chance to recycle. With the hatchery fish, I guess it's a matter of aesthetics and personal choice.

I want to make it clear that I don't know for certain that there isn't a spring run of small steelhead on the Rogue and maybe I just got a bad sample from an indiscriminating angler. I hope someone will set me straight on this.

Wonderful river, though. I feel lucky and refreshed to have had the experience of running the Rogue at this time of year. Waterfalls everywhere streaming off the canyon walls; paired geese nesting at every turn; solitude mixed in with the excitment of coping with the huge hydrolics. Maybe next year the water levels will be lower and I'll connect.

-- Eric

03-21-2006, 05:41 AM,00060,00010

Should have added: the small triangle(s) are 'normal flows' based upon the past several years typical run off.

03-22-2006, 04:33 PM

A couple points about half-pounders.

First, kelt half-pounder is more than likely a contradiction in terms, as there is little evidence to support the argument that half-pounders are sexually mature on anything but a very limited scale. If the fish you saw were downers, it's unlikely they were half-pounders.

Second, 18" might seem small for an adult steelhead, but it's outrageously large for a half-pounder. True half-pounders are more typically smaller than 15", and are most frequently in the 12"-14" range. In fact, pursuant to the regulations in affect on the Rogue, any fish over 16" is considered an adult steelhead that must be tagged if harvested. Based just on the biology of half-pounders, that cutoff is about right as well. Adult fish under 20" are not totally uncommon on the Rogue, however, in both the summer and winter runs.

Third, although half-pounders do enter the river in the late summer/early fall, they overwinter. They will begin their downstream migration back to the ocean any time now, but it's still plenty early. Basically they enter the river and remain, without spawning, until spring when they return to the ocean again before returning as adults on their spawning run. This time away from the ocean is generally considered a major factor in the relatively diminutive size of Rogue steelhead.

Fourth, the original hatchery stocks on the Rogue were chosen so as not to include the half-pounder life history. Over time the fish have managed to adopt it nonetheless; however, there is some evidence that the half-pounder life history is not as common among hatchery fish as their wild bretheren. Also, the half-pounder life-history is much more common among summer run fish than winters (95+ percent frequency among late-arriving summer fish, but less than 30 percent among winters).

All and all, I'd say the odds are more in favor, given your description, that you encountered small downer adult winter run fish than half-pounders. Either that or they were not downers and the 18" might be a generous estimate of size?

Here's some information on half-pounders generally. These days there are lots of folks claiming to have encountered half-pounders elsewhere and basically everywhere, but there's little in the way of hard science, at least right now, to support the argument that they exist in any real numbers outside of the geographic area affected by the Humboldt Upwelling--an oceanic phenomena that impacts the coast of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Jacks are thought to occur in steelhead populations, which would explain smaller fish, but then jacks and half-pounders are not the same thing biologically or behaviorally. Anyway, there's quite a bit of information in the linked memos from NOAA if you have some time to go through them.


Steelhead with the life-history pattern called "half-pounder" (Snyder 1925) are steelhead that return from their first ocean season to fresh water from July through September, after only 2 to 4 months of saltwater residence. They generally overwinter in fresh water before outmigrating again in the spring. There is some variability in criteria for defining half-pounders. Kesner and Barnhart (1972) described Klamath River half-pounders as being 250-349 mm. Everest (1973) used 406 mm as the upper limit of half-pounder body length on the Rogue River.

The half-pounder migration has been termed a "false spawning run" because few half-pounders are believed to be sexually mature. However, Everest (1973) found some spawning activity by male half-pounders that were 355-406 mm in length.

Half-pounders are reported in the scientific literature from the Rogue, Klamath, Mad, and Eel River drainages of southern Oregon and northern California (Snyder 1925, Kesner and Barnhart 1972, Everest 1973, Barnhart 1986). Anecdotal accounts suggest that the half-pounder life history may also occur outside of these basins. However, the lack of either a half-pounder fishery outside the Rogue, Klamath, Mad, and Eel Rivers or scientific documentation suggests that if it occurs in other locations, the half-pounder strategy is less successful than in the basins named above and occurs at a much lower frequency."

"The half-pounder life history form of steelhead appears to be restricted to southern Oregon and northern California, having been described from the Rogue, Klamath, Eel, and Mad Rivers. The advantages of the half-pounder strategy are poorly understood; presumably, the fish are either seeking refuge from adverse conditions in the ocean or taking advantage of favorable conditions in fresh water. It is likely that expression of this life history strategy is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors."

"Cape Blanco is also an approximate northern boundary for the Klamath Mountains Province, a local area of intense upwelling, the distribution of the half-pounder life history, and the Klamath-Rogue freshwater zoogeographic zone. To the south, Cape Mendocino is a natural landmark associated with changes in ocean currents and also represents the approximate southern limit of the half-pounder life history strategy."

03-22-2006, 07:51 PM

Wow! Many thanks for this superb precis. I just assumed anything under four pounds was a "half-pounder" never having been privileged to the life-history you put forth. As a would-be student of anadromous fish, I'm very appreciative of this sound information.

The fish I saw were definitely "down streamers" in the sense that they had been in the river for a considerable length of time. Saprolegnia or other fungal diseases had taken a toll on their dorsals, although, for the most part they seemed in good mended condition. I did not realize until now that the term "kelt" was restricted to fish that had actually spawned. I have not run across a term similar to "kelt" for steelhead (other than "snakes", "downstreamers" and other inelegant appellations unworthy of this magnificent fish), which is why I used it.

As to my estimate of the fish's size, this was a pure guess. They looked to be between 18 and 16 inches on the two fish I saw. Both were in the water, and I may have had a fisherman's eye while viewing them.

Again, many thanks for some very pertinent and interesting information.



03-23-2006, 08:13 AM
Yeah, kelt is one of those words you don't see a lot in normal usage. Most of the guys I know use the term "downer" to describe the same thing: a post-spawn steelhead emigrating from the river. I think if you used "kelt" around a lot of folks around here they'd think you were talking about a fella with bagpipes and a pewter flask full of Bushmills. :hihi:

After giving it some more thought, summers on the Rogue frequently spawn through February and even into March. Given your description of their size, there might be a pretty good chance they were downer summer adults rather than winters or half-pounders. We've been getting a few winter fish, all natives so far, that are definitely post-spawn on the upper river lately, though. I sure don't like to hear about hatchery fish that have successfully spawned--no matter what they are. Unfortunately, it happens more than most of us would like to admit.

You know, if you like floating big, white-knuckle water and chasing relatively unmolested native winters, you should take a look at rafting the Illinois River (major tributary of the Rogue). I've never done it, but know a few guys that have. I guess the rafting is REALLY hardcore, and the fishing can be the same.

03-23-2006, 10:30 AM
-- Grant,

Would a true kilt-wearin' Scot drink Bushmill's? :hihi:

Anyway, I have rafted the Illinois several times in years past but never have fished it. The demands of running that sucker, setting up camp at the end of a long day, collapsing in a heap, etc., pretty much precluded any fishing. Although, in retrospect, I wish I had taken some tackle with me. There are lovely, long drifts interspersed with the more common pool-drop configurations that would have been a joy to swing a fly through. It seems as if the "swing water" gets more frequent as you approach the take-out (Oak Flat) just above the confluence with the Rogue.

The Illinois is a jewel of a river, but, as you point out it's a blood and guts adventure to get down it.



03-24-2006, 04:32 PM
Would a true kilt-wearin' Scot drink Bushmill's? :hihi:

I would certainly hope not! I was thinking "Celt" as well--hence the Irish flavoring. :D

04-02-2006, 02:57 PM
First, there are well over 3,000 winter runs now in the upper 30 miles of the Rogue. The better news is the water has FINALLY!! warmed up to the mid-high 40's and the fish are getting quite active.

Good things all!

04-30-2006, 03:47 PM
Dear God, have "they" ever cranked up the water flow out of Warm Springs Dam. Lake behind is full and now we're starting to get snow melt (snow we have LOTS of this year) coming down out of the mountains.

Water flows have more than doubled in the past week. Yesterday was the first time in years that (even with a sink tip) I actually added 4 3/0 split shot to a weighted fly just to get it down in three foot of water flow.

Two things going on: flush the winter runs (post spawn) out, and pull the spring kings in to the lower Rogue. Either way it's back to 10wts with full/intermed. Ian Gordan fly lines. Looks like the next month will be a "wash out."