Very interesting read from the Medford newspaper.
Mark Freeman's Commentary
Hatchery Hole looking to accommodate disabled anglers
The most popular part of the most popular fishing hole on one of Oregon's most popular salmon rivers may become a test site over just how far able-bodied anglers will, or should, go to help their less-abled brethren catch big fish.
Cole Rivers Hatchery Manager Randy Robart is proposing to build a concrete platform along the top 70 feet of the Rogue River's Hatchery Hole and make it an area where disabled anglers will get preference for space over all others.
The area along the hatchery dike is the most heavily fished hole for Rogue spring chinook salmon.
The entire hole now is open to all anglers and will remain so under Robart's proposal. However, holders of a special state-issued disabled anglers permit would get guaranteed space to fish off the platform, including the right to bump non-permit holders out so they have enough room to fish comfortably.
The platform, along with a lighted walkway and disabled parking spaces, would cost about $90,000. If built, it would be the only such platform on prime salmon-steelhead water where able-bodied anglers would be asked to step aside for others.
"I'm hopeful that people will realize that disabled folks have enough disadvantages in life that they can give up some space to get these folks a couple fish," Robart says.
But this is not like designating a few parking spots near the supermarket door for those with disabled placards.
This particular stretch is the farthest upstream possible to stand and cast toward large schools of spring chinook headed into the hatchery, making it the most coveted real estate among Rogue bank anglers.
Bank anglers now stake out their spot there before 4:30 a.m. on most weekdays - even earlier on weekends - just to ensure they'll get their favorite spot.
Robart believes this is the best place to build the so-called "Disabled: Priority-Use" platform, and he hopes a combination of social conscience, state police enforcement and peer pressure will make it work.
"I am worried that people will grouse about having to give up their best (fishing) spot," Robart says. "If we have to, we'll go down and lay some guilt on those people."
But the proposal has Oregon State Police troopers worried that the good-intentioned Robart is creating more ill-will than he's fixing.
If built as a disabled-priority platform, current state laws would bar the OSP from forcing anglers to leave just to make room for someone with a disabled permit.
So if a disabled angler wanted access to the platform, anglers there would have to decide among themselves who must leave to make room, how much room the person deserves - even whether they will make room at all.
"In terms of us or anyone to take any action disallowing other people to angle there, that can't happen," says Lt. Cynthia Kok, who runs the OSP's Fish and Wildlife Division in Salem. "Restricting other people there would require a rule change."
So real disabled access at the Hatchery Hole would be a matter of courtesy, not a matter of law.
The "Disabled: Priority-Use" platform currently is a $90,000 request to the state Restoration and Enhancement Board, which uses state fishing-license fees to fund such projects.
The R&E Board will consider the matter at its June 28 meeting in Roseburg. If accepted and endorsed by the board, it will go before the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for funding during the commission's Aug. 9 meeting in Corvallis.
The request calls for 70 feet of concrete platform, which would be enough room for seven wheelchair anglers to fish comfortably, Robart says.
No such platform now exists in Oregon. There is a platform for disabled-angler fishing at the Nehalem Hatchery near Portland, but that platform is within an area closed to all other anglers.
Some platforms, such as the one at the upper Rogue's boat ramp at Dodge Bridge, are open to all but are not in hot salmon or steelhead fishing spots.
Robart knows the area he's proposing for the platform is a very popular fishing spot. He says he understands that congestion there may make it difficult for anglers to accept at first, but he believes the abled will oblige the less-abled.
"We don't have all the answers here, but I'm willing to make this a test case," Robart says. "It's got to work. We'll make it work, somehow."
Closing the stretch to all but disabled anglers is the only way to guarantee them access. But that flies against the very reasoning the ODFW used last year to open the Hatchery Hole - anglers deserve access to excess hatchery fish.
OSP Lt. Steve Ross says it's a shame there is not more disabled fishing access here as well as elsewhere in Oregon. But the most heavily fished corner of the most heavily fished hole on the upper Rogue simply isn't a place to remedy that, he says.
Ross, who last year objected to opening the Hatchery Hole to angling, called Robart's proposal another instance in which ODFW biologists instigate something that becomes an OSP enforcement headache.
"They wake up in the morning and think, 'I got a good idea,' and they go with it," Ross says. "But we're stretched thin now. We can't take on every one of the special regulations the ODFW comes up with."
Robart, however, remains optimistic that bank anglers will do the right thing and prove Ross wrong.
"The state police are always looking at the worst-case scenario, but I honestly don't think it's going to be a problem," Robart says. "Sure, there'll be some butt-heads. But I think there's enough nonbutt-heads who will take care of it."
Staff writer Mark Freeman covers the outdoors for the Mail Tribune. Call him at 776-4470, or e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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