Early spring is a great time to fish Southern Oregon. That's when the really big winter steelhead are in the upper reaches of the rivers. Many of the rivers I like to fish close in late March and early April, so early March is a good time to be there and I didn't want to miss it. Eugene and I planed on doing a Chetco part 2 "The Re-match" mission. We planned to make an assault on the Coast. After the beating we took in January we were both ready for some revenge. I don't take steelheading lightly. When I get it in my head that there is a fish out there I want to catch, I will stop at nothing. Winter steelhead had been taunting my thoughts for months.
When I arrived at Eugene's house I got the usually report. "Should have been here last week." The weather had been stable and the coastal fishing had been pretty good. As luck would have it, another of this winters epic storms had just rocked the coast. Officially blowing out all the rivers we planned on fishing for at least another week or maybe two. Then Eugene posed the question i new was coming next. "Should we go east and trout fish, south to the Kalamouth, or just stay local and fish the Rogue?" I already knew where i wanted to go. I had been catching trout all summer, so I really wanted to focus on steelhead. The Klamouth has great fishing for half pounders, but is less reliable for adults. I answered with confidence, "Let's go float the Rouge."
The Rouge is a tailwater, so it holds its shape better in the heavy winter storms. It has a huge hatchery run and a great wild return. The fish have a long way to swim, but they get real trouty by the time they reach the upper river. The fish don't average as large, but 30 inches isn't at all uncommon. Most are 4-8 pounds. There are also some great floats within 20 minutes of Eugene's house. Eugene likes wading and floating a couple sections in his Canoe. I love my Outcast pontoon boat and have been trying for years to talk him into getting a little more of a white water boat. The canoe can only handle so much. Most of the Rouge requires something that is rated for at least class 3. This year i brought a pack 800 hundred up for eugene. A friend was selling it for a good price, so i talked Eugene into buying it. I also brought a pack 900 i borrowed form Jamie Lyle, the nor-cal rep.
To appease Eugene, i agreed to do a canoe float on the first day. We floated form Tuvel to Goldray. It is some of the best swing water on the upper river. The conditions were perfect. We had a great day, the highlight of which was a nice pod of fish sitting in shallow water off of one of the lower bars. We each took turns swinging flies to them and hooking one after another. After getting multiple hookups on film, we decided we had better move on. The finally to the float is a pretty hefty paddle through some still water above the dam. On hot days this area can be great for some bass fishing.
The next day we decided to float the upper river in our Outcasts. We left a car at Elk park above Shady and dropped in near the dam. This stretch is usually stacked with fish. As usual we proceeded to whap several chrome domes in the 5-10 pound range. The highlight was a couple nice double hookups. The Rogue is definitely one of the best steelie rivers in Oregon. That is a pretty big statement considering there are so many good rivers in Oregon. If you want to have a nice float and catch some pretty fish, think about a float trip on the Rogue this year. If you are interested in booking a guide or would like some information about how the river is fishing, the two outfits i recommend are the Rogue Angler in Ashland or the Rogue Fly Shop in Grants Pass.
The third day started out rainy. We decided to charge it anyway. A little weather never stops us. We decided to try a new float from below Shady to Dodge. The fishing started out a bit slow. There are a couple riffles down there that are usually a sure thing. Finally around mid day, the clouds broke. I pulled out may camera to get some shots for a steelhead video i'm working on. I set up my tripod just in time to get the clouds breaking and a huge patch of sun shinning down on my brother just as he hooked into a huge fish. He reefed on the fish heavy for about 15 minutes as i filmed on. It couldn't have been better. That was by far the highlight of the day.
On day four, my last day to fish, we wanted to try some water we had been looking at but to scared to float in a drift boat. We talked one of Eugene's buddy's from Ashland into coming along. We dropped our boats below Goldray and headed down towards Rattlesnake falls. Eugene didn't mention until we were in the water that this section was were the commercial rafting companies took their clients in the summer. There was some serious white water rapids including some class 3's and fours. It was going to be interesting. We charged down the river and into the unknown. After an hour of some fishing and floating in moderate water, i was thinking this isn't so bad. I even took off my live vest. Just when i was thinking so far so good, i looked down river to see a boiling white cauldron below me. We pulled off to the side to investigate. Eugene's friend Michael, made the call within seconds, "I'm not doing it.". He immediately started to pull his boat out of the water and began to navigate the maze of rocks to the side of the rapid. Eugene and i looked at each other and shrugged. "It looks pretty gnarly eh." "Yeah kind of heavy." There was a big rock in the middle with a huge recirculating hole behind it. The kind that looked like it could suck up a pack 900 and make you disappear. I was nervous and my heart started beating faster. I opted to chicken out and portage my boat. I looked at Eugene to tell him my decision. He had that look of determination on his face that he gets when he is concentrating on something. He said "I'm going for it". I said "Are you sure?". "yep, I got this no problem." I was nervous for him, but i added "I'll do it if you go first."
I got down to where i could see the whole rapid. I took my video camera because i wasn't going to miss this one. I wanted to be close enough to the bottom that i could be there to help out if something went wrong. Michael was already close to the bottom with his boat so i figured he could help if one of us went down. Eugene yelled "Ready!". I watched him drop in with confidence. He navigated that pack 800 perfectly through the rough water and skated around the big boulder pit perfectly. All I could think was now i have to try. I put my jacket on the outside of my waders, and strapped my belt extra tight. I synched my live vest extra hard around my cold body. I water was freezing and i knew a swim wouldn't be fun. I looked down the rapid at my line as i positioned myself above the main chute of the beast. I stopped rowing for a moment and let the current drop me into the thick of it. The next move was a hard pull backwards to the river right. It took all my strength to pull the boat back through the hard current. All the river wanted to pull towards that bolder. Most drift boats would have been done, but the maneuverability of that pack 9 allowed me to just slip into the seam between the jagged rocks of the shore and the gapping hole behind the bolder. As soon as my boat cleared the hole without getting sucked in, i knew i was in the clear. What a rush. The things we do to get to a fishing hole. Just below the rapid was another great pool. We stopped and gave each other a hi-five, then preceded to catch some more nice winter steelhead. That's what makes the Rogue River one of my favorite spots to be in March.