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The Rogue River -- One of Southern Oregon's greatest riches

By Dane Johnson
The Rogue River, flowing 215 miles through Southwestern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean, one of the original eight rivers named to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, is a sight to see. Starting near Crater Lake, it flows west through four counties all the way to Gold Beach. It’s famous for its salmon runs, steelhead fishing, whitewater rafting, hiking and the beautiful scenery along its long, winding path.

Rogue River,
After Mt. Mazama’s eruption, now known as Crater Lake, the Rogue River was buried. It flowed underground for hundreds of years before eventually emerging and connecting to the old Rogue which has flowed through this area for millions of years.

A mini gold rush during the mid-1800s made this part of Jackson County the most populous area during that era; you can still find old mines throughout these Gold Hills, however they are old, creaky and could collapse at any time.

One of the richest rivers in the Northwest, the Rogue River supports large populations of winter and summer steelhead, spring and fall Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, trout and many other fish species. Anadromous fish enter the Rogue every month and fight their way up the river to spawn in the mainstream or in one of its many tributaries; the two largest being the Illinois and Applegate Rivers.  

Rogue River,
Wild steelhead put up a tremendous battle and are released unharmed.

Wildlife is plentiful on the Rogue giving visitors the chance to see black bears, otters, ospreys, bald eagles, deer, ducks, beavers, and many other species. Hunting is allowed on the Rogue, but a gun cannot be discharged within 150 feet of a campground or residence; goose and duck hunting are popular in many places along its route.

The Headwaters, beginning at Boundary Springs (not Crater Lake, as tradition would say), and flowing west to the town of Prospect, are relatively unknown and unvisited although this portion has multiple campgrounds and places to fish. You won’t find any monster trout in this stretch, but they are plentiful, and since the river runs along Highways 62/138, access is easy to find. On the other side of the river, the Upper Rogue River trail runs 41 miles starting from Boundary Springs and ending in Prospect. Boundary Springs is where the Rogue officially starts, shooting out of the ground onto a trio of waterfalls. It’s a must see in the summer time.

Rogue River,
The Upper Rogue is beautiful and offers outstanding trout fishing but watch your step!

There are plenty of rainbow trout trout in this area, as well as a few brook, brown and cutthroat trout. Flies, PowerBait, small spinners, trout worms and single artificial salmon eggs all catch fish in this area. Bring your whole tackle box as what works one day may not work the next.

The Upper Rogue is a 28-mile long stretch running from the Holy Water down to Gold Ray where the dam used to be. It starts at the “Holy Water,” an area just below Lost Creek Lake that’s open only to fly fishermen (you must use a fly rod and reel; spinning rods with fly gear are not legal here). It contains good sized rainbow trout, averaging 15-20 inches, and is open year-round. Barbless hooks are required, and nothing can be kept, but you’ll regularly find people walking the trails, enjoying the camp grounds and taking in the beautiful scenery.

Rogue River,
Fly fisherman working the Holy Water
Just below the Holy Water is the Cole M. Rivers Hatchery. The hatchery raises rainbow trout, Coho, spring and fall Chinook salmon, winter and summer steelhead, and the occasional sturgeon. They release fish into areas all around Southern Oregon such as Lost Creek Lake, Emigrant Lake, the Rogue and many others. Viewing stations are available at the site, and for a mere 25 cents you can buy fish food and throw it into the fish tanks; children love it.

Arguably the most scenic part of the Rogue River, it’s also the most friendly for bank anglers, specifically fly fishermen. The river starts out narrow, but consistently widens to 100 feet or more between shores once farther downstream. There are long stretches of shallow areas, and few deep pools that are hidden throughout the upper reach.

The best places to fish are McGregor Park, Casey State Park, Takelma County Park, Tou Velle State Park, and the smaller parks located in between these more popular areas. You’ll see a lot of drift boaters on the Upper Rogue.

This area is popular for it steelhead runs. Steelhead can be caught anytime of the year, however winter steelhead are most abundant from January to April, and the Summer’s season lasts from July to November.

Rogue River Steelhead,
A nice Winter steelhead caught in early January

The Middle Rogue stretches from Gold Ray to Grave Creek, roughly a 30 mile section. From Gold Ray to Savage Rapids, bank access can be found at Gold Nugget Wayside, Gold Hill Natural Area (where the boat ramp is), Rock Point, Valley of the Rogue State Park and Coyote Evans Park in Rogue River. Boating can be treacherous in the Gold Hill area. It's always best to pay an experienced guide to teach you a new stretch of river.   

The most popular fishing areas on the Middle Rogue are from Savage Rapids to Grave Creek. Savage Rapids begins just above the city of Grants Pass, but doesn’t have a lot of bank access. Once you’re into Grants Pass there are multiple areas to fish, however during the summer time Hellgate jet boats occupy most of this area, so even if there are fish present, the jet boats do a good job of running them off. Your best bet on the Middle Rogue during the summer time is to hit the water early and leave around 9 a.m. when Hellgate starts coming through. After 9 a.m. you can avoid the Hellgate boats by fishing either above Baker Park or below Grave Creek. Rafters enjoy the Class II rapids from Hog Creek to Grave Creek during the summer, too.

Rogue River Rafting,
Rafting is very popular on the Rogue. Safety is all-important. Life jackets are mandatory.

Whitehorse Park to Grave Creek has multiple areas to fish. Roberson Bridge, Griffin Park and Matson Park are a few other popular areas to fish, especially in the winter with no jet boats or rafters.

The Wild Rogue is where you are going to see everything. Otters, bears, fish, deer, etc.. This part of the Rogue isn’t easily accessible on foot and rightfully so; there’s a mystique and natural feeling you get when in this area, and since it’s only about one-half the size of the upstream parts, crowding could be an issue. It’s approximately 34 miles long starting at Grave Creek and ends at Foster Bar. Only a certain amount of permits are given each day, and cost $10.00 per person which can be purchased at the Rand Visitor Center’s BLM website. The season begins on May 15 and ends October 15.

Rogue River Steelhead,
Most people take a couple of days to float the Wild Rogue, just be sure to secure your food, tackle, and trash as black bears thoroughly enjoy rummaging through a party’s goods.

Rafting is a popular activity on this section of the Rogue. This area features 33 Class II, nine Class III, and three Class IV rapids. There is one Class V rapid at Rainie Falls.

There are three popular trails. Rainie Falls is 4.2 mile hike, Whiskey Creek is a 7 mile hike, and Grave Creek to Marial is a 23.2 mile hike. There are campsites selectively setup along the Wild Rogue; Upper Tate Creek, Tate Creek, Upper Tacoma, and Flora Dell being just a few

Fishing access is limited on foot, however, there are many places to put in a drift boat, kayak or inflatable. Paying a guide to learn a stretch of the river is recommended.

During September and October this area allows fly fishing only, however you’ll have to hike a ways to get to the Wild Rogue.

The Lower Rogue contains steelhead, including many half-pounders (immature steelhead), salmon, adult steelhead and sturgeon. Steelhead fishing isn’t as popular here as salmon fishing. The Spring Chinook run on the Rogue is the largest of any river in Oregon, including the Umpqua, and these fish are prized for their meat and battles. During August through November, the Fall Chinook runs start. They tend to be about two-thirds larger than their spring counterparts, but don’t put up as much of a fight. This is the most popular time for fishing salmon on the Rogue.

Rogue River Steelhead
Salmon are followed upriver by steelhead who love to feast on salmon eggs.
Half-pounders, trout that leave the rivers only to come back within a year, can be successfully fished here from August to November. Popular areas to fish are Agness, Foster Bar, and Illahee. Half-pounders range from 12 to 18 inches and usually stay below the Wild Rogue area.

Since there’s so much diversity throughout the Rogue, here is a summary of the types of fish you’ll find and their most popular seasons.

Spring Chinook salmon (aka "springers") spend around three years in the ocean before making their run up the Rogue between March and June. Runs can produce anywhere from 15,000 to 90,000 fish that range from 12 to 18 pounds, but don’t be surprised to hook a wild one that surpasses those averages; about 20 percent of the run consists of wild springers.

Fall Chinook salmon (aka "Fall Kings") usually larger than the springers because they spend more time in the ocean, are mostly wild. They have two runs, the first starting in late July or early August and target the Middle Rogue and Applegate River. The second run starts a little bit later and they target the Illinois River. Fall Chinook will give you the toughest battle on the Rogue.

Coho salmon (aka "Silvers"), cousins of the Chinook and much smaller, typically range from 6 to 10 pounds, although wild Coho can be caught as big as 15 lbs. Their run begins in September and they start spawning at the end of November. The run is split 50/50 between wild and hatchery fish and can be found throughout the Rogue when spawning.

Summer steelhead, smaller than Winter’s, average 18-24 inches and 3 to 6 pounds, but don’t be surprised to land a 10 pounder. They begin moving upstream in May and are best fished between September and November. They spawn between December and March and unlike their Winter counterparts, spawn mainly in tributaries throughout the Rogue.

Winter steelhead average 26-30 inches and 7 and 10 pounds, but native fish may be up to 15 lbs. They are best fished from January to April and spawn only in the mainstream between March and April. Around 80 percent of the Winter variety are wild, and although not as large as the Summer’s run, they are equally as popular to fish.

The Rogue River is one of the most important places in Southern Oregon, and would take months explore. This river has provided sustenance for civilizations for thousands of years, and will for another couple thousand. There are hidden waterfalls, fishing holes, and docks located throughout the Rogue, but watch for private property, there is plenty of that too.

Welcome to the Rogue River!

Photos by Sarah Miles, Barb Wilkinson, Dane Johnson, Ross Munro, Joan McBee, John Strenk, Jeff Warner

For additional information on the Rogue River, see:

ODFW: Rogue River


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