One of the more eclectic groups along the Rogue River is returning from near-death and is holding a public coming-out party as a way to raise money and help make the Rogue a better place for fish and the anglers who stalk them.
The Rogue River Guides Association has reconstituted itself as a platform for the region's angling guides, and its first fishing derby set for Saturday, June 12, represents a vast change from past fundraisers.
Instead of a closed derby with participants paying as much as $400 apiece to fish for spring chinook salmon only with member guides, the new derby is open to anyone — including bank anglers and others fishing from their own boats — who plunks down the $20 entry fee and fishes along most of the Rogue that day.
"We just decided, why not do it in a way where everybody can play for $20 and see where it goes this year," association president Gene Gros says. "So far, people are liking the idea that it's open to anybody."
They also might like the potential rewards. The heaviest gutted and gilled spring chinook caught that day by a preregistered entrant wins $500, with $300 going to second place and $200 going to third place. All three will earn trophies, as well, during the weigh-in at the TouVelle Tavern at the intersection of Table Rock and Modoc roads. All chinook must be weighed in by 3 p.m.
Entries are being sold at most sporting-goods stores locally, as well as in Josephine County. They are available also at www.RogueRiverSalmonDerby.com.
The money raised by the association will be used to fund habitat projects and other fishery improvements projects along the Rogue, Gros says.
The derby represents a comeback for the association, which formed in 1971 to give the region's group of individualistic self-employers a collective voice in issues affecting their business and the public resources on which they rely.
Their main fundraiser was always a one-day derby — with two-person teams paying top-dollar to fish all day with a guide, and prizes going to the anglers and guides who caught the heaviest chinook that day.
Over time, filling the seats of customers and guides became difficult, Gros says. And it became increasingly hard to find enough of the region's roughly 350 licensed guides to assume leadership responsibilities.
To infuse new blood, the association in 2005 attempted to expand the non-guide presence in its ranks by changing its business name to the Rogue River Guides and Sportsmen's Association.
After a spike of initial interest, the group's membership started to wane, and by February 2009 the association was ready to disband and donate its remaining money — about $8,000 — to some like-minded group or cause.
"That's where it was headed," says Vernon Grieve, a Shady Cove guide and former association president. "There just wasn't enough people to lean on."
That's when Gros stepped in.
The long-time non-guide member — who once worked in the boat business before founding Highway Products in Medford — took on his second stint as president.
Gros learned the association never officially changed its formal name and kept its nonprofit status. So he put the group's original name back in use and began recruiting guides. The association now is up to about 70 members — its old list included about 120 guides — who are each paying $35 a year.
The group meets at 7 p.m. every second Tuesday at the LaQuinta Inn and Suites in White City.
Grieve has since rejoined and believes the association might be headed for an upswing.
"Gene's puffed some life into this," Grieve says. "I hope this derby works."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.