PROSPECT — With his shirt off, face dirty and fishing rod in hand, 11-year-old Patrick Adams of Shady Cove has all he needs to have his own Huck Finn moment.
Leaning across a small bridge over Union Creek, he dangles a piece of nightcrawler in the shadows where fresh rainbow trout were released a day earlier for just this occasion.
Nearby, his brother, Randy, hauls in an eight-inch rainbow as Patrick studies his line for a wiggle of his own.
"This is the place to be," Patrick opines. "There are a lot of trout here."
There always are a lot of trout and anglers during the summer in the far upper Rogue River and its tributaries upstream of Prospect, where a mix of easy access points and weekly visits from a hatchery stocking truck turn this picturesque piece of Cascade forest into a mini-mecca for those beating the Rogue Valley heat.
About 2,500 rainbows about eight inches long are hand-stocked each Friday at 14 key access points like bridges and campgrounds along the upper Rogue, Union Creek and other high-elevation tributaries close to Highway 62.
The result is fresh fish available each weekend for the Adams brothers and others looking for alternatives to reservoir angling.
"It's our premier summer trout fishery," says Dan VanDyke, Rogue District fish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It's a wonderful place to escape the heat of the valley, find some shade and get into fish."
And it's not rocket science by any means.
The trout are hungry when they're released and they bite just about anything.
While small pieces of worm dangled under bridges is the Adams family favorite, equally good choices include small spinners and single salmon eggs on small hooks.
Most nymph flies will conjure up a trout or two, and even unconventional baits like Gummy Worms will fool these fish.
Yes, Gummy Worms.
"We kind of figured out that Gummy Worms work by accident," says Mike Long, 43, of Medford, who makes the 50-mile drive for weekends at the Union Creek campground all summer.
"We ran out of worms one day and didn't have anything else to use," Long says. "We had some melted Gummy Worms, so I squished some on a hook and it worked."
For more than a century, the far upper Rogue and its myriad tributaries have been a popular "put-and-take" fishery — where hatchery workers put the fish in the river and anglers take them out.
Old U.S. Bureau of Fisheries records show releases of hatchery-grown cutthroat trout here as early as 1907, with the first rainbow trout released there in 1912. Brook trout and brown trout releases date back to the 1930s.
Shortly after World War II, the forerunner of the ODFW began its regular stocking of legal-sized fish in the various streams that collectively are called "Section 5" on trout-stocking schedules.
Unlike other Southern Oregon streams and reservoirs that grow hot in summer, these ribbony streams above Lost Creek Reservoir possess cool-enough water for freshly stocked trout to survive the summer heat.
Most of the rainbows get caught by weekenders such as the Longs and Adamses, while a few are known to survive, VanDyke says. But they don't seem to grow very long and mix in with resident trout that also appear to sport light growth rates.
The ODFW is in the process of conducting trout habitat and population surveys in the region.
Central Point fly-fisher Phil Hagar spent much of last summer conducting his own survey by fishing most of the far upper Rogue and its tributaries, finding mostly five- to six-inch brook trout but little else.
"If you want to go play with a bunch of little brookies, the water above Prospect's a pretty good place to go," Hager says. "If you want anything more, follow the hatchery truck."
And people do.
For two decades, David Pease was the Section 5 Pied Piper, filling the stocking truck with trout at Cole Rivers Hatchery near Trail and motoring the 20-some miles upstream each Friday.
He'd stop at release sites like Farewell Bend and Natural Bridge campgrounds, where anglers would be waiting for him.
He'd scoop out one or two net-fulls of trout earmarked for each site, then carry them to the stream for release.
"You'd run and drop one net-load, and by the time you're back with the second net-load, you'd see people already with fish caught and on the bank," says Pease, who now is the hatchery's assistant manager.
Long hauls his family to Union Creek because the fishing is predictable and always well-timed after a Friday release, allowing even a middle-aged man to play Huck Finn for an afternoon.
"You can count on walking up and catching fish," Long says. "I usually fish with just a stick, some line and a hook. It's relaxing."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.