The Rogue River's popular "retread" steelhead now will be chugging along a few extra miles than in past years, and that bodes well for river anglers, who can open up their arsenal to catch them.
This summer's demolition of Gold Ray Dam has opened up more water for the Cole Rivers Hatchery program for recycling excess steelhead, which gives anglers a second chance to catch them.
Since the program was developed more than a decade ago, the lowest release point for recycling steelhead was the TouVelle State Park boat ramp, the farthest downstream access point above the fish-counting station at Gold Ray Dam.
With the dam and its counting station gone, some of those retreads can be released further downstream.
"We never released them lower because we didn't want them to get counted again at Gold Ray Dam," says Dave Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager. "Now that Gold Ray's out, I don't have to worry about these fish getting counted again."
The first of the new-look retreads were released Sept. 30 when 850 fish were recycled into the Rogue, Pease says. About half were released at TouVelle, while the other half were released at the Coyote Evans Park boat ramp in Gold Hill about 10 river miles downstream of TouVelle, he says.
"They range anywhere from halfpounder size to maybe 5 pounds," Pease says. "They were nice fish. But most of the big ones we hold onto for our brood."
The hatchery keeps about 600 breeding pairs of steelhead, taken from different segments of the run, for spawning. The remainder are considered excess.
Unlike the hatchery's excess spring chinook, steelhead are legally classified as a sport fish and not a food fish so they cannot be sold. That leaves donations to food banks or releases from the river banks as alternatives to killing the excess steelhead.
The change in release sites means more anglers now have access to retreads using different techniques. The upper Rogue from the former dam site upstream to Cole Rivers Hatchery remains a flies-only fishery through October. Downstream of the old dam site, however, the river is open to fishing with bait and lures.
That gives anglers more alternatives in methods and locations to catch retreads, Pease says.
Retreads are discernible from the rest of the summer steelhead run by circular holes punched into a gill plate. Some fish can run the angling gauntlet three or more times, and they get a punch in their gill plate for every recycle.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.