Name That Riffle

Local boaters and anglers are discovering a brand-new stretch of the Rogue River after dam removal
Paul Prince of Sacramento runs a pontoon boat through the newly formed rapid directly below what was once Gold Ray Dam. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

The new Rogue River riffle near the top of what used to be Gold Ray Reservoir has such special meaning for Darryl Gould, he decided to christen it.

Gould caught a big summer steelhead on a fly Oct. 21 at the new riffle, which was exposed when Gold Ray Dam's removal this summer drained the reservoir that had been backed up behind it for 106 years. Then Gould lost a $1,000 rod and reel in the swift water.

Caution: Nasty rapid ahead

While the removal of Gold Ray Dam has eliminated a major navigational barrier from the Rogue River, the general public might want to avoid floating that stretch right now.

The dam's demolition has created a nasty little rapid on the river's north side just downstream of the old dam. With rocks and logs in precarious places and little room for maneuvering, it is not recommended for casual or lightly experienced boaters, especially those in driftboats.

Since a boating ban was lifted on this stretch Oct. 15, most driftboaters have chosen to walk or line their boats through the shallow and rocky south side and away from the main rapid.

The current low releases from Lost Creek Lake make the rapid even tougher. Upcoming high-water events will give the entire reach a new identity.

"Winter is going to change things, and quite dramatically," says Dan VanDyke, fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District.

— Mark Freeman

Before heading home the next morning, Gould and two friends launched their one-man pontoon rafts at TouVelle State Park for a float back down to see whether they could retrieve the wayward rod.

"I caught a great steelhead there, lost my rod and then found it," says Gould, of Sacramento. "So we decided to call it 'Lost and Found.' "

Whether the moniker takes or not, Lost and Found is one of a string of new fishing riffles and pools waiting for new names along a nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the upper Rogue returned to its natural meander.

Spawning chinook salmon, summer steelhead and the anglers stalking them have all descended this month upon this new-look stretch of water, which reaches roughly from the mouth of Bear Creek down past where the old hydropower dam spanned the Rogue near Gold Hill since 1904.

The dam raised the Rogue's surface level by 23 feet, transforming a free-flowing river into an artificial lake with adjoining sloughs.

With the impediment gone, the river flows naturally again through the old reservoir and dam area, with salmon and steelhead spawning and feeding in areas unsuitable for them since Teddy Roosevelt's presidency.

A temporary boating ban during the dam's demolition ended Oct. 15, so boaters and anglers are now beginning to discover the Rogue's new gems.

Anglers like John MacDiarmid are now forging new relationships with a stretch of Rogue he knew well in its former, artificial life.

The rural Central Point fly-fisher is one of a handful of anglers with access to a private ramp in the middle of what used to be the reservoir, so he's familiar with the areas downstream of TouVelle that were inundated by the reservoir and those free-flowing spots upstream.

"The big surprise was that the (dam's) influence was much higher upstream than I realized," MacDiarmid says. "You always knew where the flat water was. But even the riffle right above it is different now.

"It's got tremendous potential for the angler and the spawning fish," he says. "It's beautiful."

It's already producing benefits for the fish and the anglers there.

Chinook traditionally have spawned in shallow, gravelly flats upstream of the reservoir, but the stagnant reservoir water was unsuitable for spawning, says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District fish biologist.

An ODFW survey crew floating through the reach Oct. 21 conservatively counted 34 salmon egg nests, called redds, in the newly exposed gravel and 35 live chinook spawning there, VanDyke says.

"It's pretty exciting to see fish using these restored habitats," VanDyke says. "The future, I think, looks really bright."

And so does the present.

"It's very good. I won't lie," says Paul Grant of Sacramento, who joined Gould and Paul Prince on their two fly-fishing trips through the new reach last week.

"We caught almost 20 steelhead in two days," Grant says. Counting the ones we lost? Thirty-five. And we lost some absolute pigs."

One of those 20 steelhead had a hand in the naming of Lost and Found.

As Prince battled a steelhead in the riffle, Gould placed his rod in the inch-deep water near the bank and went to help.

The line swung downstream, got caught in the current and pulled the Sage XP rod and Loop reel out of sight.

The next day, Gould spied the submerged line up against the bank. He followed it into the Rogue and retrieved the rod.

"At first, we thought we'd call it 'Lost Loop,' " Gould says. "But since we found it, we thought we should name it 'Lost and Found.' "

"We've been coming up here for 10 years, and we've never done anything as good as that," Grant says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail

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