Rogue River anglers looking to test out some of that new fishing gear they garnered on Christmas have a slew of summer steelhead to target.
And while they are not new steelhead, their new-to-you status will make them fine to catch and eat — or at least run through the smoker during college football bowl games.
Another batch of 750 "retread steelhead" have been recycled into the Rogue thanks to an excess of fish at Cole Rivers Hatchery during recent weeks.
Hatchery workers Thursday trucked the fish down to TouVelle State Park for release at the park's boat ramp, says David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager.
The fish are considered excess to spawning needs at the hatchery. Because they are classified as sport fish, excess hatchery steelhead cannot be sold, so the fish must be rerun into the Rogue, stocked in a nearby lake or killed.
Since the removal of Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue downstream of TouVelle this summer, retreads have been recycled at the Gold Hill ramp, Pease says.
"But these fish are closer to spawning, and we don't want them mixing with the wild fish and spawn," Pease says.
The TouVelle ramp is the release location most commonly used for retreads.
The fish have poured in to the hatchery's collection facility since early December, when rains swelled the Rogue and enticed the steelhead to migrate, Pease says.
Pease's original plan was to release those excess fish last week, but flows out of Lost Creek dam were hovering at 4,000 cubic feet per second. That flow could have triggered more migration, and the fish would likely skirt any angling effort for them.
With releases down to 2,100 cfs Thursday, water conditions were better for a slower migration and better suited for angling, Pease says.
Thursday's release — the last of the season — brings to 1,868 the number of summer steelhead recycled this fall and early winter.
Last year, no retreads hit the water. In 2008, 1,000 were released, Pease says. Hatchery workers released about 2,800 retreads in 2007.
These fish, up to 10 pounds, all have a circular hole punched in their gill plate. They can be kept as part of a steelheader's daily limit of two adipose fin-clipped steelhead a day on the Rogue.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.