With the sun warm and his fishing rod itching for attention, Ed Kentner of Medford decided that a four-hour lunch along the wing-wall of the upper Rogue River's Hatchery Hole was just the ticket to a perfect Tuesday.
While casting next to fellow Wing Wall faithful Francois "Frenchy" Schneyder, Kentner's afternoon away from work at a Medford hotel paid off handsomely when he hooked, battled and landed what is considered to be the best-tasting inland fish Oregon has to offer — a chrome-bright, 14-pound, hatchery-reared Rogue spring chinook.
Bank anglers often stand shoulder to shoulder while casting for spring chinook salmon in the upper Rogue River, so it helps to know the ropes and bring the right gear.
Stout bait-casting rods with 15- to 20-pound test line and 12- to 15-pound leaders are a must. Most anglers cast tear-drop sinkers with weight that varies according to water flows.
The most common bait is one or two various-colored beads and a small strip of yarn.
Cast upstream at a 45-degree angle and keep a tight line so you can feel the weight dribble along the bottom as it carries your bait downstream.
Most bites are subtle, and they require a heavy hook-set.
Anglers upstream of what used to be Gold Ray Dam near Gold Hill must release all wild chinook through May. Anglers may keep two fin-clipped hatchery springers a day.
Only fish hooked in the inside of the mouth are legal. Fish hooked on the outside of the mouth from a practice called "lining" — or having your line caught in the chinook's jaws, then pulled tight until the hook imbeds in the chinook's outside lip — must be released unharmed.
"So naturally," Kentner says, "I'm in a good mood."
Finally, after 10 days of fishing, Kentner got his first chinook.
"It's been slow, to say the least," he says.
Spring may be in the air, but not so much in the waters of the upper Rogue, where the spring chinook run is off to a slow start.
The wet and cool weather that kept the short pants and sunscreen in drawers throughout Southern Oregon until this week has caused a pronounced delay in spring chinook migration into the upper Rogue.
Technicians at the hatchery have collected just 11 spring chinook as of yesterday, culled from throngs of winter steelhead that have run the 157-mile gauntlet from the ocean this year.
That compares to 373 springers that had finned into the hatchery at the same time last year — and that was before Gold Ray Dam's removal helped ease passage into the Shady Cove area.
"It doesn't surprise me a bit, with as high and cool as the flows have been," says Tom Satterthwaite, a fisheries biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife who has studied the Rogue's chinook and steelhead runs for more than 30 years.
It's called a "thermal barrier," and it's the watery equivalent of a locked door.
When water temperatures are down in the 40s, spring chinook that enter the Rogue meander upstream and tend not to bite well.
When temperatures in the lower Rogue hit 60, the springers get lock-jaw and bolt right past lower Rogue anglers en route to the Shady Cove area, where they are greeted by throngs of boat and bank anglers daily.
But lower Rogue water temperatures remain in the lower 50s, which has kept spring chinook lower in the river and helped foster excellent spring chinook fishing in the Gold Beach area for the past two months.
"What we've seen so far has been what I'd say is a bigger than average run," says Jim Carey, who follows the pulse of lower Rogue fishing from inside his Rogue Outdoor Store in Gold Beach. "It's by far better than last year. And for us here, it should continue for another two or three weeks."
Last year, one-fourth of the run hit the upper Rogue by May 15.
That will be way off this year, but it doesn't necessarily mean this year's run will be poor.
For instance, during the 2003 run, no springers reached Cole Rivers Hatchery by this time. And that run ended up with 41,841 fish in the upper Rogue — about 12,000 more than the long-term average.
So where have all the springers gone?
Thousands of spring chinook likely are working their way now through the Lower Rogue Canyon. Anglers fishing the Rainie Falls area this past week have seen the first waves of those fish pass through.
With air temperatures finally hitting the 80s in the Rogue Valley this week, water conditions should get spring chinook on the move.
And nothing would make Frenchy Schneyder happier.
The 62-year-old Medford retiree has spent the past two weeks on the Wing Wall, casting spoons right in front of the gate to the hatchery's collection pond.
"I've hooked five and caught one," Schneyder says. "That'll change. Then watch how crowded it will get here."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email email@example.com.