UNION CREEK — On a slow and snowless January day at the Union Creek Resort, bored maintenance man Tyler Linson dealt with his idle hands the best way he knew how.

UNION CREEK — On a slow and snowless January day at the Union Creek Resort, bored maintenance man Tyler Linson dealt with his idle hands the best way he knew how.

"I grabbed my fishing pole and headed down to Union Creek figuring, whatever, let's see what I can do," he says.

And just like that, a fishery was born.

Relying on relatively new angling rules and the no-snow anomaly now embracing this High Cascades outpost, Linson discovered that winter fishing in the popular summer haunts of Union Creek and the far upper Rogue River is fun and productive when weird weather allows it.

Using Huck Finn-like techniques of casting a hooked worm and splitshot, Linson is catching rainbows as large as 181/2 inches with only the occasional Roosevelt elk and groggy black bear there to join him.

"It's definitely a new class of fishing for guys, once they figure out that it's here," says Linson, a 31-year-old disabled U.S. Army veteran who lives and works at the resort along Highway 62 in northern Jackson County.

"I think it's a great opportunity," he says. "Once they hear about it and don't try it, well, they'd be foolish."

The far upper Rogue and its tributaries have long been open only during the traditional trout season of late April through October. But that sometimes caused problems for certain Lost Creek Lake anglers in the spring or late fall because the waters running into the upstream end of the reservoir are technically part of the river, so they were closed outside of the trout season, says Dan VanDyke, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.

VanDyke convinced the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2012 to open the area to year-round angling, thinking it could provide new opportunities for anglers in late fall and early spring whenever snow levels allow access.

"It's absolutely gorgeous up there," VanDyke says. "I think it's a real gem of a place to offer that opportunity."

The inaugural season came and went last year with little fanfare. A handful of anglers figured out that fishing places such as the mouth of Muir Creek amid fall's fantastic foliage created interesting jpeg moments.

But by December, snow blocked access to the Rogue, and places such as Union Creek flowed high and strong but clean.

"Virtually every year, accessibility will be affected by snow," VanDyke says.

The lion's share of fishing in the cold, clear waters of the upper Rogue and Union Creek will still occur in the summer, when the area is stocked weekly with 8-inch rainbow trout from Labor Day through Memorial Day, complementing wild resident rainbow trout as well as natural spawning populations of brown trout and brook trout — remnants of U.S. Forest Service stocking programs dating back more than a century.

Spawning surveys conducted in recent years show that the native rainbows spawn in the spring and the brown trout spawn in the fall, with the cold water stunting their growth to the point where 12 inches is considered a big fish, VanDyke says.

But Linson's experience this winter belies that notion.

Walking the same paths and casting into the same pools where kid campers play in July, he's finding fish everywhere he looks in Union Creek.

Upstream of the Highway 62 bridge, the waters teem with brook trout, mostly those stunted 6-inchers that most anglers avoid.

"It's all spot and stalk," Linson says. "They spook easy, and they're tough to catch, but they're fun."

As rain swelled the creek earlier this week, Linson says he watched a 20-inch rainbow attempt to jump the short falls there several times.

Most of those larger fish are downstream of the bridge, using the clear creek as a refuge when the Rogue runs high, as it will this weekend.

"They like to hide in the underbrush, cut banks and under logs," Linson says.

So he casts his hooked worm and single splitshot so the worm tumbles downstream next to those logs, cut banks and under bridges. If worms fail, he casts the smallest Blue Fox and Panther Martin spinners he can buy.

He catches eight to 10 fish a day, he says, with most of them about 12 inches.

So far, they've all been rainbows.

"I haven't caught any cutthroat or browns yet, but I'm dying to," Linson says.

Tuesday's 181/2-incher was the best of the lot, so far.

"It was gorgeous," he says. "It was chrome bright, like a little steelhead."

Linson fished in a short-sleeve shirt Wednesday, casting from downed old-growth firs and rocky outcroppings that should be cloaked in snow.

He saw no other angler that day, just six elk and a black bear along the way.

"This is definitely paradise," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.