For fly-fishers, a huge benefit of living in — or visiting — the Rogue Valley is the ability to test your mettle on the river Zane Grey made famous.
From early July through the Christmas holidays, fly-fishing for summer steelhead along the upper Rogue River is something easily pulled off between Shakespeare plays, wine tasting and holiday feasts — if you know where to go.
Here's a look at the upper Rogue's Sweet Six steelheading spots, which offer a chance at success for flyfishers who otherwise wouldn't know where to cast for a summer steelhead.
With an Oregon fishing license, a box full of streamers and nymphs, as well as a wad of dollar bills to pay for parking, these spots — from TouVelle State Park off Table Rock Road all the way upstream to Cole Rivers Hatchery's aptly named Hatchery Hole — are the ones to sample for summer steelhead migrating in the upper Rogue.
These easy-access spots start at the lowest point on the upper Rogue and work their way upstream.
The Sewer Hole
Downstream from the lower portion of TouVelle State Park, off Table Rock Road in White City, the Sewer Hole is where the discharge tube dumps water from Medford's water-treatment plant. The waters upstream of it are a steelheaders' gold mine.
The water regularly holds migrating steelhead. Also, recycled hatchery steelhead occasionally are released at the TouVelle boat ramp, and they almost always drop into the Sewer Hole for a few days before heading back upstream.
From Medford, take Table Rock Road north. After crossing the Rogue, take a left into the parking lot. Drive down to the end. Access is by walking down the boat ramp and wading downstream. Fishing is best from the top of the riffle all the way around the corner to the tailout immediately across from the actual release location for treated effluent from the adjacent water-treatment plant.
Swing streamers or fish weighted nymphs like hair's ears, Ugly Bugs or single salmon egg patterns.
Above the upstream portion of TouVelle State Park, which is bisected by Table Rock Road near White City, this stretch starts on the island just upstream of Bybee Bridge, where Table Rock Road spans the Rogue.
Spey-rod anglers like to park at the upper parking lot and hike upstream to cast while wading in the mouth of Little Butte Creek. Also, the riffle between the parking lot and the creek mouth fishes well with streamers or nymphs.
Still others will bypass the park altogether and park on the river's north bank, then climb down and wade across a short side-channel before heading upstream to fish the riffle from the north bank.
Swinging streamers is best here, such as red ants or large articulated leeches (black and purple have been upper Rogue favorites for decades).
From Medford, take Table Rock Road north and turn right into the park just before the bridge.
This Jackson County park is undeveloped but it does provide access to a ledgy riffle that regularly holds steelhead. It is easy enough to cast to that you don't even need waders (if you don't mind wet knees).
These ledges and rocks provide oxygenated water that steelhead love, as well as enough cover to keep them comfortable throughout this short but productive run. It's a swinger's delight, with streamer flies fished with sink-tip lines a perfect M.O. for success, especially when the sun's off the water. One of the only drawbacks is that there's room for only a couple casters, and you better be friends.
Access is by the road to the former Elk's Picnic Grounds. There's room for a few pickups to park near the gate.
To get there, take Highway 62 north to Antelope Road. Go left on Antelope, then right onto Agate Road. Between Nick Young Road and Old Linn Road is a dirt driveway for several properties on the left. Take that driveway down to the small parking area, then walk down the path to the river.
Rogue Elk Park
Steelhead that already have finned 152 river miles obviously need a rest, and they often take it at Rogue Elk Park along Highway 62 north of Shady Cove and near Trail.
The best spot is the first riffle upstream from the top end of the campground upstream of the boat ramp.
This stretch is good for swinging flies, as well as free-drifting nymphs. The streamer crowd, however, seems to get more action.
The stretch is small, so it's like the water downstream of Givan Park in that you'll only fish it with others if they're with you.
Park at the boat ramp lot and hike upstream through the largely unused campsites to find the riffle just around the upstream bend.
To get there, take Highway 62 north past Shady Cove. Entrance to the campground and boat ramp are along a sweeping curve just past Elk Creek Road.
Along Takelma Drive off Highway 62 near Trail, this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park is so under the radar that even vandals haven't discovered it. But smart steelheaders have.
This stretch has a series of places to cast flies for steelhead. And its proximity to Cole Rivers Hatchery improves the odds of the steelhead you catch sporting a clipped adipose fin, which allows you to keep it guilt-free.
The best place to swing flies is just upstream of the Highway 62 bridge. Nymphers likewise can do well. You'll have to contend with the occasional passing driftboat or the orange armada of rafters during hot summer days, but it produces enough fish for wading anglers that it's worth a try.
To get there, take Highway 62 north past Shady Cove. Turn left onto Takelma Drive across from Casey State Park.
At Cole Rivers Hatchery, off Takelma Drive, just upstream of McGregor Park. The Hatchery Hole is not the prettiest place to fish, and casting flies from the concrete dike sure feels like fishing inside the hatchery itself. But more and more fly-casters are learning to live with it, deciding they'd rather catch fish and pose their pictures so the dike's not visible.
Most of the bait fishing is done from the dike, where there's little back-casting room and chances of hooking another angler's ear make it a rather hostile location for traditional fly-fishers. During the Sept. 1 through Oct. 31 flies-only season, the dike denizens will be armed with spinning rods legally casting flies and bubbles as if they were nymphing.
But traditional fly-fishers tend to hit the side of the hold opposite of the dike and near the hole's boat ramp. It's almost exclusively a nymphing show to avoid conflicts with other anglers. However, if the participation is sparse, swing away those streamers.
Just make sure you have studded shoes and your insurance co-pay, because the currents can be troublesome depending upon the outflow from Lost Creek dam and how far down the hole you go.
Take Highway 62 north past Shady Cove. Turn left onto Takelma Drive across from Casey State Park. Follow the signs for Cole Rivers Hatchery.