Beginning Thursday, wild spring chinook salmon are off the hook, and for the second consecutive year, anglers will have to return them to the Rogue River.

Beginning Thursday, wild spring chinook salmon are off the hook, and for the second consecutive year, anglers will have to return them to the Rogue River.

In most areas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife ruling does not affect the taking of hatchery-raised chinook during the normal season.

Between Gold Ray Dam and Rogue Elk Park, however, the spring chinook angling season will close July 1.

By emphasizing hatchery fish, this week's emergency restriction aims to increase the number of wild chinook salmon spawning later this year.

ODFW has reported 6,427 spring chinook crossing Gold Ray Dam through June 13 of this year. That's up from last year's 5,557 fish, but still well below the 10-year return average and a cause for concern.

Last year the same restrictions went into effect two weeks earlier. At the end of the season, total return was 11,718 fish, marking the second lowest tally since counts began in 1942.

"At this point, we're projecting spring chinook returns similar to last year, which were very low," said Rogue District fish biologist Dan Van Dyke. "We're now concerned about the potential for additional fish losses from disease, because of rising water temperatures in the lower river."

Roger King, political director for the Rogue Sportsmen and Guides Association, said he thinks the restrictions are coming too late.

"They should have done this at the beginning of the season," he said. "Last year's run was pathetic and if they knew a month ago it was going to be a poor again, why wait?"

King said that he believes that anglers should be restricted to hatchery fish until the wild salmon runs can be built back up.

"I've been here 12 years and I've watched the production go down, down, down," he said. "The pollution rises and the habitat on the river is being destroyed."

King said most of the guides he knows now fish the Umpqua River early in the year, instead of the Rogue.

"The steelhead runs up there are especially phenomenal," he said.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.