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Biologist pushes to open river to anglers

SHADY COVE - A state biologist will push today to open an unfished stretch of the upper Rogue River to spring chinook salmon angling despite pleas by police that doing so would cause an enforcement nightmare.

Following a Thursday public meeting in Shady Cove, John Thiebes of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will seek agency approval today to allow spring chinook on a fish-rich stretch of river at the door to Cole Rivers Hatchery.

Since the hatchery began operation almost 30 years ago, angling has been banned along a quarter-mile of Rogue water just downstream of the underwater entrance to the hatchery's fish-collection pond.

This stretch of water sometimes sports several hundred salmon ready to enter the hatchery in the summer. The no-fishing rule was always to allay concerns about illegal snagging of fish and a belief that fishing there gives too great an advantage to anglers.

But 20,000 excess spring chinook, which are expected at the hatchery this year, leads Thiebes to ask for the stretch to be open for fishing as early as Memorial Day.

Thiebes will also propose that the chinook limit river-wide be increased from two a day to three, but at least one must be a fin-clipped hatchery fish.

"We're here to serve the public, and if the public wants to try to catch these hatchery fish, it's worth trying," Thiebes said.

But not to Oregon State Police Lt. Steve Ross, who argued Thursday that extending the fishing boundary would open a can of worms that would be left to police to clean up.

Ross said he believes fishing for chinook in such cramped quarters is unethical, and that swirling waters near the fish-way pose a drowning hazard.

But Ross's main concern, which is shared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is that the lust for chinook would cause tempers to flare between the different fishing and boating factions all in close proximity.

"You're in kind of a false sense of happiness here if you don't think there won't be conflicts between boat fishermen, bank fishermen and rafters," Ross said during a meeting at the Upper Rogue Community Center in Shady Cove.

The actual proposal would allow fishing through the regular upper Rogue spring chinook season, which closes July 31. Fishing would be allowed only by anglers in the water and on the north bank, with the concrete dike adjacent to the hatchery off-limits.

Also, no fishing would be allowed from anchored boats - a move meant to reduce conflicts between boat and bank anglers.

ODFW Director Lindsay Ball must sign an order to make the changes on a one-year trial basis. If it proves successful, then it could become permanent - but it could be yanked almost immediately if conflicts and problems arise, Thiebes said.

Sport-anglers like Mike Hammonds pleaded for a chance to prove Ross wrong.

"We do a good job of policing ourselves here in Southern Oregon," said Hammonds, of Shady Cove. "We want these fish on our lines. We want to bring them home.

"Give us a chance to do it," he said. "Please."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail