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Bait and lures return to upper Rogue River

Anglers can restock their tackle boxes with more than just artificial flies beginning Thursday when the flies-only rules relax for summer steelhead angling along the upper Rogue River during what has shaped into a less-than-average season.

Bait fishing for steelhead resumes Thursday on the Rogue upstream of the Shady Cove boat ramp, while lures such as plugs and spoons can be used again in the waters upstream of what used to be Gold Ray Dam. Bait returns to that portion of the upper Rogue on Jan. 1. Scents, including natural roe juice, are deemed "attractants" and not bait, so their use is legal downstream of the Shady Cove ramp.

Both bait and lures have been banned on the upper Rogue since Sept. 1, when the annual flies-only season began, which allows anglers to continue fishing for steelhead while keeping them away from spawning chinook salmon.

The ban is lifted every Nov. 1, a day when anglers flock to the upper Rogue for a period considered one of the best for bait-fishing from Cole Rivers Hatchery to Shady Cove.

The Rogue has seen a decent but not spectacular season of summer steelhead fishing so far this year, with a fairly healthy run of fish and a mixed bag of water conditions.

With no Gold Ray Dam counting station to gauge the early part of the summer steelhead run, all eyes have been on returns to Cole Rivers, which have been the highest since 2004, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records.

The early-run fish have been present in the upper Rogue since May and represent the majority of those caught by upper Rogue anglers.

Returns of late-run adults, which primarily return to spawn in Grants Pass-area tributaries, are estimated based on regular seining of the Rogue at Huntley Park just upstream from tidewater east of Gold Beach.

Huntley Park netting results peg the late-run estimate at 9,000 adults, well under last year's estimate of 12,508 adults and not even within shouting distance of the 10-year average of 14,148 adult summer steelhead.

"It's not too bad, but definitely below average," says Todd Confer, ODFW's Gold Beach District fish biologist. "There's only a couple days of seining left, so that estimate's not going to change much."

The estimate of immature halfpounder steelhead to the Rogue has been the best since 2009, with 64,000 of these adults-to-be returning so far this year, Confer says. The running 10-year average is just shy of 62,000 halfpounders.

Anglers are reminded that all wild steelhead must be released unharmed.

Thursday marks the last time Diamond Lake will get the seasonal "Closed" sign at the boat ramp.

Diamond is one of a handful of local lakes that close to fishing each Oct. 31, but Diamond is set to reopen on New Year's Day under a new angling protocol there.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in September voted to make this lake in eastern Douglas County into a year-round waterway for angling.

Diamond Lake likely will open to ice fishing because the lake is normally locked beneath ice, snow and slush in January.

Lakes such as Hyatt and Howard Prairie also close Wednesday evening, and they will reopen on the traditional trout opener on the fourth Saturday in April.

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