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Spring fishing turns into catching on upper Rogue

Spring chinook salmon catches are coming early yet not-so-often on the upper Rogue River, which is providing a decent mid-April fishing opportunity.

The fishing is turning into catching at the Rogue's popular "Hatchery Hole" along the Cole Rivers Hatchery dike, where 15 more chinook ran the gauntlet and took a right turn into the hatchery's collection pond this past week.

That brings to 17 the number of spring chinook at the hatchery so far in this very early part of the season.

"I'd be willing to lay down money that more have walked out of here than we've got in the hatchery," says hatchery Manager David Pease.

The past two years have brought the best two returns to Cole Rivers since 2004, and wild fish estimates are up slightly as well, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Rogue fish managers expect this year's return to be as good or better than the past two years.

Only fin-clipped hatchery chinook can now be kept on the Rogue.

While the spring chinook run is just taking off, the summer steelhead run on the upper Rogue River is officially over and it has tallied up to be the lightest returns to Cole Rivers Hatchery since 2010.

The hatchery collected 2,806 summer steelhead this past season, with the first of them returning as early as late June.

The total is slightly more than half of the summer steelhead that made it to the hatchery collection pond last year, according to hatchery records.

Since the removal of Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue in 2010, no total counts of wild and hatchery steelhead have been available, so the year-to-year returns are used more now as relative comparisons instead of hard numbers, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The days of unfettered summer fishing for Pacific halibut in Southern Oregon are on the cusp of ending.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set today to adopt 2014's halibut season, and it is expected to split the Southern Oregon ports of Brookings and Gold Beach away from California and give them their own quota that will end the season if reached.

It will be the first time Southern Oregon ports will face a mid-season closure based on halibut.

The change comes in response to the skyrocketing halibut catch in Southern Oregon and California in recent years.

If adopted as expected, the new Southern Oregon sub-area between Humbug Mountain and the California border will have a 3,712-pound quota — less than one-third of last year's catch.

The season will open Thursday, May 1, as usual, but it won't stay open until Oct. 31 unless that quota is not reached.

If this quota had been in place during last year's record catch of 12,955 pounds out of Brookings and Gold Beach alone, anglers would have blown through the quota in the first six weeks of the season.

The move has been supported by the group Oregon South Coast Fishermen because they would prefer their own quota instead of getting lumped with Northern California or the halibut-rich ports off the central coast.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.