Remember the good (bad?) old days?
The triple-digit heat wave that scorched the Rogue River basin's enormous spring snow pack pumped the upper Rogue into record flow levels this week, and what that means to fishing rests largely on whether anglers are younger or older than 50.
Many of the former are sitting around, mumbling into their lattes that the high and caramel-colored water is too heavy and swift for spring chinook salmon fishing.
But those who cut their chinook-fishing teeth BLCD — Before Lost Creek Dam — are champing at the bit to get a taste of the good ol' days, when May sun and snow melt meant more than time to waterski on a reservoir where all the best fishing spots used to be.
"It's absolutely wonderful, I love it," says Everett Evenson, a 64-year-old retired river guide as he watches a 9,000 cubic foot per second torrent rush over the Pierce Riffle boat ramp near Savage Rapids Dam.
"I know one thing — in low water, springers don't bite worth a darn," Evenson says. "But in high water, they bite. I don't know if it gets their adrenaline going or what. But it works."
This week marks a rare chance for anglers to test Evenson's hypothesis as nature rises up to get one over on the dam meant to tame the Rogue.
Unusually hot weather that liquified a heavy snow pack just as Lost Creek Lake was about to fill last weekend conspired to create a Perfect Melt.
With no place to store the torrential in-flows, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to spill water from the reservoir this week at the same rate as it captured it — occasionally, even more.
The result was the highest flows recorded at Dodge Bridge near Eagle Point for May 18 and 19 since Lost Creek Lake first filled in 1978.
Normally, high flow events like this come in winter or very early spring, when ample reservoir space is kept to capture those flows. But the lake is scheduled to fill each May 1, leaving little space to shave the peak off strange occurrences like this.
This is, obviously, an unusual event," says Tom Satterthwaite, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who has studied the relationships among flows, salmon behavior and salmon fishing for three decades.
"Chinook fishermen will be looking at real high flows for the foreseeable future," Satterthwaite says. "Some will be fishing from their houses."
Either way, it's like Old Home Week for veteran Rogue anglers like Irv Urie, a 71-year-old Medford man who is celebrating his 50th anniversary of guiding upper Rogue salmon anglers.
"We're going back to the old days," Urie says. "People forget the old days."
Urie can't forget how a quick shift in snow melt made big differences in how the river acted in the pre-dam era.
"I remember when the river would be clean in the morning, then the water would be so dirty in the afternoon from the snow melt," Urie says.
The change at times created what younger anglers never saw — an afternoon spring chinook bite. Springers surged upriver in the big water, hugging inside turns like winter steelhead and resting in big boils full of floating debris.
The high water constantly reallocated vast loads of upper Rogue gravels, constantly changing holes and chutes that forced anglers to relearn the Rogue each season — unlike the steady predictability of the post-dam upper Rogue.
"It took you a week or two to figure out where they were, but the fish we always caught were in fast pockets water," Evenson says. "We didn't have power boats, just driftboats. So you really had to row your ass off."
Or simply be efficient.
"You just have to be smart," Urie says. "Stay out of the heavy water and fish the sides."
And just like with all reminiscing, the old days were not all fields of pheasants and perfect gun dogs.
These yo-yoing of river levels caused by extensive May snow melt actually can do serious damage to the future.
During high flows, the fry escape to side-channels and into riparian areas looking for calm water. As flows subside, the fish follow the water back to the channel.
But water that rises and falls too rapidly — particularly in the steep gradient of the upper Rogue — can trap thousands of infant salmon in pockets and puddles deathly isolated from the river.
That's why the Corps and Satterthwaite are watching flows regularly, juggling in-flows and out-flows to ensure the river doesn't drop or rise too quickly.
The runoff was so dramatic Sunday that the flows fluctuated by 2,000 cfs. Given that Corps policy here says not to fluctuate flows by more than 150 cfs over a 12-hour period, Satterthwaite expects the Perfect Melt already has claimed swaths of this year's wild progeny.
"It's almost a certainty that we'll be looking at a low return three and four years from now," Satterthwaite says.
"As much as we possibly can, we need to try to save every single wild juvenile spring chinook in the upper Rogue right now," Satterthwaite says.
Still, this whacky week of retro-fishing carries its own taste of nostalgia that's too sweet for Evenson to ignore.
"It's 9,000 cfs? Hell I don't care," Evenson says. "I wish it were 10,000."