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Public gets big say on fishing boundary

Redefining the lower boundary of the upper Rogue River in the post-Gold Ray Dam era may seem like a simple job, but it turns out that all the potential solutions bring different sets of problems.

As part of a suite of angling regulation proposals for 2013 and beyond, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is suggesting that the deadline be moved downstream to the Fisher's Ferry boat ramp — a change that would ban late-season fall chinook salmon fishing in a half-dozen key spots below the old dam site.

Other options considered were moving it upstream to the mouth of Bear Creek or keeping the old dam site as the boundary while adding some visible markers to make it more definable.

But fish and wildlife police don't like the isolated creek mouth as a deadline, and leaving the dam site means floaters downstream of TouVelle State Park will fish part of their trip under one set of fishing rules and end it with another.

So Rogue Valley anglers find themselves in the rare air of having a large say as to where their new upper Rogue deadline will be.

"We're putting it out there to see what the public has to say about it," says David Haight, an ODFW fish biologist working on the Rogue basin regulation proposals. "I think we'll go along with what the public's wishes are on this one."

The proposal is one of more than 130 potential regulation changes locally and statewide as Oregon reworks its angling rules for next year.

A public meeting to collect comments is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 10, at the Jackson County Auditorium, 400 Antelope Road, White City. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will discuss the various proposals at its Aug. 3 meeting in Salem and the commission is scheduled to vote on the regulations package Sept. 7 in Hermiston.

Proposals include calls for opening Diamond Lake to year-round angling, dropping the yearly sturgeon limit from five fish to two, allowing disabled anglers to use electronic reels and redefining soft-plastic egg imitations as lures instead of bait.

Another would allow all anglers on a boat to continue fishing even if they've reached their daily limit, provided they hand off their rod to an angler who hasn't filled his or her daily limit.

On the Rogue, proposals include opening tributaries upstream of Lost Creek Lake to year-round fishing and opening the upper Rogue to year-round trout fishing, though that is recommended for rejection to protect smolts from catch-and-release angling in the spring.

Another proposal calls for delaying the start of the fishing day from one hour before sunrise to 30 minutes before sunrise on the Rogue from Highway 62 up to the deadline at Cole Rivers Hatchery from April 1 through July. This is to curb illegal snagging under the cloak of pre-dawn darkness, but it also calls for extending the fishing day to 8 p.m. to create more after-work fishing opportunities for spring chinook there.

The Rogue also is no longer on a short list of rivers where the Oregon State Police want to test-drive a spate of anti-snagging regulations. It was dropped because Haight and his fellow biologists in the Central Point office do not support the proposals here because they would ban some legitimate use of treble hooks.

But the local sleeper in the upcoming debate is where to define the lowermost point of the upper Rogue.

From the beginning of Oregon angling regulations, it was the 1904-era Gold Ray Dam upstream of Gold Hill. A no-brainer for sure.

It was a perfect spot, especially in September when it posed a physical barrier between two drastically divergent yet parallel fisheries.

September upstream of Gold Ray Dam is the flies-only season for summer steelhead, and chinook fishing is banned. Below the dam is a fall chinook fishery with at least six good spots for boat anglers, and one very good spot for bank anglers, to catch late-run chinook.

The first two weeks of September can be excellent for fall chinook there, and ODFW biologists want these chinook caught and kept legally by anglers to reduce straying of fall chinook onto spring chinook spawning grounds.

The dam is gone now, with only a concrete abutment remaining. Over time, Haight says, the site likely will lose its identity, and new anglers to the area won't have much of a clue that the slab of concrete near the railroad tracks is actually a deadline.

Typically, deadlines are set at boat ramps because they're easy to find and allow float trips for anglers fishing under one set of rules all day.

By setting the new deadline at Fisher's Ferry about a mile downstream of the dam, chinook fishing would be banned from prime holes now fished in early September.

Knowing this, ODFW biologists considered moving it upstream to the mouth of Bear Creek, Haight says. But Oregon State Police troopers balked, saying it would be difficult to enforce rule changes at a place not readily accessible because it is surrounded by private land, Haight says.

Also, it would put anglers in a position of switching from fly-fishing for steelhead to using plugs and bait for chinook in mid-float, another tough enforcement issue.

That leaves the possibility of erecting new signs at the old dam site which would make it obvious it's a deadline, proving that sometimes no change is the best change.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MarkCFreeman