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Fly-fishers get snagged by proposed rule

An all-out blitz against salmon snagging on the Rogue River and other streams in Oregon could unintentionally ban the most effective and popular way to fly-fish for summer steelhead for part of the season here.

Sate police and fish biologists have proposed that anglers beginning in 2013 be relegated to one single-point hook on parts of the Rogue during most of the spring and fall runs of chinook salmon, beginning April 1 and running as late as Sept. 30.

The proposal is to create a clear ban on the use of treble hooks and multiple hooks favored by those illegally hooking and keeping salmon in such Rogue snagging hot-spots as Hayes Falls and the infamous Hatchery Hole.

But it would also mean nymph fishing with two or more flies would be banned during the early part of the summer steelhead fishing season.

Using a stonefly as a weight to pull down a second fly — such as an egg fly or a caddis nymph — under a strike indicator is a staple for summer steelhead fly-fishers on the upper Rogue. But that rigging would be illegal during the single-hook periods if the proposal is adopted.

During several discussions between Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists and Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Division troopers, this collateral damage went unmentioned when drafting the proposals, police say.

"I think that might have been something that was overlooked," says Lt. David Gifford of OSP's Central Point office.

There was no intention to ban conventional nymphing on stretches of the Rogue as part of a suite of rules targeting snaggers, Gifford says. But a fresh reading of the proposal this week shows that it would, if adopted as-is, ban the popular method, Gifford says.

"I don't think there's any problem we've ever had with fly-fishermen using that gear," Gifford says. "There's certainly no intention to snag fish."

ODFW will post this and 55 other agency proposals on its website today for public consumption.

Public meetings to gather comments on the proposals are planned for May. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to vote on new 2013 regulation proposals at its August meeting.

Count the Medford-based Rogue FlyFishers Association as one group ready to go to bat against the rule as written, association president Kellie Christensen says.

"We fish exactly that way at exactly those times," Christensen says. "We're not in favor of it.

"That would really bite," she says.

Other agency proposals include changing the upper Rogue's lower boundary from the old Gold Ray Dam site to Fisher's Ferry boat ramp downstream of the removed dam. If adopted, it would extend upper Rogue chinook fishing bans in September to a series of popular fall chinook fishing spots.

Also, state biologists have proposed to allow anglers to kill and keep an extra hatchery steelhead above their regular two-fish limit in the Coos and Coquille river systems as well as Tenmile Creek.

But the package's biggest splash clearly is the wide-ranging collection of proposed rules meant to stack the deck against cheating chinook anglers.

One proposal for the upper Rogue targets spring chinook salmon at the Hatchery Hole and other holes from Cole Rivers Hatchery down to the Highway 62 bridge just upstream of Casey State Park from April 1 through July 31. Angling there now is open from one hour before sunrise to 7 p.m., instilled to reduce drunken brawls and other problems there among some evening anglers.

The new proposal would open angling only a half-hour before sunrise, but extend the fishing day to 8 p.m. That would curb snaggers' ability to use the pre-dawn darkness to keep snagged fish — those fish caught with a hook other than inside the mouth.

During the first half-hour, troopers can't tell from a distance whether a chinook gets hooked in the tail and reeled in backwards, Gifford says. Once darkness subsides, a lot more caught fish are released because snaggers know they're no longer cloaked by darkness.

"Unless we're right there on top of them, they're snagging fish," Gifford says.

Another proposal redefines "snagging" to include using a rod and line in a way where the fish is not enticed to bite voluntarily. This would create a simple and enforceable ban on snaggers regularly jerking back on their rods in hopes that their hooks would imbed in a salmon's side.

The big ticket item, however, is the one single-point hook rule. That hook would be no longer than 3/4ths of an inch, completely banning the big treble hooks that are the snagger's main tool.

"It is cut and dry," Gifford says. "The biggest push is to get away from treble hooks."

As written, the rule would exempt trollers and those fishing buoyant lures such as plugs commonly used by driftboat and powerboat anglers fishing for steelhead and salmon.

Though the rule is part of the statewide proposals, ODFW biologists say it would be enforced only on selected rivers at specific times when snagging is at its worst.

For now, that includes the Rogue.

The single-hook rule is proposed for April 1 through Sept. 30 from Whiskey Creek near Rainie Falls upstream to Fisher's Ferry ramp; April 1 through Aug. 31 from Fisher's Ferry to Dodge Bridge; and from April 1 through July 31 from Dodge Bridge upstream through the Hatchery Hole.

These are the same season dates for chinook angling in those stretches.

Other proposals include the North Umpqua River downstream of the flies-only water, Isthmus Slough in Coos Bay and several north coast and Willamette Zone streams.

The public also will be asked to nominate other snag-ripe rivers for this dubious distinction, as well.

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