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High, warm water brings early salmon

That outdoor column about the guy catching the first spring chinook salmon of the year on the upper Rogue River was fascinating. I figured they would show up early thanks to the recent dam removals on the Rogue, but I never thought they'd come in early March. What are the normal dates for the trapping of the first spring chinook at the hatchery?

— Sam B., Medford

The first spring chinook to enter Cole Rivers Hatchery does more than usher in the start of spring and the most popular angling season on the Rogue River.

It officially "opens the trap" at the hatchery along the upper Rogue River near Trail.

Of course, Sam, the hatchery trap never closes. That's a phrase used at Cole Rivers to denote when the first of each salmon or steelhead species is collected that season. Likewise, a "closed trap" indicates that a particular run is over.

The open-trap dates for Rogue spring chinook vary widely and depend more on water volume and temperatures than on dams. Higher, warmer flows are what get spring chinook on the move.

And that makes the March 7 catch of a spring chinook at the Hatchery Hole right near the trap's opening somewhat strange. Flows have been low and cool most of the winter.

Over the past decade, the earliest a springer has shown up in the hatchery trap was on March 30, 2010, hatchery Manager David Pease says. The latest was June 3, 2008.

Last year's first spring chinook reached the trap May 9, and in 2011 it was April 19, Pease says.