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Bear Creek is a protected steelhead nursery

Is it legal to sport fish in Bear Creek?

Chris P., email submission

Bear Creek has been off legal anglers' radar screens since 1994, and it's not because no right-minded fisher would want to wade in downtown Medford amid some of the most marginal water-quality in Jackson County.

The creek happens to be a juvenile steelhead rearing stream, a veritable nursery for wild steelhead prized and revered by sport anglers when they return as adults to spawn. 

Allowing anglers even to catch and release juvenile steelhead would lead to increased mortality rates that sport fishers don't want to see among steelhead.

They may look like trout, and they legally are trout in the Rogue River Basin until they reach 16 inches long. Some of those trouty-looking young fish also are wild coho salmon, which are protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

In fact, most spawning and rearing tributaries of the Rogue Basin are off limits to angling. A few exceptions occur in Little Butte and Big Butte creeks, but "they just don't get much pressure" and thus likely don't harm wild steelhead production, says Pete Samarin, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist who regularly surveys Bear Creek for its wild salmon and steelhead production.

The no-fishing restriction in Bear Creek is part of a suite of rules meant to protect wild juvenile steelhead, including a trout-fishing ban from April 1 through late May each year on the entire main-stem Rogue.

If Bear Creek became healthy enough and with enough barriers removed to produce more wild steelhead, perhaps at  least young anglers could one day return to Bear Creek with fishing rods in hand, says Dan VanDyke, the ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist.

"I'd love to offer more opportunities, especially for kids, but we're a ways off before we can do something about it," VanDyke says.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.