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First springer sounds air horn to anglers

I noticed on your Twitter feed that Cole Rivers Hatchery on Wednesday counted the first spring chinook salmon there so far this season. March 25 sounds awfully early. And I know from reading previous Outdoors pages that the steelhead have been real early as well. Is this early springer a record?

— T.T., Medford

You, T.T., and the rest of the salmon-fishing community who also read Since You Asked have asked the same question.

In fact, it was such a no-brainer that Cole Rivers Hatchery Manager David Pease planned to run a report in advance of the earliest returning spring chinook, but this crack bunch at SYA Central beat him to it.

Turns out the March 25 first springer is the earliest on records that date back to 1984, even though the hatchery started releasing fish into the Rogue River in the mid-1970s.

The previous early fish was March 30, 2010, Pease says.

And this fish was a beauty — a super-silver male weighing about 12 pounds. It was so bright, in fact, that hatchery technicians had to look closely to ensure it wasn't a female, Pease says.

The first upper Rogue springer of the season is like an air horn to Southern Oregon anglers, calling them out to start fishing for one of the most celebrated and cursed fish the Rogue produces.

Since they're fresh from the ocean and not ready to spawn until late summer, spring chinook are the freshest and tastiest fish you can catch in Oregon's inland waters, regardless of what the Columbia River fanatics say.

But they are also the toughest to catch, particularly the hatchery chinook that just don't seem to bite as well as the wild ones. Anglers such as you, T.T., can keep just the fin-clipped hatchery springers under current angling rules.

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.