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Ashland Creek has steelhead but no one is counting

The piece and the photos on those urban fish (in an unnamed tributary of Medford's Larson Creek) was awesome. A friend is a recent grad of St. Mary's School, where he was involved in monitoring that stream, so I've heard about it. Do you know much about populations in Ashland Creek, especially in the North Mountain Park area and above regions? The silt is so heavy along the park that I wonder. I see what looks like a redd but I am unsure.

— Fishhead Brian, Ashland

We at Since You Asked Central can't help but let a question from someone named Fishhead rise quickly to the top, since this story is only a few weeks old.

The hoop-trap studies the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have conducted in Bear Creek Basin streams over the past decade have not yielded any official estimates. However, they are best used as indicators of whether there is an absence or presence of wild juvenile salmon and steelhead.

Tributaries such as Ashland Creek get used periodically by various upper Bear Creek Basin juveniles as they head up and down the system seeking better water conditions, whether escaping summer heat or winter freshets. So young fish you find in the summer in Ashland Creek you might find elsewhere in the basin in the winter.

But exactly how many?

"Right now, that's a shot in the dark," says Pete Samarin, an ODFW fish biologist who studies the Rogue Basin. "We don't currently have any surveys designed to generate population estimates on juvenile steelhead.

"But there's hundreds of juvenile steelhead likely rearing in Ashland Creek at this time," Samarin says.

These young juvenile salmon can stay about two years in freshwater before heading to the ocean, so when it comes to the Bear Creek Basin, it takes a whole system to raise a steelhead.

 As for whether you spotted a redd, or salmon nest, carved into the Ashland Creek gravel, chances are you did.

For the past few years, wild fall chinook salmon have been spawning up Ashland Creek and even at North Mountain Park in the fall. It goes to show you that even damaged urban streams such as these can still kick out some remarkable Rogue River Basin fish.

— 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.