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Emergency fishing closures kick in Saturday

State fishery managers have banned salmon, steelhead and trout fishing after 2 p.m. in rivers and creeks throughout most of Oregon — but exempted parts of the Rogue River — beginning Saturday. The move is intended to reduce the stress from catch-and-release fishing on fish under duress from low and warm stream flows.

The emergency fishing closures announced Thursday and in effect until further notice will not take place in the upper Rogue River upstream of the Fishers Ferry boat ramp, just below the site of the former Gold Ray Dam. Stream temperatures there remain relatively cool thanks to supplemental water releases from Lost Creek Lake, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The lower Rogue Bay, where tidal influx keeps temperatures cooler than the lower main-stem Rogue, is also exempt from the closure, as are the waters upstream of Lost Creek Lake.

But the water in the 110 river miles between the bay and the upper Rogue are mired in temperatures overly warmed by low flows and a relentless sun during what has been the hottest Oregon summer to date.

Water temperatures at Grants Pass were hitting or eclipsing 70 degrees in recent afternoons, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Temperatures at Agness, 27 river miles east of Gold Beach, almost hit 82 degrees during the Fourth of July weekend — the highest reading since Lost Creek Lake went online in 1977.

In contrast, the flows on the upper Rogue at Highway 234's Dodge Bridge were hovering this week between 61 degrees and 65 degrees, which creates far less stress to adult fish.

The Grants Pass area affected by the afternoon closure has not yet seen wild fall chinook move up from the estuary, but it does sport migrating groups of wild and hatchery-bred summer steelhead.

"We are concerned about those fish," said Russ Stauff, the ODFW's Rogue Watershed manager.

However, Stauff said, he hopes water temperatures will cool from Grants Pass on down when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Aug. 10 begins spilling extra Lost Creek Lake water to cool the lower river. That's a key time as wild fall chinook start heading upstream from tidewater toward the Grants Pass area.

"Our goal is to remove the 2 p.m. restriction riverwide when we begin that flow augmentation," Stauff said. "But if we get more extreme conditions, we will not remove it."

While in place, the 2 p.m. closure likely will affect steelhead angling more than salmon fishing because most salmon fishing is done early in the day, while steelheaders line the banks during evenings.

The statewide closure includes rivers and creeks upstream of tidewater but does does not include lakes or ponds. Also, cold streams such as the Metolius and Crooked rivers near Bend and the McKenzie River and its tributaries near Eugene are exempt. Other rivers, such as the Willamette below Willamette Falls, will be closed at all times.

The 2 p.m. fishing deadline was set because stream flows are at their warmest in the afternoons, causing the most stress on steelhead, salmon, trout and sturgeon caught and released by anglers.

Salmon, steelhead, trout and sturgeon are cold-water species that can become stressed when water temperatures eclipse 65 degrees, depleting dissolved oxygen levels and at times triggering natural diseases such as columnaris that attack salmon's gills and can wipe out runs.

Already, chinook die-offs have been documented in the lower Deschutes and upper John Day rivers, and decades-old sturgeon recently have been found dead in the Columbia River during catch-and-release season.

The normal fishing day on Oregon streams starts one hour before sunrise and goes until one hour after sunset.

Low summer flows were historically the bane of wild salmon, particularly fall chinook salmon, in the middle Rogue during midsummer months. But releases from Lost Creek Lake typically buoy Rogue flows enough to curb some spikes in water temperature.

Flows Thursday out of Lost Creek Lake were 1,517 cubic feet per second, while the natural river flow into the reservoir was just 871 cfs Thursday. That means the upper Rogue flows are about 42 percent higher than they would be without the extra stored reservoir water.

Other streams across Oregon augmented by reservoir flows or spring-fed also were exempt from the 2 p.m. closure.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

A native steelhead in the upper Rogue. MT file photo