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Spawning chinook return to Bear Creek

Spawning fall chinook salmon have returned to Bear Creek, kicking off the annual experience of viewing these Rogue River giants in urban Medford.

Groups of chinook have been seen spawning in the creek stretch alongside the Target and Rogue Valley Mall parking lots, as well as the stretch below the Medford Irrigation District diversion within Hawthorne Park.

"There's a good run so far," says Jim Hutchins, a Medford naturalist who counts spawning chinook and egg nests, called redds, that the fish dig annually in the creek.

"And there are some big ones, too," Hutchins say. "Some 30 to 36 inches long."

Other popular viewing locations include an overlook along the Bear Creek Greenway just downstream of the Jackson Street bridge and the site of the old Jackson Street Dam.

The spawning occurs in relatively shallow water with gravel beds.

Bear Creek is a major spawning tributary of the upper Rogue River, which has runs of spring and fall chinook annually.

The all-wild run of fall chinook remains relatively poor this year, another victim of bad ocean conditions in recent years, but those conditions have since turned around.

A larger return of chinook is expected next year.

The upper Rogue is the upstream fringe of Rogue basin fall chinook, which spawn more heavily in the Grants Pass area and in the Applegate River.

For up-to-date viewing information, check the Bear Creek Watershed Council's Salmon Watch Web site at www.bearcreek-watershed.org.

Viewers can post on the site where they've seen Bear Creek salmon spawning.

State wildlife biologists hope Friday's mandatory furlough day for Oregon state employees won't snare hunters off-guard.

Licenses and tags will still be available online and at point-of-sale license outlets Friday, which is the traditional deadline for buying general bull-elk tags for Western Oregon.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offices will be closed Friday, so anyone looking to exchange a Cascade bull elk tag must do so by 5 tonight at ODFW offices, including the Rogue District office at the Denman Wildlife Area.

The ODFW's wildlife areas and state-run hatcheries will be open to visitors Friday, but no employees will be on hand to help, says Michelle Dennehy, the ODFW's Wildlife Division spokeswoman.

Hunters will still be responsible for using the self check-in kiosks at wildlife areas Friday, Dennehy says.

Similar circumstances will occur on Nov. 27, which is the next scheduled furlough day for state employees.

The furlough days are part of recession-related budget cuts adopted earlier this year by the Oregon Legislature.

Medford-based Rogue Flyfishers Association is holding a dinner and swap meet Wednesday for members to buy, sell or trade fishing gear and talk about life on the fly.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel, 200 N. Riverside Ave.

During the club's regular "Wet Fly" social hour, tables with merchandise will be on hand for people to barter over fishing gear. Dinner follows at 7 p.m.

The cost for dinner is $18. Non-members are welcome for $5 or the price of dinner. For dinner reservations, e-mail Kellie at kclmbr@msn.com.

Anglers fishing the North Umpqua River may discover intermittent muddying in the stream over the next three weeks as crews continue working on the fish-passage project at Soda Springs.

The Forest Service road upstream of Soda Springs bridge will remain closed during the construction.

PacificCorp crews are building new fish-passage facilities there during minimum-flow periods. A silt curtain has been constructed to curb turbidity at the work site, but some added mud and dirt could find its way into the river, according to the Umpqua National Forest.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.