Some Thoughts On Fly Fishing And The Rogue River

Fly fishing was de rigueur for my Dad.  In Oregon, he would fish from after breakfast until shortly before dinner.  After dinner, he would usually put on his heavy waders and come trudging back as darkness fell.  He would do this virtually every day of our one month summer vacation from the end of July until right after Labor Day.

His preparations, though, would begin toward the beginning of July.  Then, he would take out his fly tying equipment and begin making flies for the trip.  I remember seeing flies shining in his den with many different colors.  He was quite an expert at creating flies, and usually had an abundance of them ready to be dropped into the water for trout, and, most importantly, summer steelhead, which he loved to barbecue or put into the freezer for future eating.

Dad learned about the art of fly fishing from the chauffeur at Rogue’s Roost, Joseph Chevigny and river guides Glen Wooldridge and Bob Pritchett.  The latter initiated him into the art of boating, and locating steelhead holes on the Rogue River.  From an early age, Dad could find steelhead water and navigate a navy surplus raft.

Dad always enjoyed fishing the Upper Rogue.  He tried to teach me how to fish, but trout was all I could manage, and, besides, I didn’t want to pull fish hooks out of my ear, which happened almost every summer with Dad!  But I did learn to appreciate and love the river and all its natural habitat as well as do some inner tubing and rafting.  Swimming across the river was never one of my talents!

In the early years, the Rogue River was a pristine mountain river, its color a pristine blue and so clear that you could see trout swimming or salmon spawning.  All that changed when the Lost Creek Dam was built in the late 1070s.  Because it was an earthenware dam, it increased the amount of silt that floated downstream and the river’s clear beauty disappeared with it.  In the years that followed, more and more people used the river, though without the respect early residents had shown.  At one point, the river was declared unfit for swimming and a major effort was made to bring it back to its natural state.

I’m grateful that I saw the Rogue River in all its splendor.  The short videos that follow show my Dad fly fishing on a truly magnificent river.  I hope you enjoy them!

2014 Inner Tubing Season Ends

Cooler afternoons with lower river temps. ended the tubing season of 2014.  It was a season that saw few accidents;  I can’t recall any rescues.  And it was the first summer that no drownings occurred in many years.  The river was playful, but not dangerous.  Currents ranged from 1500-2000 cfs.  The latter, made for some large waves and swift water.  It was one of the best times I’ve enjoyed on the river in many a year, and  I’m quite grateful.  Lisa Burkett, my tubing partner, and I were able to squeeze in a last trip on Labor Day, thanks to temps. in the 80s.

The summer of 2014 was exceptionally warm, with almost two weeks of 100-100+ weather, and countless days in the 90s.  Sunscreen and hats were a must.  August had many days of threatening clouds, but little rain.  At 61, I can no longer endure direct extreme heat on subsequent days, so I often tubed every other day, and sometimes only once a week.  But feeling the river currents as they swirl around you, taking in the magnificent scenery that beckons, is an experience of a lifetime.  This was my 50th year of inner tubing the Rogue River, so it was a special time for me.  I hope it was a special time for you.  I can’t wait until the next season begins!

Lower Water Means More Rocks And Time To Maneuver In An Inner Tube

The Rogue River continues to drop, and more rocks are appearing, especially in bars.  There is one spot right above Dodge Bridge where any lower water might mean getting out on the left side of the right channel and walking.  The deepest water in the right channel is on the right, but slams into a tree.  The safe way to take this rapid is to pass to the left of a green tuft of island at the top of the right channel, and then make a sharp right turn, catching the eddy of the ensuing bar.  The eddy should hold you, so that you can float down the center and avoid the overhanging bush at the bottom right.  This means going over a rock bar, so lift yourself up in your tube.  What follows are a series of playful, splashy waves and one more bar before you reach the Dodge Bridge on ramp.  Always wear a flotation device.  Look out for trees and rocks.  And have fun on the river!

2014 Inner Tubing Season Begins Early

The 2014 inner tubing season began in the middle of June, then paused for some cooler weather, resurfacing towards the end of the month.  It is hard to believe that this will mark my 50th summer of inner tubing.  I have been fortunate to enjoy the waters of the Rogue River, an excellent river for inner tubing.  The flow now is about twice what it was before Lost Creek Dam(2200 cfs at TouVelle State Park), and somewhat warmer(53-54 at Casey State Park, instead of 51).  The test for low 50 temps. is to put your hand in the water.  If it begins to burn from cold, temp. is low 50s.  You can do the same thing with your feet.  I usually test the water at TouVelle State Park, and, if it’s warm enough, and the outside temp. is in the 70s, time to float.  Incidentally, when I was a kid, I usually encountered low 50 water, but now, at 61, I’d just as soon avoid it!

Note:  River has pushed to the right at TouVelle State Park, which means less water along the left bank.  The river took out part of the “children’s dam” and cut a new channel over soft rock to drop into main rapid on the right.  Unfortunately, the two rocky channels below the bridge are still there, forcing tubers to the left, and then requiring them to cross two swift currents to get to shore.  Chances are strong that tubers will be pushed downstream to second put-out among some thick underbrush.  My advice would be to get out just before the “children’s dam”.  The wave on the right isn’t worth the ensuing hassle.

Greetings to inner tubers everywhere!  It looks to be a wonderful season on the Rogue River.  People generally tube from Casey State Park to TouVelle State Park.  The run is exciting, but not dangerous, if you avoid strainers.  Mostly Class 1 and 2.  You could tube to below Gold Ray, but there is no easy put-out.  Below that, waves become too large and irregular for inner tubers, and there are a few falls.  However, you can tube from Gold Hill to Hog Creek(watch out for Twin Bridges Rapid Class 3, just before Valley of the Rogue State Park), if you have the desire, but much of the water from Grants Pass to Hog Creek is placid, and without action.  Happy tubing!

Going Back To The Stair Steps Rapid.

Just a short distance below scenic Laurelhurst State Park, off of old Highway 62, there was a clearing in the woods, which let you see down to the Rogue River.  As a child, my father sometimes took me and Grandpa Johnny there armed with a pair of binoculars to gaze down at the canyon.  I remember looking at an intimidating rapid, which Dad called “the rapid above Tucker’s”, but was known to the natives as the Stair Steps, because the river flowed over a series of ledges before it dropped into a large hole.  Just below it was The Whirlpool, a rocky bar that went into the bank, creating a large eddy of swirling water.  People used to park their cars off of ’62, and walk down a narrow path to fish there.  The beginning of The Whirlpool could be seen from the clearing.

I never knew that some years later I would be floating those same rapids, often carrying some curious passengers.  The years I spent floating from Laurelhurst State Park to the Obstinate J Ranch(rafting or inner tubing)were probably the happiest years of my life.  In 1979, the Lost Creek Dam was built, which buried those rapids forever, creating Lost Creek Lake in its stead.

The brief video below shows our view of the Stair Steps in 1961.  The rapid was considerably more difficult then, because the left channel was narrower and less forgiving.  The 1964 flood made the river wider and the rapid easier to navigate.  Nevertheless, this was the only rapid that I pulled to shore on the right to scout.  You had to locate a series of boulders to know where to drop over the main ledge into the left channel, or you could have difficulties.  Sliding over the ledge required some technical skill.  However, I’m not sure I could have inner tubed the 1961 version of the Stair Steps.  The 1964 flood took away rapids such as Tucker’s Plunge, Jackson Falls(which were not possible for inner tubing), and made rapids like Casey, Trail, Upper and Lower Obstinate J, Robber’s Roost much easier.  Some people believe that the flood was nature’s way of showing that the Rogue River was becoming an old river, with the widening of its banks.  Be that as it may, there is no denying the impact of the 1964 flood, and the changes it wrought.

The Other Rogue River Gorge

When people speak of the Rogue River Gorge, they mean usually the Gorge at Union Creek.  The forestry service certainly thinks so, because they have maps and special ramps for vista points.  However, there is another Gorge, which crosses Mill Creek Drive just south of Prospect, that is equally exciting.  Years ago, this Gorge could be explored off of both sides of the road.  But, eventually,  land adjacent to the Gorge on the north side was sold to private owners, so visitors congregate in the inviting woods on the south side.  The bridge, though, remains, and still offers spectacular views of the Gorge and its canyon wall laced with boulders.  It is hard to believe that over 100 years ago, a covered bridge was all that prevented travelers from tumbling into the Gorge.  “Old-timers”  affirm that there were accidents.  But they also affirm the sense of awe travelers felt when crossing this tumultuous chasm.  The brief video below offers a view of the Gorge in 1958 when there was considerable water pouring down the drop.

Lower Takelma Rapid Packs A Wallop For Inner Tubers

Lower Takelma Rapid, just below Takelma Park, packs a real wallop for inner tubers.  The rapid begins with an innocuous rock bar that occurs to the right of an island.  Tubers need to pull to the left as they pass over the bar, because the right current will take them into a tree and an overhanging bush that are close to the right bank.  Nevertheless,  tubers will find themselves on the right.  Now they must pull hard to the left to dodge a waterfall over a ledge on the right, and, in particular, avoid a nasty boulder at the left end of the ledge.  Then they will drop a few feet into some truly large waves.(At high water the waves converge to form a huge hole, which must be dodged to avoid a swim.)  Tubers will need to balance themselves as they climb the steep waves until they encounter calmer water downstream.

The rapid has an interesting history, and the current rapid is a relative newcomer, having been formed by high spring water just a few years before.  As long as I can remember, the river always split into different channels and some of them were so shallow that a child could ford them easily.  As this was one of Dad’s favorite steelhead holes, I often did just that.  An hour to a restless child is a long time and I recall wading the shallow bars around me in search of a shiny jasper or multicolored agate.  Often I was more fortunate than Dad, and the bottom of the raft was littered with shiny minerals.  Over the years the river continued to push the bars down, culminating finally in the threatening Lower Takelma Rapid.  The imprints of children’s feet on the sand bars have become a mere memory.