A New Low For The North Umpqua

Because the North Umpqua is not dam-controlled, it is not unusual for it to vary widely in size from season to season.  But nobody could anticipate that the river would reach an all-time low that saw this proud stream reduced to a creek.  But it happened last August.  In fact, the river was so low that the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Game banned fishermen from the stream.  The Dept. felt that the water was too low and too warm.  Now the North Umpqua is known throughout the world for its splendid steelhead fishing, so this was quite a disappointment for many eager fishermen and, especially for Steamboat Lodge, which offers a well-known late fisherman’s dinner.  Normally, the Lodge offered picturesque views of a falls, but the falls disappeared into a pile of boulders. A plethora of fires didn’t help any of the tourist businesses either.  All in all, a strange and sad summer for people who frequent the North Umpqua.

Sign Welcoming You To Steamboat Lodge.

Sign welcoming you to Steamboat Lodge.

Lots of luck floating this rapid. There is a sharp rock in the middle.

Lots of luck floating this rapid. There is a sharp rock in the middle.

Not much of the river left in the ribbon ahead.

Not much of the river left in the ribbon ahead.

Notice how narrow the river is.

Notice how narrow the river is.

Another view of the same rapid.

Another view of the same rapid.

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!

The Map That Ray Drew

Fishing map drawn by Ray Minehan.

Fishing map drawn by Ray Minehan.

Rogue’s Roost and many other spots on the Rogue River were known for excellent steelhead and salmon, so to provide their guests with a fishing map, Nion and Phyllis Tucker hired sketch artist, Ray Minehan.  He drew a limited amount of sketches that are all numbered.  This is #22.  It is supposed that the maps were drawn in the late 30s or early 40s. The Roost had been purchased by the Tuckers as a picnic site from Walter and Alice Bowne in the 1930s.  At that time, there was only a small cabin and nothing to suggest what would become the magnificent Rogue’s Roost.  The Tuckers then bought other parcels from different landowners to complete the finished residence. Joseph Chevigny was the chauffeur and fisherman in residence.  He and my Dad used to go fishing together.  It was Joe who taught my Dad about the art of fly fishing.  The area near the Roost boasted a huge spawning bed and great steelhead fishing.  Joe created his own fly that he called the Chevigny fly.  My Dad copied it and made numerous flies that he gave to friends.  He renamed the fly, The Rogue River Special, and the name stuck.  It is still used by fishermen today. The upper left of Ray’s map shows the elegant Roost with its spacious lawn.  The main building in the center opened out to a deck over the river.  It was not unusual to see jack salmon or steelhead jumping in the sparkling water.The lower left of the map shows the result of a fisherman’s efforts: a large, tasty fish ready to be eaten.

A few comments regarding some of the places mentioned on the map: 1.  The town of McLeod no longer exists.  It was subsumed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a visitors’ information center for Lost Creek Dam.  2.  Casey’s Camp was an extention of the original Casey’s Auto Park.  Today it is called Casey State Park. 3.  Round House(a stone house) was built by Emmett(Sno-Cat) Tucker(no relation to the Tuckers of Rogues Roost) and eventually became the famous Obstinate J Ranch until it was sold and the name changed.  4.   Beagle was a pioneer community that began in 1885 and ended in 1941 when the U.S. Army took it over to establish Camp White. 5.  Sunset on the Rogue included a gas station, store for food and fishing, and cabins.  It still exists today!  6.  California on the Rogue offered a gas station and cabins. The name has been changed, but the buildings remain.  I knew the owner during the 60s, Mr. Sullivan.  I brought a geode to him from the North Umpqua region and asked him if there could be any crystals inside.  He said, “Nah!”  When I got to the Obstinate J Ranch, I split the geode and found it full of reddish-brown quartz crystals!  7. Captain Black’s refers to what became Black Oaks.  The place currently belongs to the Donald L. Donegan family and encompasses some of the best steelhead water between Dodge Bridge and TouVelle State Park.  8.  Dowden and Hardy’s should be reversed.  Hardy Rapid Class 2+ contains an enormous hole in the middle of the river that must be avoided.  Dowden refers to Dowden Falls, today known as Gold Nugget Falls Class 3+.  Every summer rafters and kayakers float the left channel of the falls that includes two large drops, especially the last one!  The campground provides a beach with great views of the lower drop.  A great place to relax and reflect on nature’s wonders.

The Removal Of A Dam And A Tragedy

Gold Ray Dam had been a fixture for about one hundred years.  But, under pressure from the Oregon Fish and Game Commission, a decision was made to remove it.  The reason being that it provided a major obstacle for salmon swimming upstream and impeded their growth.  The dam itself was not really doing anything.  Above it, a slough had formed, creating a water sanctuary for hundreds of riparian creatures.  These life forms had thrived for over a century, but disaster was about to overtake them…

A long battle for the removal of Savage Rapids Dam ended several years ago when it was finally taken out.  The people involved in the job were cautious as to how much water they would let out at any given time and no major incidents occurred.  Above it, a placid lake had formed, but there was nothing like the teeming slough in back of Gold Ray.  The river at first created a mean rapid, then settled into a more mild Class 2 with just a few rocks to dodge.  The river cut a wide swathe where there had once been a more narrow and treacherous drop.  It reminded folks of the effects of the 1964 flood, which did precisely the same thing.

When the removal of the Gold Ray Dam went from paper to action, the dam removers felt a surge of confidence based on the successful removal of Savage Rapids.  But, alas! Hubris and carelessness overtook them.  Instead of moving cautiously with measured steps of removal(as had been the case with Savage Rapids), they took large chunks out of the dam, while underestimating the power of the river in back of it.  The result was an ecological catastrophe.  Suddenly, the river burst through with a violent roar and moved away from the habitat that had depended on it for sustenance.  Thousands and thousands of water creatures perished.  Photos published showed fishes faces in shock.  These pictures brought a truly affecting quality to creatures that were caught and eaten at will.  And, irony of ironies, the removal of Gold Ray, which was intended to preserve the salmon and other species,  ultimately contributed towards their destruction.

It must be said that many people from the Fish and Game tried to save as many species as they could.  But their efforts caused only a mild dent in the tragedy that had occurred.  Let us hope that in the future, dam removers will show the same consideration for habitat as dam builders.

A video showing Class 2 Gold Ray Rapid today:

Rogue’s Roost: Paradise In The Wilderness, Part 1.

When I think of Rogue’s Roost, I am issued once more through the gates of childhood into a pristine and untainted world.  This was a world of heady aromas, incredible beauty, the substance of dreams.

Rogue’s Roost was the summer residence of Phyllis deYoung Tucker, part of a family that owned The San Francisco Chronicle.  Her main home was in Burlingame, California, an area known for wealth.  I knew her as an old lady with a bright smile, a certain elegance in her gait, who often wore a broad-rimmed hat.  She loved to walk through her garden, which was pungent with the smell of carrots and point out her favorite flowers.  The path continued to a rocky outcropping overlooking the river.  These rocks marked the coveted steelhead hole of her chauffeur, Joe Chevigny.

The swimming pool below the main Roost was a troublesome affair.  Sharp flagstones lined the edge of the pool and caused one man to require stitches.  I knew it only as a place to frolic in the summer, accompanied by her grandson, Nion Tucker, named for Mrs. Tucker’s husband.

Rogue’s Roost was located off of Highway 62(Crater Lake Highway) about one mile SW of Laurelhurst State Park.  My father said to look for a sign that read N. Tucker.  When I saw the sign, I knew we would begin to descend through a lush forest, ending up at the moss-covered Rogue’s Roost.  Evelyn Ditsworth Walls, whose family settled in the Laurelhurst area in the late 1880s, gives a detailed and poetic description of this special road and of the area of Rogue’s Roost:  “The road from Crater Lake Highway down to the Roost went through a large, weighted gate, which could be opened without the driver getting out of the car by pulling on a three-foot wooden handle cantilevered to the weights at the hinged side of the gate.  The road wound down the mountainside through virgin forest carpeted with moss where lady slipper orchids and lamb’s tongue bloomed in the early spring…  The road looped around a hairpin curve, alongside the irrigation ditch and across a bridge with rustic seats on each side before plunging down the last steep hill and around the final curve.  Then the road leveled off through the landscaped grounds with a croquet court on one side of the road and a deck tennis court on the other.

The landscaping was quite informal with flagstone walks among the big trees and rockeries with coral bells, columbine, maidenhair and sword ferns.  Near the river there was a natural carpet of different kinds of moss and lichens covering the ground and the large river boulders.  I especially remember the exceptional beauty of the area in the early spring, when all the new growth would be bursting forth in its many shades of green, and again in the fall, when all the autumn shades of russet, red, and gold would emerge following the first nippy nights.  The many dogwood trees and vine maple bushes provided bright spots in the undergrowth both in the spring and fall.”

Robber’s Roost

Robber’s Roost near Casey State Park, acquired its name from a policeman with a sense of humor.  He was Sprat Well’s son-in-law.  Sprat was an old-timer who once owned river property from Eastin’s Rogue Haven to the Obstinate J Ranch.  The Roost was a well-known steelhead hole and nearby Pat’s Fly and Tackle provided fishermen with licenses and the required accessories.  The rapid opposite the Roost had one of the largest whirlpools on the upper Rogue.  A boat might spin around for half a minute before the river relinquished its grasp and the vessel could move on.  I knew the rapid as the Cottage Kitchen riffle, because there was a small restaurant above the Roost that I liked to frequent.  This restaurant and its co-owners, Mrs. Caroline Kelsey and Miss Allyn Goss, will be the subject of a future post.  In the meantime, please enjoy the video clip below of Robber’s Roost Rapid. The 1964 flood took the rapid away and replaced it by a mild chute.

The Obstinate J Rogue River Float 1962

We stayed at the Obstinate J Ranch from 1961-1979.  Our cabin was called Steelhead Point, and abounded in mosquitoes, and yellow jackets, which entered whenever we opened our hinged door.  Below us, the Rogue River flowed through a wonderful trout spot, and below that, there was an interesting rapid, which ended in a large hole and several steep waves.  The rapid disappeared after the 1964 flood, and I remember Obstinate J co-owner, George Pearson, driving his tractor in the middle of the river in a vain effort to bring the rapid back.  But the memories remain:  cooking barbecues along the river, finding my first calcite crystals lodged in a basalt boulder, watching numerous eddies twirl struggling leaves, starry, clear nights, Saturn Rock, beyond which you dared not go, and the many floats down the lower rapid.  In the video below, Dad rowed Grandpa Johnny, my sister Nancy and me through the rapid.