Memories of Fishing on the Rogue River: An Endangered Species

Memories of Fishing on the Rogue River: An Endagered Species

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White Alder trees create a covering over the road much like a rain-forest with only slivers of sunlight passing through. We drive the curves at 25 miles an hour, wind blows my hair into a tangled mess, and our black lab whimpers as we turn off Jerry’s Flat Road and hit our gravel road. When the last week in May finally arrives, I am ready for the fishing, monopoly, books, and the quiet escape of the cabin oasis. The sandbox, fireplace, ugly yellow suede recliners, and an assortment of duck decoys and fishing lures tell me I am at Grandpa’s once again. I am back to relaxation, back to comfort, back to a second home. I came to Gold Beach for the first time still in my mom’s belly, fishing on the Rogue River has been in my blood since before I was born. Morning comes early.  At five o’clock my dad comes in, shakes my shoulder silently in order not to awaken my sister, “Sarah it’s time to get up” he whispers. Giddy, I dress quickly, all my layers:  white tank top, dark blue t-shirt, gray sweatshirt, teal raincoat, blue jeans, green fuzzy socks, blue tennis shoes, cozy green and black blanket, and of course my camouflage hat. On my hat are two bronze pins, they each represent catching a salmon weighing more than thirty pounds. Dad matches me in his hat which holds five pins. It’s dark and foggy we only have moonlight and the white rocks we lay out each season to show where to put the boat in. The river changes each year, making it hard to fish the same spot twice. My dad uses his ability to read the river to find where we will fish, I have no idea how he is able to decide which spot is plan A, B, or C. This is the time I regret waking up so early, the sky is drizzling, I can see my breath, and I am starving. Curled up by the heater I sit and wait for what could be minutes, hours, or an endless wait to catch a spring Chinook salmon. Dad is at the back of the boat putting the lines together. The tackle box is much like a jewelry box, it holds all that is bright and sparkly. The spinner is used in place of bait to attract the fish, my favorite one is green and shimmery. Dad has all the lines out within fifteen minutes, then we are fishing. After a while I hear “click, click, click” as the line starts running, Dad yells “fish on” and I’ve never been more awake. We bring in all the other lines, release the anchor and we’re off to fight the fish. My reward for getting up so early is that I get the first fish, so I reel down and pull up on the rod as my dad follows the line in the water, directing my grandpa steering the boat. I put all my force behind my arms and reel as hard as I can, at the thirty minute mark with sweat on my brow, dad stretches out the net and captures the fish we will eat for dinner tonight. Fresh salmon topped with butter, confetti rice, and a warm sourdough roll are within my grasp. Having fish for dinner was once a guarantee but now it’s a risk to not to get an extra nights worth of burgers, as a backup plan. The Rogue River is ever changing; every day, every month, every year, so it looks different but also the same to me from age seven to nineteen. The supply of spring Chinook salmon are in decline and have been for the past few years. Fisherman like my dad and grandpa say it’s the hatcheries not releasing as many fish. Curious, I called Jeff Lottis, a guide at Five Star Charters in Gold Beach, he says the creation of Lost Creek Dam has blocked the spawning habitats of spring Chinook salmon. This dam took away twenty miles of spawning habitat for the wild Chinook salmon. In response to this the Cole M Rivers hatchery was put in just below the dam by the US Army Corps of Engineers; however this has not improved the number of wild salmon spawning. In 2000 there was a malfunctioning pump at the hatchery which caused approximately 1.3 million one-inch salmon, about sixty-five percent of the population, to die. Putting in the hatchery is not a solution with immediate results. It takes three to five years for the salmon to return from the ocean to spawn, which is why the river is still recovering from both of these events. Staying in Gold Beach isn’t just about fishing on the Rogue River; it is about playing cards, board games, watching movies, snuggling on the couch, completing puzzles, looking at old family pictures, making dinner together, and spending time with the people I love. Looking forward into the future though, if the spawning habitats are not restored to their previous glory, the spring salmon fishing I have grown up with will not be a possibility for my children. About the author: Sarah Walling is a freshman Business student at Chapman University. She is staying in a state which is foreign to her but is able to find bits of home here in Orange County.

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