By Buzz Ramsey
If the predictions are correct, and depending on how many Chinook were harvested in the ocean before now, there could be as many as 400,000 Rogue-bound salmon returning to this famous Southern Oregon river. That’s a lot of fish for a river this size, one that originates in the mountains south of Crater Lake, flows past the outskirts of Medford and through Grants Pass before continuing its journey through the Rogue Canyon to the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach.
And while Rogue River kings come in all sizes, a few lucky anglers take home 40- to 50-pounders every year. I’m reminded of our son Blake, now in his mid-20s, catching his very first salmon in late summer many years ago here. After a tussle that included his reel falling off the rod and realizing we had no landing net (somehow it blew out of the boat) we ran our craft into the shore where Blake finally beached the fat salmon. Excited, we thought it was 40 pounds; as it turned out, it was 35. Not bad for a boy just 6 years old!
AS YOU MIGHT imagine, the waters of the Rogue get warm in the summer, so warm (it can reach 70-plus degrees) that it mostly stalls the upstream migration of fall Chinook. This causes the salmon to linger in the Rogue Bay, where they wait for temps to cool before beginning to move towards the river’s headwaters.
The fish typically move upstream on the flood tide, but once they encounter the warm river water at the head end of the bay – just upstream from the Highway 101 bridge – they put on the brakes and retreat back into the lower bay, and likely into the ocean, as the tide ebbs.
Each daily tide, especially big ones, add more and more Chinook to the massive salmon school accumulating in the Rogue Bay. It’s this concentration of fish that results in an annual sport harvest of more than 5,000 fat salmon and draws anglers from around the region to take part in the bounty.
For trollers, the hottest action starts at the jaws when the tide is out, and progresses up the bay as the water floods eastward. The peak bite usually occurs two hours before full flood tide, right in front of Jot’s Resort, which is located on the north side of the river just downstream from the bridge.
Many guides and anglers troll upstream when tides are flooding and downstream as the tide ebbs. Others troll both directions, up and down the bay, when the tide is flooding and back-troll when a big tide causes the current to run. According to guide Sam Waller (541-247-6676), it’s pretty much anything goes when it comes to trolling direction.
The typical trolling outfit consists of a free-sliding weight set-up, flasher, 18-inch weight-dropper-line, and 5- to 6-foot leader with an anchovy, herring, spinner or spinner-and-anchovy combination on the end. The most popular spinner sizes consist of a CV 7 or equivalent size 4 or 5 Hildebrandt and/or 5½ Mulkey or Toman.
As for spinner blades used in combination with an anchovy, a size 4 Hildebrandt in genuine 24K gold plate finish is the most popular and many believe the most productive. In most cases 2 to 3 ounces of weight is what works. If the tide is running hard, you may need 4 or 5 ounces.
For best results keep your speed medium to fast and, if possible, troll in a zigzag pattern with your gear just off the bottom, which is where the coolest water and most biting salmon are found. If the bay is crowded, zigzag trolling may not be possible, even though there are times it’s the most effective.
UNLIKE MANY SALMON fisheries in the Northwest, where herring is the most popular and productive bait, most Rogue anglers fish anchovies. The fact is, there are some days the fish prefer herring over anchovies but still the overall ratio is about 90 percent anchovies.
If you fish an anchovy, you may increase your success by rigging it in combination with a spinner blade. Although there are several presnelled rigs available, you can rig your own.
The components you will need for this include a selection of size 4 spinner blades, beads, plastic clevis, old-style paper clips, and selection of single (sizes 1 and 2) and treble hooks (sizes 1 and 2). The single hook is normally snelled as a slip-tie, so you can place a bend in your anchovy causing it to spin; the trailing treble is half hitched to a loop at the end of your leader. The idea here is to use a threader to pull the loop end of your leader through the bait, reattach the treble and place one prong of the treble into the spine of the bait near its tail.
According to professional fishing guide and longtime local angler Andy Martin (206-388-8988), it’s important to angle the head and tail of your anchovy downward when trolling, as doing so will yield the tight spin these kings like best.
The small single hook, rigged as a slider, is then inserted into the head of the anchovy from the bottom up. Some anglers will hold the mouth and gills of their anchovy closed with a thin rubber band, while others use an old-style paper clip reshaped into a “U” to keep the mouth of the bait closed. It’s then that you close the distance between the hooks such that the bait will have a slight bend so it will exhibit a tight spin when trolled. For best results your bait should spin once every second or second and a half.
Many anglers have switched from employing a wire spreader to a free-sliding weight dropper set-up so that if your sinker becomes tangled in the net, the fish can take off without breaking the line.
IF YOU HAVE a boat capable of trolling, even a cartopper, this is a fishery you can easily handle, as the water is calm compared to larger rivers and saltwater. The public ramp’s on the ba’s south side, at the Port of Gold Beach; $3 covers launching and parking.
While you may catch a fat Chinook weighing in at 50 pounds or more, most average 15 to 25 pounds. If you do land a fish over 30, take it to Jot’s Resort where they will award you a Rogue River Chinook Salmon Club pin. Our son Blake got one after weighing in his 35-pounder taken near where the Rogue enters the ocean.
For fishing tackle, bait, guides, and local info, contact the Rogue Outdoor Store (541-247-7142) or Jot’s (541-247-6676). NS
Editor’s note: The author is a brand manager and part of the management team at Yakima Bait. Like Buzz on Facebook.