Drought reduces trout-release sites in Rogue River Basin

PROSPECT, Ore. — When technician Bryan DeBerry steers the Cole Rivers Hatchery trout-stocking truck into Mill Creek Campground, he feels like he should be jingling some bells or playing some annoying children’s song on a loudspeaker.

DeBerry stops the truck near a campsite next to a spot where Mill Creek churns over a short falls and into a sandy pool with deep teal water perfect for a few scoops of rainbows.

Nearby camper Tim Lagendresse puts down his coffee mug and grabs his trout rod, knowing exactly what DeBerry has in store for him.

“It’s a really pretty place, and there’s usually families camped here and their kids get all excited,” DeBerry says. “It’s like you’re the ice cream truck pulling up.”

But this trout truck won’t be hitting all of its normal stops in and around Union Creek and Prospect because the ongoing drought in the Rogue River Basin has left some of these historical release sites too hot for trout.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has dropped three trout-release sites from the popular weekly releases in the far upper Rogue and some of its tributaries, areas where trout have been released for more than a century.

Near-record low flows for mid-May mean some of these streams are already getting too low and warm for cool-water rainbows, so Dan VanDyke, ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist, has opted not to stock them for the remainder of the program that runs through Labor Day.

Now the string of fishing holes that create one of Southern Oregon’s best summer trout fisheries will shrink from 14 release spots to 11.

“When it’s hot in the valley, it’s still a great place to get under some trees along some cool water and catch trout,” VanDyke says. “I’ve certainly seen pictures of beautiful rainbows people catch here, and that won’t change at the sites we’re still going to stock.”

The losers in this change will be the anglers who continue trying their weekend hand at angling at the sites that won’t get stocked for the remainder of the summer.

Those are Foster Creek, where the creek flows through a culvert under Foster Creek Road, Woodruff Creek near Abbott Campground and Hamaker Campground.

The winners, however, are those who fish the spots still on the so-called Section 5 route, because the 2,250 trout allocated for release each Friday along the route will be divvied up among fewer release spots.

Lagendresse is one of the latter. The rural Jacksonville man regularly joins friend John Jameson of Phoenix at Mill Creek Campground on Fridays, usually grabbing the campsites adjacent to the stocking spot.

Hatchery technician Sean Wilson dips a net into the truck’s tanks, pulling out several dozen rainbows that each meet or exceed the 8-inch minimum for anglers to keep.

DeBerry dumps the load into the hole as Lagendresse threads a single salmon egg onto his hook.

“Ooh, yeah,” Lagendresse says. “Sometimes I’ll give them a minute to adapt to their new environment. They can get a little shell-shocked.”

It takes a few casts for Lagendresse to separate Mill Creek from one of its new denizens, personifying the “take” part of the so-called “put-and-take-fishery” popular in the Prospect-Union Creek area since the Teddy Roosevelt presidency.

The pair has the joint to themselves, for now.

“That’s why we try to catch ours in the morning, so we can watch everybody else catch theirs the rest of the day,” says Jameson, who introduced Lagendresse to the Mill Creek trout spot years ago and shares it with him regularly throughout the summer.

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