It is early fall here in Southern Oregon.
The trees are full of color, and so are the rivers and streams.
If you have ever wanted to witness firsthand the majesty, power and persistence of Salmon and Steelhead, then you owe it to yourself to jump in your car, hop the next train or bus, or take to the air on the the next plane to Medford Oregon. And don’t forget your hiking boots.
The Rogue river is home to one of the last great runs of native Salmon and Steelhead in the lower forty-eight, and the wild and scenic section of the Rogue is home to Rainie Falls.To get to Rainie Falls you will have to drive to the town of Merlin on past the hamlet of Galice, and park at the trailhead on the south side of the river just before the Graves creek bridge, which is the start of the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River. Rainie Falls, which at this time of year takes a ten foot plunge over boulders and rocks, and works itself into a solid class five river rating, looks pretty much impossible to navigate from either direction.Most floaters portage around the falls or take and line their boats and rafts down the «fish ladder» on the north side of the river. However, if you are willing to take the two mile hike to this small but natural wonder, you will be rewarded with one of the finest spectacles on this here earth.
The leaping of Salmon and Steelhead as they try and climb the thundering falls is a sight to see.
For most folks, the closest they will get to witnessing this incredible display of fortitude, will be when they pick up the remote and flip over to the National Geographic channel just in time to see a slow -mo, one dimensional group of pixels hurl itself into the air. Tail flapping, body contorted and trying to stretch itself over a natural barrier–which didn’t seem like such a big deal on the way downstream.
All this so they can pro-create and DIE.
Of course the Steelhead just do this to pro-create, so they might be a little higher up on the fish IQ chain.
Now, if I were a Salmon and I reach the falls – I think to myself- ‘Why do I want to exhaust myself dodging sea lions, boat motors, fishing lines, ten foot falls, water borne fungus which can destroy my gills and prematurely end my «fishy sex» run,and even more fishing lines,– just to bury some eggs in the rocks and wait for Mr. Right to come by and spray his fish manhood on my little darlings.’
If it were me, I take a couple of half hearted jumps at the falls, call it good and head back to sea for another three years of gorging myself on fish and ocean adventure.
But thats’s just me.
The fish of the Rogue River have different intentions and God bless them for the effort they make to keep the species in tact.
On this early fall day the fish are extremely active and it almost seems like some sort of pescatorial Olympics is taking place here at the falls. At times, four to six fish can be found at one time in the air. These are big fish too, some going as big as fifty pounds.
It seems like each fish has his own method of attacking the ten foot height, some go into a high arching rainbow leap, some fire themselves into the falls like a bullet, and some flip in the air in a «Fosbury » style flop. (Incidently, the legendary Dick Fosbury grew up in Medford–I wonder if he got his jumping style from watching the Salmon??)
Over and over, the fish relentlessly try and maneuver over the falls.
Some hit the rocks on the side, some Steelhead seem to have there own spot where they continuously try and hit a «crease» in the rushing water, and others mis- time their jumps and fall feebily short of the falls. On occasion, you see a mighty fish muster the power to reach the magical spot where they can propel their fins one more time up and over the brink to the upper level.
Think about it, these small- in comparison to ourselves- creatures have the strength to leap over a basketball rim. If you or I could do that we could quit our day jobs, sign healthy Nike contracts, and go fishing all day!! In fact,I think Nike should consider the «Slammin’ Salmon» basketball shoe, complete with a smiling Rainie Falls Salmon–because I know I saw more «hang time» at the falls then Michael Jordan has ever exhibited on the court. They could even take the twenty million dollars they would pay an athlete, and put it towards Salmon and Steelhead habitat restoration!!
We must have sat for a half hour, watching the great acrobatics and trying to see if we could recognize the same fish who were taking multiple jumps at the falls. It is hard to believe there is such a great success rate, but judging by the number of fish that make it into the upper river to spawn–most do.
But, not before exhausting themselves at the falls.
There is no fishing at the falls, and if you intend to fish you must go at least three hundred feet downstream.
If you are still in the mood for some more strenuous hiking, you can continue downstream, but the trail is not nearly as worn, there are boulders, creeks and blackberrys to navigate through, and there is plenty of bear sign along the way. We hiked down to Whiskey Creek, and flyfished for a little while for some of the legendary half pounders of the Rogue River canyon.
The days are shorter this time of year so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to make the round trip-with our late start we only had about an hour and a half of fishing time, and made it out right at dark.
For the most part, fishing was just an afterthought this afternoon…
…The real treat this day, was for Salmon and Steelhead appreciation, and once you witness these great fish in their quest for a return to their birthgrounds, I defy you to not come away with a healthy respect for the Salmon and Steelhead–and perhaps for the great spirit and determination of species survival in general.