Fly-fishing on the Lower Rogue River |

Fly-fishing on the Lower Rogue River

Denis Peirce
Special to The Union

There are two sets of matched rivers on either side of the California/Oregon border. Just above and below the border are the mouths of the Smith and Chetco Rivers.

These are primarily winter fisheries because they drain the coast range and are quite low in the dry season. About an hour above and below the border on the coast highway are the mouths of the Klamath in California and the Rogue in Oregon.

Both of these originate in the Cascades, the Klamath from the east side and the Rogue from the west slope. Both rivers have impoundments in the headwaters and have fishable flows in the late summer early fall.

Both rivers have late summer runs of both steelhead and salmon.

I have fished the Klamath on numerous occasions and made a number of trips to the upper Rogue near Grants Pass and Medford. This year on my return from the Puget Sound, I drove down the Oregon coast with specific intent to fish the Lower Rogue River.

The estuary of the Rogue from the mouth up to the first fast water is not dissimilar in size to Scotts Flat Lake. The salmon and steelhead move in from the saltwater and will spend a few days acclimating to the freshwater before heading up river.

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Depending on a rising or falling tide, there can be moderate to no current in the estuary. If there is a storm system and a rising river, the fish will not pause but head up river on a rising flow.

I had the opportunity to fish the estuary with guide Jay Lander ( for salmon a few weeks ago. There is a boat launch and harbor at Gold Beach on the south side of the Rogue.

We were on the water early. The half light of dawn lingers for an extended time under the coastal overcast. Most of the water is 8 to 15-feet deep with a sandy bottom. The standard way to fish is to anchor if there is a strong current and troll if the current is slack.

The salmon in the tidewater of the Rogue are fresh from the Pacific. They are ocean bright and still hitting anchovies rolled near the bottom.

Twelve months of the year there are runs of either salmon or steelhead migrating through the Lower Rogue. It is truly a year-round fishery. On my morning trolling the mouth of the Rogue, we landed a 15-pound ocean fresh salmon and saw many other fish landed by other boats.

After the morning on the estuary, fishing partner Don Vaccini and I headed a dozen miles up river to fly-fish the summer run steelhead. Swinging classic steelhead flies on a large river is my favorite style of fishing.

Jay Lander suggested crossing the river at the Lobster Creek bridge and driving up river on the gravel road. There are a number of side roads that drop down to the river bottom and the most well-traveled roads lead to good fishing runs.

As Don and I got into our waders and rigged our rods, a guide boat pulled up and began fishing the run we were heading for. The good news was that we were headed for fish holding water, the bad news was he was working over our fish. We walked down river to fish the deep run waiting for him to vacate the prime water. In time, the guide boat moved on and Don and I had a couple hours to fish a prime riffle on the Rogue.

Another craft you will see on the Lower Rogue is the "Mail Boat." It is a large, high speed jet drive boat that takes up to 30 passengers for a fun ride up the river. Originally I thought the passing of this boat would stop the bite as it sped by, but the opposite is the case.

A guide explained to me that as the boat comes up through the shallows, the water jet turns over rocks and sends insects tumbling downstream in the current. The steelhead acclimate to this and look for food as the boat blasts by. A very high percentage cast is one made immediately behind a jet boat. It worked for me.

The classic fly technique involves entering at the top of a fast water riffle, with depths from two to five feet. Cast across the current and let your fly swing down and back to your side of the river.

Take a step downstream and repeat the process all the way to the bottom of the run. This way you can cover the entire run, showing your fly to all the fish.

Beside the sounds and smells of the river and the visuals of the riparian woodland, the anticipation of the strike is there on every cast. As your fly swings across the river on a tight line, the strike of an ocean-grown fish is sharp and strong. Sometimes the steelhead will fly up out of the water and do a cartwheel.

After success on previous trips, I can convince myself that every cast can be "the one." That is why I can do this for hours on end. Maybe it is a good thing that I do not live on the Rogue or the Klamath. I might not get anything else done.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union's Outdoors section and is host of "The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report," which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

Fishing seasons of the Lower Rogue

March-June Spring Salmon

July-December Fall King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Summer/Fall Steelhead

December-March Winter Steelhead


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