It’s early fall here in southern Oregon.
The trees are full of color, as are the rivers and streams.
If you’ve ever wanted to witness firsthand the majesty, power, and persistence of Salmon and Steelhead, then you owe it to yourself to jump into your car, catch the next train or bus, or catch the air in the next plane to Medford. Oregon. And don’t forget your hiking boots.
The Rogue River is home to one of the last great streams of native salmon and Steelhead in the lower forty-eight, and the wild and scenic section of the Rogue is home to Rainie Falls. The town of Merlin past the village 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 dives ten feet over boulders and rocks, and becomes a solid class five river rating, seems virtually impossible to navigate from any direction. Their boats and rafts go 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 best shows on earth.
Salmon and Steelhead jumping as they attempt to scale the thunderous falls is a sight to see.
For most people, the closest they will come to witnessing this incredible display of fortitude will be when they grab the remote control and hit the National Geographic channel just in time to see a slow motion one-dimensional group of pixels launch. within the Air. Tail flapping, body contorted, and trying to stretch over a natural barrier, which didn’t seem like a big deal on the way downstream.
All this so that they can pro-create and DIE.
Of course, Steelheads only do this to pro-create, so they might be a bit higher on the fish IQ chain.
Now if I were a Salmon and I hit the falls – I think to myself – ‘Why do I want to exhaust myself dodging sea lions, boat motors, fishing lines, ten foot drops, fungus in the water that can destroy my gills and prematurely? put an end to my “fishy sex” career, and even more fishing lines, just to bury some eggs in the rocks and wait for Mr. Perfect to come and spray his fishy manhood all over my little darlings.
If it was me, I’d take a couple of half-jumps off the falls, consider it good, and go back to sea for another three years of gorging on fish and ocean adventures.
But that’s just me.
The fish in the Rogue River have different intentions and God bless them for the effort they make to keep the species intact.
On this early fall day, the fish are extremely active and it almost feels like some kind of an Olympics fishmongering is taking place here at the falls. Sometimes four to six fish can be found in the air at a time. These are also large fish, some weighing up to twenty-five kilos.
It seems that each fish has its own method of attacking at the height of ten feet, some go into a high rainbow jump, some shoot up the falls like a bullet, and some flip into the air on a “Fosbury” style flop. (By the way, the legendary Dick Fosbury grew up in Medford, I wonder if he got his jumping style from watching the Salmon.)
Again and again, the fish relentlessly try to maneuver over the falls.
Some hit the rocks on the side, some Steelheads seem to have their own spot where they continually try to hit a “fold” in the rushing water, and others waste time in their jumps and weakly drop below the falls. Sometimes you see a mighty fish gathering the power to reach the magical place where they can push their fins once more up and over the edge to the top level.
Think about it, these little creatures, compared to us, have the strength to jump over a basketball hoop. If you or I could do that, we could quit our day jobs, sign healthy contracts with Nike, and go fishing all day! In fact, I think Nike should consider the “Slammin ‘Salmon” basketball shoe, with a smiling Rainie Falls Salmon, because I know I saw more “wait time” at the falls than Michael Jordan has displayed on the court. They could even take the twenty million dollars they would pay an athlete and put it towards restoring the habitat of the salmon and the steelhead!
We must have sat for half an hour, watching the great stunts and trying to see if we could recognize the same fish that was taking multiple jumps off the falls. It’s hard to believe there is such a high success rate, but judging by the number of fish that make it to the top of the river to spawn, most do.
But, not before running out at the falls.
You cannot fish at the falls, and if you intend to fish, you must go at least three hundred feet downstream.
If you’re still in the mood for a more strenuous hike, you can continue downstream, but the trail isn’t that worn down, there are rocks, streams, and blackberries to navigate, and there are plenty of bear signs along the way. We hiked Whiskey Creek and fly-fish for a while for some of the legendary half-killers of the Rogue River Canyon.
Days are shorter this time of year, so make sure you have 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 we did it right in the dark.
For the most part, the fishing was just an afterthought this afternoon …
… The real treat on this day was for the appreciation of Salmon and Steelhead, and once you witness these great fish on their quest to return to their birthplaces, I challenge you not to leave with a healthy respect for the Salmon and Steelhead- – and perhaps because of the great spirit and determination of the survival of the species in general.