Unplugged River Trips

Unplugged River Trips

Do you ever wish that you could just unplug from the world and enjoy some quality time with the kids, without all the distractions of cell phones and video games?

A river trip provides the perfect opportunity to do just that!  I have watched kids show up for a river trip with their iPads and ear buds just to find out that they won’t have any internet on the river.  Their eyes roll and there’s a look on their face that says, “this is going to be so boring” but, once they’re on the water, there’s nothing but excitement and smiles on their faces.

As Kelsey’s mom and “Awema” to my granddaughters Fallon and Quinn, it’s always a delight to join a river trip and watch families from a mom’s point of view.  I enjoy watching families have fun and share new experiences without the distractions.  Each day is filled with kids being kids while running a rapid, fishing, hiking, soaking in the hot springs or playing games.  It’s so nice to see everyone sit down together at our big riverside dinner table to enjoy a delicious family dinner and share stories from the day’s adventures.

The experience of having the kids disconnected from technology is great, but also having the parents disconnected from work, social media, and the stresses of the daily life, is key.  The lack of distractions allows everyone to focus on each other, their surroundings, and the whole experience.

These trips become lifelong memories for the whole family and these families go home more connected than ever.

What really warms my heart is to watch these same kids at the end of the trip thank their mom and dad and say that they can’t wait to do it all over again!

What is a Half Pounder Steelhead?

What is a Half Pounder Steelhead?

The Rogue River in Southern Oregon has a unique and special run of steelhead.  This run, referred to as the “half pounder run”, is only found in five rivers.  These rivers are: the Rogue, Eel, Klamath, Illinois, and the Smith; all located in southern Oregon and northern California.  A half pounder is a juvenile or jack steelhead, also known as a ‘boomerang’ steelhead.  These fish, like classic steelhead, are born/hatched in the river and head downstream and out to the ocean between March and May each year.  Where most steelhead would now spend two to four years in the ocean, this unique run will actually return to the river every year starting the following summer and fall.

Typical steelhead will reach the ocean and spend the next few year traveling to the far reaches of the Pacific.  Once they have matured, these fish will return to their home waters to spawn and may continue to return to spawn for multiple years.  Half pounders on the other hand, return to the river as juveniles after just three of four months in the ocean.  These fish are not in the river to spawn but to eat.  They will continue this  pattern of living in the river each year until they are mature and ready to start spawning.  Because half pounders spend less time in the ocean, these fish typically do not venture far from the mouth of the river.  This behavior plays a big part in the continuing healthy populations of half pounders by making them less susceptible to the many dangers of the ocean.

Steelhead are a type of trout and are very closely related to rainbow trout.  Their primary difference being that trout will reside in the river while steelhead are anadromous and can transition between salt water and fresh water.  There are 295 recognized populations of subspecies of steelhead and rainbow trout.  Many of these populations of steelhead have experienced a decline in the last two decades, partly due to unfavorable ocean conditions.  With half pounders spending less time int he ocean and not venturing far from the mouth of the river, they have been more protected from the threats that many other strains of steelhead face.

What half pounders lack in size, they make up for in vigor!  We like to call them “overgrown trout on steroids” and they know how to fight.  It is a wonderful experience to hook into a half pounder and hear the zing of the reel as they take off running and jumping.  Many of the fish we see on the Rogue are fresh from the ocean and exhibit bright silver colors and clear fins.  Many will even have sea lice still attached that they have not yet shed since returning to fresh water.  As these fish spend more time in the river, they begin to show their trout coloring again as they attempt to blend in with their surroundings.  An average half-pounder is 12-16 inches long and often weights more than a half a pound.

The Rogue River is home to both wild and hatchery steelhead. On our trips we have the option of keeping hatchery fish and we typically do so throughout the trip to have fresh fish to cook up at lunch.  While we can keep fish, we typically try to only keep what we will eat on the river.  In the interest of protecting our population and preserving the resource, we promote mostly catch and release fishing.

Rogue River Steelhead Come in Many Sizes:


Wild and Scenic Rivers

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Helfrich River Outfitters operates on 4 amazing rivers in 2 different states, The Rogue, Owyhee, Mckenzie and Middle Fork of the Salmon. Each of these rivers is a designated “Wild and Scenic River” and two –  The Roge and the Middle Fork of the Salmon, were included in the original 8 Wild and Scenic Rivers. You may be wondering, what is a Wild and Scenic River? What does that even mean? Let’s talk about it and why it is so important.
Back in 1958 a proposal was set forth to build multiple dams on the Salmon River in Idaho. Senator Frank Church saw the damage that would do to one of Idaho’s last remaining wild and free flowing water sheds. Church began working on legislation that would protect Idaho’s Salmon River, however as he started on this project senators from other states caught on came to him with rivers they too wanted protected. 
Sadly, during the 50’s and 60’s rivers in the United States were not at their best. It wasn’t just the addition and threat of dams but also pollution. Untreated industrial and municipal waste was poisoning many watersheds to the point where communities were being relocated to mitigate harm. This very visceral representation of the harm we had been and still were doing to our water woke folks up and led them to push for protection. It wasn’t just water either, there was some momentum in congress at the time to protect our wild spaces as well. During Lyndon B Johnson’s Presidency (1963-1969) he signed multiple acts of congress protecting and preserving the natural resources of the United States – The Wilderness Act, The Clean Air Act, and of course the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. 
Back to The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Idaho’s Franck Church worked with senators from all over the country on a bill to protect our country’s finest rivers. It took a lot of work but 10 years after the Idaho dam proposal the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed through Congress. This act protected 8 original rivers and set the framework for protecting hundreds more declaring “policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Those original 8 Rivers were:
Clearwater (Idaho)
Eleven Point (Missouri)
Feather (California) 
Rio Grand (New Mexico)
Rogue (Oregon)
St. Croix (Wisconsin & Minnesota)
Salmon (Idaho)
Wolk (Wisconsin) 
Today there are a total of 226 Wild and Scenic Rivers! As you can imagine, we love Wild and Scenic Rivers. We love fishing, floating, rafting and swimming in them, not to mention camping along their shores, under the stars a long way from our email inboxes. The rivers we run, and get to take you down, are very special places – they are clean, beautiful and part of a diverse ecosystem (including fish we love to catch). Come see what all the hype is about and why they were special enough to be recognize as well worth protecting!
– Sadie King
A Drift Trip on the Rogue by Prince Helfrich

A Drift Trip on the Rogue by Prince Helfrich

With the coming of early fall, the great run of steelhead enter the mouth of the Rogue River on their annual migration up the river to spawn.  This is the time of year when many fishermen make the boat trip through the wilderness area of the Rogue from Grants Pass to Gold Beach.  

The boats are launched, and the 60 mile trip of lovely wilderness lies ahead.  This trip will take four days.  Nights are spent camping on the gravel bars or staying at the lodges maintained especially for the river adventurers. 

No sooner do the boats get underway, when the first white water shows in the distance.  From then on there will be many rapids and, in addition, one falls that must be portaged.  The degree of danger in the rapids is soon manifested by the numerous wrecked boats lying along the shore.  This is a river for the experienced only. Each summer many boats are capsized and some lost by the river runners.  People come from all over the united states to try their luck or skill on the Rogue.

Prince Helfrich and Evelyn Haas on the Rogue

In early afternoon, as soon as the shade reaches a good riffle, the rods are set up and fishing begins.  This is the thrill that many have been waiting for.  There is no greater fish for fighting qualities and fast action than a steelhead.  The strike is fast and harem and it may be 20 minutes until the hooked fish is landed. 

Most of the “dudes” making this trip with a guide are novices in fishing, and one can imagine the excitement of hooking the first fish.  With the landing of the fish, it is now time to find a good spot for lunch.  Grilled steelhead with a little salt, butter, and lemon juice is fit for a king. Just as the fish finishes browning over the hot coals, a handful of green willow is added to smoke it for a few minutes. 

By late afternoon the shadows are falling in the deep canyon, and it is time to think about making camp.  It is also time for the bears to come out in their evening patrol of the stream banks, in hopes of finding a salmon.  Quite a number of salmon die in their spawning migration and float downstream.  In a deep stream like this, the bears can seldom catch their own.

On every early fall trip we see from one to five black bears.  They have plainly marked trails up and down the banks, where they travel nightly to seek a salmon that has drifted into the shore.

On the last trip we saw a big black bear coming slowly up along the river. As he climbed over a rock ledge, his belly came into contact with the rough rocks.  This felt so good that he remained there for a minute or so scratching himself on the rocks. 

The rapids and fishing have been so exciting that little time has been spent admiring the scenery. In all of Oregon there is no more rugged or beautiful sight.  Great walled canyons enclose the river in narrow gorges.  A river 200 feet wide will be crammed down a solid rock shoot not more than 20 feet wide. 

The erosion of centuries is depicted in the solid black basalt.  Weird figures have been carved by the sand and gravel of past floods.  The rock walls near the water have been worn smooth and shiny, but, above the high water mark, a great variety of shrubs and trees climbing to the precipitous sides. 

This is where the northern and southern plant life meet. Douglas firs are mixed with Ponderosa pines, and rhododendrons give way to azaleas.  California Bay trees appear in high groves, and four species of oaks grow on the dry hillsides. Madrone trees with their lovely smooth brown bark line the river banks, while the first Port Orford cedars appear as we near the coast. 

Prince running Kelsey Fallon on the Rogue

It is a country of much wild game.  Besides the deer and bear, other animals such as coyotes, lynx cats and cougars, leave their tracks on the sand bars.  Almost every steep bank has its otter slide, and we frequently see a family of river otters fishing or playing near the water. 

They are the most playful and affectionate of all animal families.  With a shrill chirp of “follow me,” they dive and swim, chasing each other through the deep pools.  Occasionally they come up from a dive with a fish in their mouths.  The fish is usually a trash fish such as a chub or sucker, but sometimes they catch a salmon or steelhead.  Then the whole family climbs up on a rock to dine.  Wild pigeons feed on the acorns of the oak trees; flocks of crows wander on a sand bar; a covey of mountain quail will come down to the water’s edge, and a lonely great blue heron will stand motionless in the shallows waiting for a fish to swim by.  Mergansers and wood ducks line the stream.  They are seldom disturbed, except by a passing boat. 

Early morning mist rise from the river as the first fishing of the day begins.  The air is crisp with the chill of fall in the air. The boats drift almost soundlessly into steelhead water. 

As the deep rugged canyon cuts through the coast range, the mountains give way to more rounded hills covered with heavy timber.  The geological formations change.  From a canyon of solid rock, one now enters a sedimentary rock area.  Conglomerate gravels, sandstone and shale appear.  There is evidence of an ancient lake or riverbed.  A faint touch of ocean breeze reaches up the river, and a few seagulls appear. 

The river becomes less turbulent, and the first signs of civilization are at Illahee.  After three days of wilderness, one is coming back to the world of motors and men.  The Rogue River has been run, but pleasant memories of remote riffles and gravel bars remain.


By Prince Helfrich

Published in Tales of the Oregon Cascades by Prince Helfrich

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