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: