Time Off the Grid

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Vacation Special, August 1997
 F L Y - F I S H I N G   T H E   R O G U E  

Time Off the Grid

In blissful isolation along the Rogue River, where it's easier to find a fly rod than a phone.
By Hal Espen

Guy Delage, Frenchman who in 1995 swam the Atlantic from the Cape Verde Islands to Barbados.

"The Grenadines are best for swimming. They are very close together — maybe ten miles maximum — so you can visit most of them in a couple weeks by swimming. There is current, but it is easy to manage and the water is warm and clear. Clear water is important. If you're swimming in dirty water, all the time you think about sharks."

From its headwaters near Crater Lake, the Rogue River twists and veers for several hundred miles through the lower left-hand corner of Oregon before arriving at its broad estuary on the Pacific at the town of Gold Beach. But the part of the Rogue I love is its 40-mile run through a corridor of Klamath Mountains wilderness — one of those faraway worlds you can still find in pockets all over the Northwest, where the nineteenth century lasted at least halfway through the twentieth. Even today, it's a long way to a phone.

The surrounding landscape is an absurdly crenellated empire of sharp ridges, steep fir-covered slopes, and deeply notched ravines; a perfect refuge for coots, renegades, and survivalists; and a terrible place for cars. (A wag in Yreka once put up signs that read, "Our roads are not passable, hardly jackassable.") The sheer cussedness of this terrain has been the Rogue's best defense against civilization's embrace.

The Rogue played a supporting role in the Meryl Streep vehicle The River Wild, and it's a popular summer run for rafters and kayakers. Dams upstream have partly tamed it, but once it enters this coast range the river reverts to a primordial rush of swift and sometimes ferocious Cascadian snowmelt. Still, the pleasures I've found along the Rogue have mostly been slow ones. They began with a six-month caretaking job I had at a remote ranch homestead near Horseshoe Bend, a blissful interlude that offered a pretty good argument for the Unabomber lifestyle. I hiked through gorgeous swaths of old growth, saw a pair of cougars lope side by side up a hillside, heard the kind of lore that seems to thrive in the absence of electricity, and had my first taste of fly-fishing for the late-summer run of Rogue steelhead, the signature species of the place.

Steelhead embody the secretive, once-upon-a-time glamour of the Rogue. Like their cousins the salmon, steelhead spawn in rivers and migrate to the sea. But these Homeric fish sojourn in the ocean and return to the river twice before they attain the four- to eight-pound size and quick-strike savagery of the classic Rogue steelhead. Alas, like the Rogue itself, they are threatened, but like the wild Rogue, they triumphantly persist.

Access & Resources
Tubing the Ichetucknee. Ichetucknee Springs State Park (904-497-2511) is about 20 miles south of Lake City, Florida. The south entrance is off Florida 27, the north entrance off County Road 238. The park provides tram service to and from launch points. The lower half, a 90-minute float, is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the upper section, a three-hour float, is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Vendors outside the park rent inner tubes.

Kayaking the Flambeau. The river is a three-hour drive from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Take U.S. 8 east, then Wisconsin 13 north to Phillips; then head west on County Road W to Lake of the Pines and Connors Lake campsites. For directions to canoe landings, call Flambeau River State Forest headquarters (715-332-5271). Canoe rentals are available at Flambeau Sports & General Store in Lugarville (715-339-2012).

Cottaging in Ontario. For lodge, inn, and resort rental information, call Ontario Travel at 800-668-2746. Also, Tyler's Cottage Rental Directory ($14.50; 705-726-6015) has more than 1,200 listings, by region. Companies that broker private cottage rentals include Cottage Connection (905-642-1012), Cottage Country (905-470-0385), and Cottages Unlimited (613-284-0400).

Roaming Laguna Miramar. Camping here is limited to the "dry" season, roughly December through May. Fernando Ochoa provides camping equipment, food, and local expertise ($180 for a four-day trip; 011-52-967-8-04-68). Laguna Miramar trips are also available in conjunction with rafting on the Class V Jatate River through Flagstaff, Arizona-based Ceiba Adventures (520-527-0171).

Rafting the Gauley. Summersville Dam is located off County Road 129, about 60 miles southeast of Charleston, West Virginia. Private parties don't need permits, but unless you're an expert, consider a commercial trip. About a dozen companies offer Gauley excursions for $90-$170 per day. Class VI River Runners (800-252-7784) offers one- and two-day trips for $111-$274.

Swimming the Lower Ammonoosuc. Fabyan is about a mile northwest of Bretton Woods ski area on New Hampshire 302. Turn north on the paved road to the Mount Washington Cog Railway and watch for a small parking area on the right. The falls are within 30 yards of the road. For more information call the U.S Forest Service in Bethlehem (603-869-2626).

Diving the Channel Islands. Truth Aquatics, in Santa Barbara, offers dive trips one to five days long for $60-$377; call 805-962-1127. In Ventura, the Peace Dive Boat (805-984-2025) offers one-day trips for $55-$90 and multiday trips for $115 per day. The best spot for shore-diving and primitive camping is Anacapa Island. For a free permit, call the Channel Islands National Park permit hotline at 805-658-5711. Island Packers (805-642-7688) will charter you to the island for $37-$48.

Fly-Fishing the Rogue. To get to the Rogue's Klamath Mountains section from Grants Pass, Oregon, take I-5 eight miles north to Exit 61. Head west on Merlin/Galice Road 15 miles to the tiny outpost of Galice. Galice Resort (541-476-3818) sells fishing licenses and supplies. Rogue Wilderness (800-336-1647), an outfitter, has shuttles, gear, and licenses. Float permits ($10) are issued by lottery through Rand Visitor Center (541-479-3735) in Merlin.

Illustration by Ken Morrish

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