Vacation Special, August 1997
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
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.
Illustration by Ken Morrish