Rafting the Lower Rogue River — September 10-14, 2022
Over the summer, I’ve been guiding for the Rogue Rafting Company, doing day trips on the Nugget-Powerhouse section of the Rogue near Gold Hill, Oregon. Recently, I had a chance to do a multi-day trip down the Wild and Scenic section of the lower Rogue, rowing the support raft for a drift boat fishing trip.
I’d run the Wild and Scenic section in guide school, rowing about 2/3 of it. Still, having responsibility for my own boat on a commercial trip was a bit daunting.
Before the trip
I got confirmation that I’d be doing this trip the day before we left, so I had some packing to do. Most of my gear was pretty familiar between guiding day trips and guide school, but there were a few new additions. I replaced my NRS dry bag with a big Watershed Colorado bag. Honestly, this was a bit oversized for the gear I was bringing on this trip, but that extra space could accommodate a summer-weight sleeping bag (for a non-lodge trip) or more warm clothing (for a lodge trip later in the fall). I also brought along a RiverMaps Guide to the Rogue River. This combines topo maps of the corridor along the river with descriptions of camps, lodges, and (most importantly) rapids on facing pages. Finally, I got a coiled lanyard to attach my iPhone to the PFD, so I would be less likely to drop it in the river.
Since we only had a couple of drift boats on this trip and would be staying at lodges, I was running a small, 14’ raft rather than one of the bigger boats that are typically used as gear boats (I caught a bit of grief for this from some other companies’ guides out on the river). We got the boat and all the gear set up the evening before.
The Rum Creek Fire has been burning up near the top of the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue since mid-August. Despite the proximity, the river was still open to those with existing permits. However, there were some restrictions on getting there. We had to meet a Bureau of Land Management pilot car at 5:30 am, which meant a very early start to the day. I was up about 3 o’clock to get breakfast and head over to the boathouse. We finished loading the gear and got on the road to the meeting point.
After a long, slow drive from the meeting point to the Grave Creek Boat Ramp, we got the boats in the water. Not only did we have a long way to go that day, but we also faced a deadline to get downriver below the fire by mid-morning. This meant I had to rig a new-to-me boat for my first multi-day trip in the dark. I did a decent job of getting everything secured. We headed downriver around 7 am.
After a few smaller rapids, Rainie Falls is the first big obstacle below the boat ramp. The falls themselves are a Class V drop, but there’s a dynamited bypass channel to the right known as the fish ladder. While easier than the big drop, the fish ladder has its own challenges. We lined the drift boats down the narrow, rocky channel without anyone aboard. I rode the raft down, but rather than using the oars, I sat up in the bow and used a paddle to control the boat.
Having safely navigated the fish ladder, we proceeded downstream. We easily made Rum Creek by our mid-morning deadline. From there, we stopped to fish in some spots as we proceeded downriver. There are a couple of Class III rapids in this stretch, including Tyee, Wildcat, and Slim Pickins.
Something that quickly became obvious was that the drift boats were following a much more technical line through these rapids, zigzagging to avoid banging into rocks. In the raft, I couldn’t have made some of the moves that they were making, but I’ve got a lot more leeway when it comes to bumping or sliding over rocks. The upshot was that I really had to read my own water, relying less on what the boat in front of me was doing than if this were an all-raft trip.
Next up was Black Bar Rapid. I remembered this one from guide school a bit better than the others, probably because we’d stopped to scout it then. It ran pretty much the way I remembered it. We continued onward, stopping for lunch just after the Horseshoe.
After lunch, I rerigged the boat a bit to make it easier to get at the food without moving as much other stuff. We continued downriver, stopping to fish along the way. This stretch has many long, flat pools between rapids, and the rapids are generally mellower. Even the one Class III rapid, Kelsey Falls, is pretty tame.
In another context, sitting around in a raft while other people fish might be considered boring, but between the spectacular scenery, wildlife, and great weather, I was happy to sit there and take it in. Given that we had 20 miles of river to do that day, I didn’t begrudge the break from rowing either.
We pulled up to Marial lodge around 6:30. After offloading the guests and moving all the food up to the bear box, the guides headed up to the guide shack with our gear. There I got a very welcome shower (pretty luxe compared to camping out). We had an excellent dinner: ribs with a bunch of great side dishes. The guides stayed up chatting on the porch before turning in for a well-deserved night’s sleep.
Thankfully, we didn’t have quite such an early start this morning. We fished the pool below the lodge for a while before heading downstream.
The first big challenge of the day was Mule Creek Canyon. This is a very long, narrow, twisting rapid. When I ran it in guide school, my eyes were pretty much glued to the water. This time I felt like I could relax at least a little bit and take a look around to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery on the lower Rogue.
Below Mule Creek Canyon, the river opens up into some broad pools. The drift boats fished there while I went ahead to take a look at Blossom Bar Rapid. Blossom Bar is the most challenging rapid on the trip, and it’s one that I didn’t row in guide school (half of us did Mule Creek, the other half did Blossom). Scouting Blossom was definitely a good choice. Not only had it been a while, but it’s also a very different rapid at the lower water level. I was able to get a good look and watch a private trip go through before the drift boats caught up. Rowing Blossom was a bit hair-raising, but I made it through all right.
We fished our way down to Half Moon Bar, encountering a couple of jet boats coming up from Gold Beach. We took a late lunch stop that was one of the highlights of the trip: fish tacos made with freshly caught salmon.
We fished our way further downstream, getting to Clay Hill Lodge around 6 o’clock. Guides and guests all hung out in the big common room, talking and enjoying one of the best views on the trip. Dinner was excellent, with some huge steaks. Afterward, we chatted on the porch of the guide shack for a while. The other guides gave me some good feedback on my run through Blossom Bar.
We had a nice breakfast at Clay Hill before heading down to the boats. After fishing the pool below the lodge for a bit, we continued downstream.
Compared to previous days, the rapids in this stretch are pretty mellow. The only Class III is Clay Hill Rapid, just below the lodge. This one was kind of memorable for me during guide school, when I didn’t catch a pourover ledge extending from the right side of the river until it was too late to avoid and ended up T-ing up and taking it head on, getting my fellow students riding up front pretty wet. This time I stayed well to the left and avoided the ledge entirely.
Continuing downstream, we fished, navigated the minor rapids, and shared the river with the jet boats (and a couple of other raft trips). Just above the takeout at Foster Bar, we stopped and grilled some more salmon for lunch.
At Foster Bar, we loaded the raft on top of the truck and installed outboard motors on the drift boats (now that we’re beyond the Wild and Scenic sections, motors are allowed). Usually, this is where the gear boat guide parts ways, driving the truck with the raft back to the boathouse. However, one of the drift boat guides was doing this trip as a practice run; she invited me to hop in her boat for the rest of the trip.
We proceeded downriver, switching between rowing and motoring, and doing some fishing along the way. This included side drifting, where both the boat and the bait drift downstream in the current (this seems to demand quite a bit from the fishing guide).
Before too long, we reached our lodging for the night: the Singing Springs Resort. I have to say, while they were up against some stiff competition, I think Singing Springs had the best food of the trip. They also have beer on tap.
Despite rowing only until 1 o’clock, I was pretty bushed. After a nice leisurely dinner, I took a shower and went straight to bed.
After an excellent breakfast at Singing Springs, we set out again in the drift boats. Sitting and fishing from the drift boat was very relaxing, though I’ll admit to feeling a bit at loose ends being treated like a guest after spending the previous three days rowing and working as a guide.
Some people claim that the Rogue below Foster Bar isn’t as scenic as the canyon further upstream. After this trip, I have to disagree. I think this stretch is beautiful. That said, I was glad to have the motor. It’s much flatter and would have required much more rowing than even the flattest parts of the Wild and Scenic section.
We got to Quosatana Campground in the early afternoon and loaded the drift boats onto the trailers. From there, it was a very curvy drive over Bear Camp Road back to the boathouse in Gold Hill.
This was a great trip. The Rogue was spectacularly scenic, as always, the weather was excellent, and the guests and my fellow guides made for excellent companions.
I didn’t note each bit of wildlife we saw on this trip because there were far too many. We saw deer, great blue herons, egrets, ospreys, vultures, ducks, geese, and tons of turtles. Plus lots of fish, of course.
The Watershed bag worked well. The zipper on the long side made it easier to dig stuff out than the roll-top dry bag I’ve used in the past, where whatever you’re looking for inevitably ends up at the bottom of the bag. The iPhone lanyard gave me much more confidence whipping out my phone to snap some pictures, so it played a role in the nice pics you see here. Finally, the RiverMaps Guide to the Rogue River was crucial, not just for intel on the rapids, but for keeping me oriented and helping me develop a sense of where different features, lunch stops, and lodges are (which may come in handy on any future trips).
As great as the trip itself was, perhaps the best of all was the news when we got back that the Rum Creek Fire is over 80% contained, with a forecast of cooler weather and some rain over the next week. This is a good sign for upcoming trips. Hopefully, I’ll be rowing some of those.