'Holy Water' comeback


There once was a time when a stretch of the upper Rogue River between Lost Creek Dam and Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery was dubbed "The Holy Water" by fly fishermen.

It was the only place in Western Oregon reserved year-round strictly for catch-and-release fishing for trout with traditional fly-fishing gear.

It even had its own Sunday church, founded by fly-casters Phil Henning and Gary Warren: The Church of the Leaping Trout.

"I told Gary up there one day that we should feel guilty that we're not in church, but every time I'm up here I think the purest thoughts I ever do," says Henning, 72, of Medford.

In recent years, however, the trout have not been as plentiful at the spot. Two years went by without stocking and high water releases from Lost Creek Lake were to blame.

But the Holy Water is making a comeback, stocked with 2,000 fingerling trout this spring. More releases are planned.

"It's a nationally known fishery, but let's face it, it's stocking-dependent," says Warren, who has devoted much of the past 20 years to protecting and enhancing the Holy Water. "Without a doubt, aggressive stocking will bring it back.

The Holy Water is actually an impoundment to feed water to Cole Rivers Hatchery and help funnel migrating salmon and steelhead adults into the hatchery collection pond, according to the Medford Mail Tribune.

Excess trout from the hatchery were unofficially released there, creating the Holy Water. In all, 26,842 trout officially were released there from 1991 to 2004.

But then the natural disease IHN broke out at the hatchery, preventing the release of trout. Winter high water also flushed out the trout.

A fall release of fingerling was unsuccessful, but a March 8 release appears to have taken hold.

"Hopefully, we'll be back on a normal, routine fish-stocking," says David Haight, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and member of the Rogue Flyfishers Association, which supports increased trout stocking there.

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