His powerful arms grabbed firmly on the oars of the aluminum drift boat as he settled himself into position to slide through the rapids, some strewn with boulders the size of a Mini Cooper. “Center yourself and hold on,” warned our river guide Zach Hancock. “It’s about to get splashy!” he said with a wink. A huge grin spread across the skilled oarsman’s 27-year-old face. I chuckled at his choice of words. Not because I didn’t want to get wet, but because the mighty Rogue River was capable of pushing huge volumes of water through these rocky areas. We were about to embark on day three of our four day Lodge to Lodge fishing trip with Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures.
My husband and I had rafted the Rogue River on a Lodge to Lodge rafting trip the year prior, but seeing the Rogue from Willie drift boats was a whole new travel adventure. We had signed up for a couples only fishing trip to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. Turns out that we were not the only couples with a few years of marriage under our belt, or should I say, personal flotation devices above our belt? Four couples, hailing from New York to California and Oregon, embarked on the four day fishing trip with Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures, (MRWA), a company based out of the Southern Oregon town of Merlin. As we were all staying at the historic lodge, we had a chance to exchange names at the orientation meeting the night before our departure. Everyone in the group had varying degrees of fishing experience. Steve Paverman loves fly fishing and brought his fly rod with him from New York.
“I’ve fished a lot of different places for a lot of different fish and chose this destination because I thought this would be something different and my wife would be able to join me,” noted Paverman.
“This trip was very meditative for me,” said Veronica Paverman. “I’m not a fisherwoman. I came to accompany my husband. We met our guide previously while fishing in King Salmon, Alaska and he told us about this trip and I’m very happy that I came. I stepped out of my comfort zone and it was very worth the trip!”
Day one on the river
Our first day on the river we left the comforts of Morrison’s Lodge, an Orvis endorsed fly fishing lodge, to launch our Willie Boats at Almeda Park. We learned that permits are required to float the Wild & Scenic Rogue River, with only 120 people allowed to float the river each day. With fishing licenses in hand, we were ready to catch king or Chinook salmon, steelhead, a seagoing trout, jacks (a small king salmon) and steelhead half pounders, fondly referred to as sexually immature steelhead. I also learned that only three rivers in the world have these half pounders; the Rogue, Trinity and Klamath rivers. These fish are fun to catch on light tackle (6-10 lb. test line.)
“I stepped our of my comfort zone and it was very worth the trip!”
Each day our guides would grill up “lunchables” (any legal fish we caught that morning) in addition to our freshly prepared lunch served by the river, i.e. chicken burritos and brownies, Greek salad with baklava, Chinese chicken salad with Black Bar Lodge chocolate chip cookies or a boxed lunch of fried chicken, figs, chips and brownie bars from Lucas Lodge. It’s important to note that MRWA provides coffee, water & sodas. If you want to partake in beer, wine or spirits off the river, you’ll want to BYOB. The guides will happily keep your alcohol cold in the ice chest on the supply raft and deliver it to you that evening, along with your dry bag holding your clothes.
I should also mention that the first three days of the trip are catch and release fishing for two reasons. As we stop at a different historic fishing lodge each night, it would be difficult to keep your fish fresh until the end of the trip. The second reason is that “we let the wild fish go back to the river” to preserve the wild runs. While it makes sense to keep hatchery fish, (determined by the presence of a clipped fin) it was hard for me to separate sport fishing from catching fish for my freezer. I had brought my soft-sided Yeti cooler with me to Oregon, fully anticipating that I would be bringing home King salmon. Unfortunately, I only caught two fish that trip and relied on the goodwill of my Oregonian couples that each gifted me the one fish they caught on the last day on the Rogue River.
Day two on the Rogue
After a hearty breakfast from Black Bar Lodge, we were off to conquer Blossom Bar, a class IV rapid, right before Devil’s Staircase on Oregon’s Wild & Scenic Rogue River. While the above picture of river guide Geoffrey Laird navigating Blossom Bar looks quite dangerous, it should be noted that all the guides at MRWA are highly experienced with many possessing their USCG master & charter captain’s license.
Dr. Judy Hardge and her husband Dr. George Molzen of Ashland, Oregon both love to fish. “George had wanted to do this trip for a long time,” noted Judy. “It’s so nice to go with other couples.” She said it was a great fishing vacation with wonderful scenery, interesting people and too much wonderful food. On our particular trip, the Chetco Bar Fire was raging out of control so there was some residual smoke in the air.
After an uneventful day of fishing, we pulled up to the dock at beautiful Paradise Lodge. This is the most upscale lodge on the fishing trip, with cedar cabins and newly refurbished solitude cabin. The deck looking down to the river is the place to relax and there is a bar with a wide range of libations on tap, as well as lemonade for the non-drinkers.
Day three bear sighting
Each day began around 7:00 a.m. with plenty of time for hot coffee and a homemade breakfast at each lodge. Guests are asked to have their dry bag ready to go in the morning, as we are on the river around 8:30 a.m. We entered Huggins Canyon and drifted along with little fish activity. Fortunately for us, a 2-3 year-old black bear was sighted by the side of the river around 10:15 a.m. Our guide rowed quietly toward the bear, as we snapped pictures from a safe distance. As if on cue, a majestic eagle spread its wings and flew high above us, scanning the river for fish. I’d like to think that he had better fishing luck than we did.
That evening we would stay at Lucas Lodge, where the Illinois River meets the Rogue, 45 minutes from Gold Beach. “The rooms are rustic and beautiful,” remarked Veronica Paverman. Our guide described Lucas Lodge as like going to Grandma’s house. The dinners are excellent and Jennifer Northup really takes care of the guests and the river guides.
In addition to our party from Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures, Jennifer had volunteered to feed breakfast and dinner to the firefighters fighting the Chetco Bar Fire only six air miles away. I had stopped at Rogue Creamery in Central Point to pick up cheese that the shop had donated to the firefighters. Unfortunately, California and Oregon are experiencing a higher than usual wildfire season.
Day four gone fishing
Our final day fishing on the river and I was feeling the pressure of getting skunked. Our fishing guide Zach Hancock, had done his best to put us in front of fish and he certainly gave us a first class drift boat ride on the Wild and Scenic Rogue. As we side drifted in his Willey Boat down to the take out, we munched on fried chicken that Jennifer had carefully packed from Lucas Lodge. My spirits perked up when I spied homemade bar cookies in our picnic lunch. I may not have brought home a Yeti cooler filled with fish, but that just means I have to return next year to try my luck again. Afterall, a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work!
If you are participating in a multi-day adventure, I recommend that you stay the night prior, and possibly the last night, at the historic Morrison’s Lodge. Not only will you be able to participate in the orientation meeting the night before your trip, you’ll want to have dinner at the lodge – don’t miss their famous orange rolls! For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and @roguewilderness on Twitter.
Need to know:
Judy Hardge noted that the lodging is basic, but clean. There is no electricity after 10 p.m. at Black Bar and Paradise Lodge as they operate on generators. Do not bring hair dryers or curling irons as the generators can not accommodate the load. Two “walk around” spots require hiking on loose rocks to bypass the rapids. She also mentioned that she would not recommend this trip for anyone with balance or joint problems, but said that all in all, it was a great adventure.
Rates start at $4,356.30 and include drift boat and guide, rods & reels, gear, tackle, lodging, meals and transportation to and from the river. You’ll need to supply an Oregon fishing license with salmon tag, adult libations, guide gratuity and government access fees.
If You Go:
Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures (800) 336-1647
8500 Galice Road
Merlin, Oregon 97532
Fishing with Morrison’s Rogue Wilderness Adventures review, photos and YouTube video by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Morrisons Rogue Wilderness Adventures on this 4 day lodge to lodge fishing trip, however all opinions are my own.