The seaside community of Gold Beach, Oregon, 30 miles north of the California border, is a fisherman’s paradise and the fishing season is open all year.

At 4:30 a.m. on a weekend morning in August or September, cars are backed up for a mile at the port of Gold Beach, where hundreds of anglers come to fish on the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. In the past three years, four dams were removed in the Rogue Basin – three on the Rogue’s main stem, and another on Elk Creek, a key coho salmon tributary. Consequently, the Rogue River now offers some of the best salmon fishing in the nation.

But things are very different 100 miles away on the North Umpqua River in Douglas County, Oregon. 

On July 31, 2023, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) closed all fishing on the North Umpqua until December 2023 – the second 120-day fishing ban in the last three years.

ODFW requires a prediction or estimate of a season total of 1,200 wild summer steelhead. In 2021, when only 450 were counted, the river was closed to fishing. There are so few fish in the North Umpqua this year, Greg Huchko, ODFW’s Umpqua District Senior Biologist, won’t even reveal the fish count total. 

“Really low,” is all he’ll say.

And it’s all because of the Winchester Dam, the most dangerous and illegal dam in the entire state of Oregon. 

The bowed and crumbling 450-foot-wide wood and concrete dam is five miles north of Roseburg, Oregon, just 500 feet from Interstate Highway 5, and plainly visible to every passing motorist.

The 133-year-old condemned dam is privately owned by the Winchester Water Control District whose 99 members are of some of the wealthiest landowners in (and out of) Douglas County. They use the reservoir behind the dam on the North Umpqua River as their private mile-and-a-half long water ski lake, at the exclusion of the public, and they spend as little money as possible on dam maintenance and repair.

The Winchester Water Control District has committed a laundry-list of crimes and misdemeanors including:

Illegal water storage

Pollution of the North Umpqua River

Privatization of publics lands and waterways

• The biggest fish kill on an Oregon river in 2023, which killed hundreds of thousands of threatened and sensitive aquatic species.

• Repeated failure to comply with state and federal laws and regulations

• The use of poisonous and carcinogenic building materials within 50 feet of the intake of a public drinking water source for 37,700 Douglas County residents.

It is clear that the only thing preventing intrepid anglers’ ability to fish the number one steelhead steam in America (and some say, in the world) – is the Winchester Dam.

Bring down the dam.

Bring back the fish and the jobs.