Robert Deniston Hume first came to Gold Beach in 1876. In time, he owned and controlled thousands of acres including all the tidelands on both sides of the Rogue river. Hume’s first hatchery was built in 1878 at “Hatchery Gulch”, about a quarter mile south of Indian Creek. His second hatchery was next to Mill Rock. The buildings burned in the 1893 fire that destroyed much of Hume’s holdings on the Gold Beach side of the river. Remains of the concrete pens can still be seen under the south end of the bridge. In 1890, Hume built a hatchery at Trail on the upper reaches of the Rogue. His final hatchery project was on Indian Creek in 1906 on what is now the Knox family property. Hume was a pioneer in hatchery production to supplement the natural runs of salmon. In 1907, he had about 1,400,000 fry in his hatchery pens. He fed them blood, horse meat, herring, salmon, and beef. The Indian Creek hatchery was owned and run by Hume until 1926. At that time, the state of Oregon took over the operation of the hatchery.
In the mid 1930’s, the state closed the hatchery.
State law halted commercial fishing on the Rogue River in 1935.
In 1958, a group called Salmon Unlimited was organized to improve salmon production in the lower Rogue system. In cooperation with the Oregon Game Department, a salmon trap was built above Bark Shanty crossing on Lobster Creek. The fall Chinook captured there were the source of eggs placed in the Bandon hatchery. Libby Pond and an earthen pond dug at the Knoxes’ Indian Creek property were the rearing areas for the thousands of Fall Chinook fingerlings brought down from the Bandon facility. Over time, many of the people that started the Salmon Unlimited program moved away and the program ceased.
In the 1970’s, several volunteer groups were having success rehabilitating weak salmon runs by using “hatch boxes” along the tributaries. They called themselves S.T.E.P. volunteers, indicating their purpose - a Salmon Trout Enhancement Program. In 1981 STEP received state support and organizational standing. Local sportsmen formed a club affiliating themselves with the Northwest Steelheaders, which was headquartered in Woodland, Washington. The group was devoted to promoting better fishing opportunities throughout the state. Habitat improvement was an important goal of this group. In addition, hatch boxes were placed on several tributary streams of Euchre Creek, Rogue River, Hunter Creek and Pistol River. Two of these hatch box locations turned into mini hatcheries on the Pistol River and Hunter Creek. These hatcheries were discontinued when the natural production began its rebound.
In 1980 the Knox family had a hatch box on the back porch of Grant’s Pancake House (now the Indian Creek Cafe) on Indian Creek. They added two more hatch boxes the next year and two more the year after that. Besides providing fed-fry to Indian Creek, the hatch boxes were an educational opportunity for the customers. In 1983 the Knox family, (Bob, Charles and Scott), built a hatchery building by the earthen pond they had dug many years earlier. The water came from and old wood flume which had been the secondary water supply for Gold Beach. They received approximately 200,000 “eyed” eggs from the Cole River Hatchery. These eggs were hatched in the building and the young fish were then placed in the pond and in commercial “Doughboy” liners reinforced by cedar boards. Half of the salmon were released as pre-smolts and the other half as smolts. When the salmon were ready to be released, they just opened the valve and sent the smolts through a pipe into Indian Creek. This operation was completely financed by the Knox family. When the salmon returned, some pairs were kept at the hatchery, some were transported further up Indian Creek, and others were transported to various creeks feeding the lower Rogue River.
In 1985, the Northwest Steelheaders, believing their membership dues should stay in this area, changed their name to Curry Anadromous Fishermen and disassociated themselves from the Northwest Steelheaders.
The biggest year for the Knoxes was 1987 when they received 265,000 eyed eggs. Returning salmon flooded Indian Creek and drew huge crowds to watch the spectacle. Over 2500 adult salmon returned in one year, probably the highest rate of return in the state.
By 1988, the hatchery had become a full time job for Scott Knox, the lower Rogue salmon needed help and the hatchery needed a lot of work. So Curry Anadromous Fishermen agreed to take over operation of the hatchery. Three new Doughboy pools were installed. Coos Curry Electric donated poles, lights and manpower to install the outside lights.
Later, the Gold Beach Rotary Club built an addition on the existing building with a walk-in freezer. The hatchery was supposed to be a central distribution point for fish food for all the hatcheries in the area. This never happened and the freezer was too expensive to operate. So the door and the compressor were sold and the freezer became a storeroom.
By 1991, with the advice and some financing from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and a Government Economic Development Grant of $300,000, a dam was reconstructed, new waterlines were brought in, a concrete fish ladder and holding tank were built, 3 metal - plastic lined raceways were constructed and improved incubators were added. Additionally, the road from Jerry’s Flat to the hatchery was paved by the County.
In 1996 and 1997 jump pools for the fish were placed below the old dam which once diverted the water to the city of Gold Beach.
Today, the hatchery has a strong base of volunteers belonging to Curry Anadromous Fishermen and enjoys an excellent partnership with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is the goal of the hatchery to place 75,000 unfed fry in streams feeding the lower Rogue River and releasing 75,000 smolts into the estuary during the late summer and early fall.
The following people contributed to this accounting of historical data.
Walt Schroeder “They Found Gold On The Beach”