Hells Canyon Sport Fishing

A cold day in Hell’s Canyon

Team Keystoners.

I’ve written of this trip a couple times in the past, HERE and HERE if you’re interested in reliving the past. But moving right along, year 5 of the annual Clearwater River Debauchery & Steelhead Trip is now in the books and two things stand out as being different this year: One such thing is that we were not on the Clearwater. With early numbers of fish returns lower than in the past, we opted to change our venue in hopes of increasing our catching percentages. Thus we found ourselves on the other river that flows through the Lewiston/Clarkston area: the Snake. And not just the Snake, but the Snake as it flows through Hell’s Canyon.  I’d been there twice before during springtime for Smallmouth Bass and Sturgeon fishing, but never during the winter. If you’ve never been to Hell’s Canyon, put it on your list—it’s a pretty special place. It happens to be the deepest river gorge in the United States—deeper even than the Grand Canyon. Many interesting facts can be found HERE if so inclined.

Staying at the Hell’s Canyon Resort in Heller Bar afforded us all the comforts of home and more if you factor in the pool and ping-pong tables, darts, mini-basketball and drum set. There was no shortage of indoor recreation in which to partake while we engaged in the mature antics one would expect from 12 middle-aged guys whose common bond is that we were all members of the same college fraternity 30 years prior. A quick conclusion is that we’ve all matured nicely, I am bad at darts and worse at drumming. But we were there to fish, and surely I would fair better on the river than I did in the game room. 

Premonition, or a cruel joke?

To boost my confidence, even the room in which I bunked was aptly labeled. Or was it? We would find out in just a few hours.

 

Huddled around the campfire telling lies and eating cookies.

At 7 am we boarded 2 boats operated by Hells Canyon Sport Fishing: 5 in one boat, 6 in the other; and proceeded upriver into the bowels of Hell’s Canyon. The sky was clear and cold. I’d wager a guess that the air temperature was in the mid 20’s, which isn’t horribly cold until you head into a steep canyon which hides the sun, in a boat moving at a fair clip. Truth be told, thanks to good layering, the only thing that was cold were the fingers, which happen to be an integral part of fishing. Luckily we had a heater on board that we could occasionally fire up to thaw out the digits. Not unlike a campfire, the heater served to provide warmth as well as a central place around which to congregate and boast of our fishing prowess, declare our manliness for being out in the cold weather, and eat cookies. Fortunately we our boat got into fish early on so we didn’t have time to dwell on the cold.

One of many caught by the Boane, the Great Bogarter of Fish.

Another of many caught by Micro The Happy Angler.

Not one for idle chit chat, Lenrod lets his fish do the jaw-flapping.

Jawn invited us all to go fishing with him so he could show off.

And then there was Junior Albacore, who caught more than just a fish.

The steelhead in the Snake are referred to as A-Run fish, which tend to be considerably smaller than the B-Run fish of the Clearwater. I’d say that the 21 fish brought to our boat were mostly in the 5-lb range (some smaller, a couple slightly bigger). By far the biggest fish of the day was attached to the end of my line but never made it to the boat.  As I expertly played the gargantuan anadromous trout, getting it close enough to clearly see that it was an unparalleled trophy, one of my compadres (who shall go unnamed) deftly cast his line over mine and knocked my fish loose (I quickly dismissed critics that suggested perhaps I’d not securely hooked the fish). Not one to cry over spilt milk, I sat in the corner of the boat and wept I angled on. Eventually I would avoid a skunk by landing a diminutive steelhead that, in most parts of the country, would be referred to as a “trout”. When asked if I wanted my photo taken with my catch, I politely declined. My boat mates would have nothing to do with that and threatened to bludgeon me with a cudgel if I didn’t pose for a grip and grin.

A Participant’s Trophy.

We fished until about 4pm before heading back down river 20 miles to “camp”. Due to a lack of communication we didn’t rendezvous with the other boat during the day. Team Underachievement caught some fish, including Bryan’s real nice fish that had obviously made a wrong turn in Lewiston, but their numbers were significantly lower than ours and two members narrowly avoided a skunk by landing some very nice suckers. My kinda people—clearly I’d boarded the wrong boat.

Team Underachievement: Red Pig, Bootay, Bryan, Bakes and Large Albacore.

The second thing that made this year different brings me to a more serious point: this was the first year without one of our brothers. Charlie’s Clearwater fish from a couple of years ago stands as the biggest caught on any of our trips. His title as reigning champ will stand for a long time to come, and rightfully so.  Rest in peace, brother— you were and are missed.

A great man with a great fish.

 

 

 

A mid-winter taste of skunk

For the third year in a row I drove cross-state in the middle of winter to my buddy Jawn’s home in Lewiston, ID to partake of the annual Clearwater River Debauchery: Steelhead & Fireball & PBRfest. That’s not the official name of the event, but it is rather descriptive.

Year One

The first year the event drew a relatively small crowd of respectable drinkers anglers. Plenty of fish were caught this first year: 9 total and all were hatchery fish that ended up in the cooler. My math skills aren’t the best, but by my reckoning that was dangerously close to two fish apiece. And if you count a couple whitefish and a belly-hooked sucker, we actually caught more than two fish per angler. Like a riveting pilot episode for a would-be TV series, this first trip ensured that we’d be back for a second season. The key aspect of this first tour was that nobody got skunked.

Year Two

The next year saw a dramatic increase in the size of the event, as a second boat was added to accommodate what would be a total of 9 anglers drinkers. I’d love to be able to give more details from the trip but it wouldn’t be fair to those in attendance. And I can’t remember much of it anyway. I do know that the catch rate was respectable and only one of those in attendance got skunked (and it wasn’t me). In contrast to the first year, most of the fish caught were wild unclipped fish which had to be thrown back. Still, we took a few fish home and it was someone other than myself that would carry the weight of the Skunkopotamus on their shoulders for a year.

Year Three

The third year proved to be yet another unique adventure as we added yet another newcomer to the mix, as well as a returning cast member from the premier season (who did not attend the second year). With 11 anglers on two boats it would be a tall order to fill everyone’s steelhead tags. Despite several rather tall chaps on board (excluding of course, myself), the order proved too tall and far fewer fish were caught this year. In fact the skunk was tasted by two anglers this year, myself included. I could spout all sorts of reasons, including a lack of rain to bring fresh fish up the river, too much angling pressure, cheap beer, poor reflexes and bad boat driving, but most of those reasons would be inaccurate. Particularly the part about the poor boat driving: our guides are top-notch. If you’re ever looking for a good outfitter, check out Hells Canyon Sport Fishing. Anyone who does any amount of fishing knows that success is not guaranteed, and skunks happen. But every guide does their best to put every guest on a fish. And therein lies an opportunity…

Unaccomplished Outfitters & Guide Services

I’m pondering starting my own guide business and doing something a little different: Unaccomplished Outfitters & Guide Services, where the motto will be: “We can’t guarantee you a skunk, but we’ll do our damnedest.” The one problem standing in my way of this dream is that I’m reasonably confident that I should never be allowed to receive a boat license for a motorized vessel on moving water. Drift boats are one thing, but add a couple hundred horses attached to the stern and…well, I’m fairly certain I’m better off just fishing. Scratch that idea.

Before we wrap things up I’d like to give a big shout out to the local Pabst Blue Ribbon distributor in Lewiston for the “sponsorship” swag. They supplied us with lawn chairs, bottle openers, beer koozies, t-shirts and hats; all nice stuff which added a touch of class to our event. I know what you’re thinking:  You want that hat. Stay tuned—there may be a chance to win it!

An indescribable day of fishing

Last week I talked about the emotional fishing hangover that followed a recent trip. The trip in question was a day of fishing so diverse–so complex–that it’s difficult to sum it up accurately with a single title. The antics of the day varied as widely as the weather, which was cold and wet early in the day. In the afternoon, the clouds lifted and the day warmed comfortably. As the weather improved, adult behavior went the other direction.

Roe and sand shrimp for those inclined

This entry could be titled, “Roe, Roe, Roe Your Boat” but that would be a bit misleading, as it suggests we fished with bait. Some of those aboard the two boats may gotten their fingers dirty, but I’ll not name names. I will state proudly that I did not. Being a puritan fly angler, it was bad enough that I was forced to use a spinning setup. At least I opted only to fish yarn egg patterns (Team Synthetic!).

 

Shooting Fish in a Mighty Big Barrel

Another theme for the day might well have been “Shooting Fish in a Barrel” because fishing was rather, well, productive. The total catch among 9 fishermen was 27 steelhead. Unfortunately we were only able to remove 6 hatchery brats from the system, with the remaining fish being native wild unclipped. All were fine Clearwater River steelhead (and one fair-hooked sucker), and the overwhelming majority of these fish were caught before we broke for lunch.

 

Skunkapotamus?

Perspectives vary, however, and if you were to ask one of those onboard if the day were akin to shooting fish in a barrel, Boane he would have answered that it was a “mighty big barrel.” As we exited the boats after 8 hours on the water, high-fiving and whooping it up in fine celebratory fashion, this fish-deprived angler was overheard using the term “Skunkapotamus” to describe the day.

 

"Comrade, does this hat make me look taller?"

Yet another title could very easily have been “Fireball and Russian Dwarves” due to the scent of cinnamon that hung in the air and the presence of a particular fur hat purchased in eastern Europe by one of those onboard. Was it my hat?  Niet, although I may have worn it for a period of time.

Rubbers: one size fits all. Or, not.

“Mooseknuckle and Rubber Pants” would also be a fitting headline for the day. When you take a man who is 6’8″ and shoehorn his arse into a pair of rubber rain pants intended to fit a considerably shorter man, the results are self-explanatory. But when it comes to angling attire, it’s function over form that matters and waterproof pants were essential on this damp day that was at times downright wet. Large Albacore wasn’t the only one glad for the rubber pants, as a fair amount of entertainment was had at his expense.

 

First Fish and Biggest Fish (debatable)

“Fishermen are so Damn Competitive” was another theme that applied to the day. Before we boarded the boats everyone tossed 10 bucks into two cups: one pot for the First Fish caught; the other for the Biggest Fish. I was privileged to witness the First Fish being caught as it was landed by one of my boat mates. Bryan (not his real name) is a seemingly easy-going guy who is soft-spoken and laid-back. But turn your back on him for a second and he’s throwing elbows and jockeying for the best fishing position in the boat. No matter, it was good to get the skunk off the boat early. Around mid-morning yours truly landed an athletically-built fish in the 37-38″ range, as declared by the guide himself. This handsome B-Run Clearwater steelhead was the biggest fish caught should have been taken the Big Fish award. However, the prize was awarded to another fish that was lethargic and out of shape. No amount of formal protesting on my part could sway the panel of corrupt judges. I won. You know it. And I hope you all can sleep at night knowing that I was robbed. In all reality, everyone got a blue ribbon (in fact several, thanks to Pabst).

The unsung Big Fish of the day.

Suffice it to say that on this day, where the weather changed dramatically, fishing went from hot to slow, and behavioral antics ran the full gamut, there’s just no way to sum it all up in a manner that’s nice and tidy. What it was, was a great day shared with great friends.

 

 

 

I’d like to take a moment to individually thank everyone on the trip: Jawn, thanks for the over-the-top generous hospitality and for putting the trip together (I’ll send you a bill for my share of the gas that was required to get there); Lenrod, much appreciation for getting us there and back through freezing rain and Wenatchee rush hour traffic, and not stopping to harvest road kill; The Brothers Albacore, thanks for the fun and for being so damn tall (and Large Albacore–my neck still hurts and we’re still friends); Micro, thanks for letting me sport your pelt hat for a while, and sorry about that whole P.O.T.Y. thing 30 years ago (get over it already); Bryan, thanks for getting the skunk off the boat early so we could just enjoy fishing without the pressure; Boane, sorry, man. It happens to men your age (try baking soda and hydrogen peroxide to get the stink out); Red Pig, you were missed this year–do not miss next year.

If the guys at Hells Canyon Sport Fishing will have us again, I’ll see you next year, boys. Bring on the 3rd annual Clearwater River Debauchery!