steelhead fishing in hell’s canyon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.