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.





  1. Chuck Atkins

    It sucks when ya gotta combat fish with friends! In Wisconsin combat fishing is the norm. I am always prepared for confrontation. The last guy that cast across my line ….well, I pulled out a knife and cut his line. The guy before that was a guide for Bass Pro shop! I had a huge King that took off down stream. The guide – twenty yards downstream refused to reel until he had hooked my line. FISH GONE! He almost lost his teeth! The guy that cast over your line should be banished to a cold dark place – never to be seen again!

    • Kirk Werner

      I can’t think of a better group of guys with whom to do a bit of combat fishing than these guys. This trip is more about the company and less about the catching. The fishing was superb.

  2. Junior Albacore

    Superb write-up, Kirk. As you know, that day turned out to involve a tad too much fun for me. 🙂 But I’m chalking that up to Jawn’s bad influence. Our annual get together has become the social highlight of the year for me. (Not sure what that says about my social life.) Already looking forward to next year but planning to leave the scotch back on shore.

    • Kirk Werner

      It’s almost too easy to blame Jawn for a lot of things, so let’s do just that! Thanks, brother, for the comment and the company. Next year let’s bring tequila instead.

  3. Jon

    Well lets get one thing straight….I didn’t cast over your line. I was at fault of not reeling in when I should have. Jason instructed me to keep my line in, the fish swung back to the back of the boat and then it happened. I flipped the bail open to hopefully remedy the situation. I admit it, I screwed up. Nothing intentional. As for Chuck’s comment….park it in the shade! I know one way that this won’t happen again.

    • Kirk Werner

      Lies, I tell you! Fishermen are known for lies and I assure you I am not above embellishing the truth for the sake of a better story. Sounds like I’m not invited back for next year 😉 Great time, as always!

  4. Jon

    I’ll just go along for the boat ride or fish from the bank! You are always included, and what makes the trip fun.

    • Kirk Werner

      I’ll go along but not pick up a rod. I can job shadow the bait boy.

  5. Lenny Monroe

    Well written as usual. Your fish wasn’t that small. In fact, my daughter said it was kinda cute. Sort of like a toy fish. The one you lost was a huge fish. At least that’s what I heard. And yes, I do miss Chuck. The trip will always honor his memory and a life well lived.

    • Kirk Werner

      You got it right, Lenrod. Except for my name—there is no C or tis in Kurt. Amen re: Charlie.

  6. Dave Doane

    Well written as always. Jon and Kirk will miss giving each other grief, I predict separate boats for one year!

    • Kirk Werner

      Thanks for chiming in, Boane. And thanks for catching enough fish for both of us, despite that your punch card only showed 3 fish caught. BASTARD!

  7. Big Tuna

    As I was reading this I chuckled out loud. Tracy said, “That must be something from Kirk Werner. He tickles your funny bone.” Yes, you do tickle my funny bone. Great pic of Charlie. He would have loved the trip up the canyon and laughed at the shenanigans. Strong work, bro!

    • Kirk Werner

      While I appreciate the good thought, I think you give me too much credit and probably need to get out more. That being said, I love ya like a brother from another mother, and thank you for “cudgel.” It’s my new favorite word.

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