35 Years Hells Canyon

Fishing

Perhaps the single most difficult problem facing an angler in Hells Canyon is deciding what type of fish to try for. Sturgeon, small mouth bass, trout, and channel catfish all thrive in the Snake River. The fishing is usually great and you can expect to catch both bass and trout in the Canyon.

We keep all the fish our guests wish to eat on the trip and release the rest.  It is difficult to keep fish fresh on a four-day river trip in warm weather.  Photographs and memories of the barbecued trout at lunch are the best way to enjoy them at home.

The trout run 9 to 16 inches with an occasional 20-inch fish.  The bass average one to two pounds, with an occasional three-pounder.  The largest small-mouth we landed weighed four pounds.  Channel catfish weigh up to ten pounds and feed mainly at night, so the best time to catch them is just before dawn.  We take an occasional catfish during the day, but spend most of our time fishing for either sturgeon or bass and trout.

A sizable population of white sturgeon lives in Hells Canyon.  Sturgeon are the oldest living freshwater fish, dating from prehistoric times. These fish can live to be close to 100 years old and attain weights of over 1,000 pounds.  The population in Hells Canyon is trapped by the dams on the Snake River.  To protect them, Idaho and Oregon fishery departments require catch-and-release fishing only.  Sturgeon fishing in the Canyon is excellent.  The largest we measured was 10 feet 4 inches. Fish over 12 feet still live in the river, while the majority caught are between 6 feet and 8 feet.  Barbless iron hooks and heavy tackle are used.  It is imperative that you land the fish as soon as possible, as it reduces stress.  We gently unhook, measure and photograph the sturgeon, hold them until they recover, then send them back down to rest up for our next trip.  Many of the sturgeon will jump after being hooked. It is quite a thrill to watch an eight-foot monster come out of the water like a Polaris missile.  After such episodes, it's been difficult convincing some of our younger guests that swimming in the river is really safe.


Licensing

A fishing license from either Oregon or Idaho works anytime you are in a boat (even tied up to the other states bank).  However, if you want to fish from the bank, you must have that state's license.  We can camp and stop for lunch on either side of the river.  So if you want to fish morning, evening, and lunch stops, it is best to have both licenses.

Steelhead become available in the river after mid-September.  A fisherman must have a steelhead tag to keep fin-clipped fish. They may be purchased with your license.

If you are a resident of either state, it saves time to purchase your resident license before the trip.  Idaho now allows licenses to be purchased by phone with a credit card: they give you a confirmation number and the license is valid immediately. Oregon does not have this program.  You must stop by a license vendor.  If necessary, you can get all licenses once you reach Halfway.  Call us with any questions about licenses.


Tackle

We will have spinning tackle and a sturgeon rod available in each boat, but feel free to bring you own gear if you wish.