Hells Canyon is not for the faint of heart — big water, wild country, and no civilization.
Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest river gorge – deeper than the Grand Canyon. It plunges more than a mile down from its rim, and every day a roaring Snake River carves it a bit deeper.
Located on the border of eastern Oregon, Washington and western Idaho, there are no roads crossing Hell Canyon’s 10-mile wide expanse. Only a handful provide access to the river itself.
Limited access means limited fishing pressure, which means great fishing for the fortunate few.
But Hells Canyon is not for the faint of heart — big water, wild country, and no civilization. Surging rapids make it a favorite for whitewater rafting, and guides ply the surging river in jet boats.
Anglers with the brass to try it will find a surprising range of options. In the winter steelhead fishing is excellent. Spring and fall runs of Chinook salmon combine with warm weather fishing for sturgeon, smallmouth bass, and trout. Most of the year the river offers a shot at multiple species.
The best time to go for salmon is May through June, steelhead September through March, and sturgeon, trout and bass April through October. The fish run big. A 10 foot sturgeon is nothing unusual. Steelhead go five to seventeen pounds, averaging around ten.
While salmon, steelhead and huge sturgeon tend to dominate the headlines, a well-kept secret is that fly-fishing for smallmouth bass in Hells Canyon is considered by many among the best in the world.
Here’s something you won’t find elsewhere. Local guides offer a “Cast & Blast” outing, combining fishing with chukar hunting. Chukar (Himalayan Partridge) are colorful quail-like birds that thrive in the tumbled rocks of the rough canyon walls. While you fish for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or small mouth bass, the guides listen for the cackle of birds on the slopes. Once they are pinpointed, you go ashore for some hot shooting, then back to the fishing.
Another rare attraction is abundant evidence of Native Americans from the past. Petroglyphs and remnants of pit houses can be found in this remote area. According to Nez Perce folklore, the deity “Coyote” dug Hells Canyon with a big stick to protect their ancestors in Oregon’s Blue Mountains from the Seven Devils mountain range across the gorge in Idaho.
Pittsburgh Landing is a favored launching spot for fishing outings and guided tours. Nineteen miles south of White Bird, Idaho, off I-95, the landing is accessible by Forest Service Road 493, a narrow, winding gravel road that requires caution.
You’ll need an Oregon or Idaho fishing license, as the Snake River is the state boundary. Don’t forget your camera, and not just to record those trophy fish — the scenery is unbelievable.
For more information visit the U.S. Forest Service website for the Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center or the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. The Forest Service also offers a downloadable map and brochure.
Published in Anglers Club Magazine