Hells Canyon receives a combination of wild and hatchery run steelhead. The hatchery fish supplement the wild run and provide anglers with the opportunity to catch numerous fish in a single outing. You can identify the hatchery steelhead by observing the fins. Most of the fish will have a clipped adipose fin and some will have tracking tags. Hatchery fish also allow the angler to keep a limit as wild snake river steelhead are protected.
Wild steelhead account for a large number of fish caught in Hells Canyon. In 2009, fisheries more than 60,000 fish were counted as they migrated upstream. The wild populations are very special and the fish must be released to reproduce and create future generations. Wild steelhead are among the hardest fighting game fish and will make heart-stopping runs and wild airborne leaps. Use heavy leader materials and be prepared for a fight.
Steelhead are constantly migrating up or downstream and anglers should be mobile while fishing. Look for steelhead in the flat slack water just above a run. After migrating through the run, the fish will stop to rest before continuing their journey. Fly fishermen, spin fisherman and bait fisherman can all catch steelhead in Hells Canyon. Spin fisherman use lures and drift fishing techniques while bait fisherman use salmon eggs and worms. Fly fisherman can use a single hand rod or a spey rod and swing wet flies and streamers, or drift egg patterns. The lower portion of the canyon can be accessed by foot for bank fisherman, but fishing from a boat allows anglers to further explore the canyon.
Numerous guides work in Hells Canyon and specialize in catching steelhead. Visitors with limited time should consider hiring one of the guides as they spend everyday monitoring the steelhead runs. Guides can also provide gear and will take you up the river in a jet boat. The lower portion of the canyon receives the most fishing pressure while the upper canyon has more dramatic scenery and the opportunity to catch steelhead without the crowd. Guides are available in a number of towns including Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington.
Steelhead fishing in Hells Canyon typically begins in October on the lower section of the canyon, but can begin as early as August. The fish will hold in the lower canyon until the water temperatures begins to cool. Once the weather pattern begins to coo,l steelhead migrate through the canyon and into the tributaries where they will spawn. The fish will continue to migrate upstream through January and February. The average steelhead caught weighs between 4 and 8 pounds but larger fish are not uncommon.