The majestic Hells Canyon is the deepest fishing hole in North America, and one that boasts bountiful and exciting fishing all year long. The Snake River is home to all kinds of bass, both largemouth and smallmouth, as well as crappie, trout, salmon, and catfish. Marvelous fishing coves are tucked away along both the Snake River through the canyon and the Salmon River, just outside the canyon itself.
Bring your rod and tackle along when you pack up the family for your vacation. Spend a day or two on the water—and don’t forget your scale and measuring tape! Fishing enthusiasts have been reeling in record-breaking catches in the canyon for decades. When you cast your line, you might find something even bigger taking the bait. Here are some of the best Hells Canyon fishing records to chase in 2022, so get a head start!
This native of the Snake River must be caught and released. On July 9, 2019, a group of anglers reeled in a white sturgeon measuring a whopping 119.5 inches! The group—Rusty Peterson, Russell Pottenger, Robert Seiler (as well as Robert, Jr., and Kristina Seiler), Mark D’Amico, and Max D’Amico—still holds the record.
Head over to Payette Lake and see if you can catch and release a lake trout larger than 41.5 inches. On July 21, 2018, angler Dylan Smith set the record. The past few years have been amazing for Hells Canyon fishing; you’ve got a decent chance at reeling in something even bigger.
This species often uses the Salmon River, just outside Hells Canyon, to head out to the ocean. One such fish, a chinook salmon measuring 41.5 inches, was interrupted on its way out on July 4, 2016. Take advantage of a guided fishing trip along the Salmon River and see if you can beat Michael Nicholson’s record.
It’s been a few decades since anybody broke this record. James Winter was fishing in our beloved Brownlee Reservoir back in 1986 when he reeled in this record-breaker. On May 25 of that year, he caught a bullhead catfish that weighed 3.88 pounds and measured 20.5 inches in length and 11.88 inches in girth.
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
2020 was a banner year for anglers, breaking more than two dozen previous catch-and-release records. The waters saw high runoff in 2018, and we reaped the benefits two years later with an earlier fishing season. In the summer of 2020, Nate Burr reeled in a 31-inch Yellowstone cutthroat trout from our very own Snake River. Take a Hells Canyon fishing trip along the Snake River and seek out the perfect fishing holes.
If you’re going for certified weight fishing instead of catch-and-release, head out on the Snake River and see if you can beat Michelle Larsen-Williams’s record. On July 29, 2009, she reeled in a rainbow trout that weighed 20 pounds, at a length of 34.25 inches and a girth of 22.25 inches.
Rainbow and Cutthroat Hybrid Trout
Sometimes your catches surprise you! This hybrid trout was caught and released on November 4, 2018. Ryan Ivy’s catch measured 30 inches, caught in our beloved Snake River. There’s a reason why humans have been living in the Hells Canyon area for so many centuries—the fish are big and plentiful.
Two avid anglers made their way to Brownlee Reservoir on August 23, 1994, and hauled in a whopper of a catfish. J. Newberry and K. McCormick currently hold the record; their catch was 58.5 pounds, 48 inches in length, and 31 inches in girth. Talk about a fish story for the ages!
Catch-and-release fishing is just as fun and engaging as hauling in fish to take home. On October 18, 2016, Chase Newton caught a 30-inch brown trout, made a new record, and tossed the trout back to live another day.
You can still break records with smaller species! Catch the biggest crappie that Idaho Fish and Game has ever seen—if you can beat Jason Monson’s record. On June 8, 2003, he caught a crappie from Brownlee Reservoir that weighed 3.56 pounds, measuring 17.5 inches in length and 15 inches in girth.
If you’re looking for a fish to take photos with, tiger muskellunge, or tiger muskie, can get pretty big! Payette Lake is located in the upper drainage basin of the Payette River, which flows right into our beloved Snake River. On August 6, 2013, Edward Kalinowski sat at Little Payette Lake until he caught a tiger muskie weighing a whopping 44.25 pounds! At 52.5 inches long and 25 inches in girth, this record will be hard—but not impossible—to beat.
Certified Weight vs. Catch and Release
Now that you’re all excited about breaking these Hells Canyon records, let’s talk about what happens when you break that record.
Steelhead, white sturgeon, bull trout, and ocean-run salmon must not only be caught and released alive, but you must measure and photograph them while they’re in the water. You’ll need a photograph of it measured from snout to tip of tail, at least one photo of you with it (handle it with care!), and at least one witness. Complete a record fish application form and submit it to Idaho Fish and Game within 30 days.
If you want to break a certified weight record, you’ll need access to a certified scale as well as a measuring tape. Certified scales are most reliably found in grocery stores and post offices. Get a certified weight—and a receipt!—and include it with your application. Certified weight records also take into account the type of fishing you’re doing, whether with a rod and reel or with a spear.
When in doubt, consult the Idaho Fish and Game website for more in-depth guidelines, restrictions, and protocols for fishing in Hells Canyon and the surrounding areas.
2022 promises to be a banner year for fishing in Hells Canyon. Don’t be intimidated by all these whopping records, because fishing enthusiasts make and break these records all the time. With the right gear and a sunny outlook, there’s nothing stopping you from reeling in a record of your own. Equip yourself with a measuring tape and a little insider info about the best fishing spots in and around the canyon. Take inspiration from the best Hells Canyon fishing records to chase in 2022 and set some goals of your own!