Welcome to some of the best Sturgeon fishing on earth!
Sturgeon Fishing on the Snake River in Hells Canyon
How can you successfully target Sturgeon in Hells Canyon? How do the conditions and tactics change throughout the year when you are fishing for Snake River Sturgeon? What about rigging, types of bait, and Sturgeon fishing regulations when you target Snake River Sturgeon? These are all questions you need to answer before you jump in your jet boat head up river to soak some bait in a deep hole somewhere in Hells Canyon hoping to luck into a Monster Sturgeon.
As a professional outfitter and guide business Hells Canyon Sport Fishing has been in the hunt for Monster Hells Canyon Sturgeon for over 20 years. Covering over 100 miles of wild and scenic river through class 4 & 5 rapids over 8000 feet below magnificent mountain peaks Sturgeon Fishing on the Snake River in Hells Canyon may very well be the most beautifully wild destination you can go to and catch a giant fish like a Hells Canyon Sturgeon. These monsters can live to be 100 years of age and grow to over 10 feet in length here in Hells Canyon. The population of Snake River Sturgeon here in Hells Canyon is exceptional thanks to the practice of Catch and Release for Sturgeon for the last 40 years. Idaho fish and Game monitors the catch rates of Snake River Sturgeon as well as conduct an ongoing research program always looking for ways to preserve our precious Snake River Sturgeon Fishing resource for our future Sturgeon fishermen.
Where in the Snake River do you catch them?
Sturgeon fishing locations on the Snake River in Hells Canyon can be broke down with the 4 seasons. Time of year can mean everything when it comes to looking for places to fish for Hells Canyon Sturgeon. Just because you caught fish in one spot in the spring doesn’t mean you will find them there in the summer, fall or winter. Finding Sturgeon on the Snake River in Hells Canyon can be much easier when you understand the three main contributing factors that will dictate where they will be… Feed, Water Levels & Fishing pressure. Understanding these 3 factors in conjunction with the time of year is like a “Crystal Ball” our guides at Hells Canyon Sport Fishing use to locate actively feeding Sturgeon in the Snake River.
Spring Sturgeon Fishing: April – June
Spring Sturgeon fishing in Hells Canyon means high and often muddy water and hungry Sturgeon that are on an aggressive feed. Sturgeon are most dormant throughout the winter months when the water temps are in the low 40’s and 30’s. As water temps and river levels rise with the spring snow melt the “Sturgeon Frenzy” begins. High water will make fishing from shore tougher with the stronger than normal river currents and back eddies. Most often you will find the Guides of Hells Canyon Sport Fishing anchored in the “Eye of the Eddy” where the river bottom drops off into 30-80 ft of water. We are always looking for slower water this time of year. More often than not the current in the middle of the eddy or the center of the “toilet Bowl” will be the place to focus. This is where dying or dead spawned out steelhead will end up on the bottom of the river making a great feed source. Anchor on the reverse side of the eddy or the “Shallow” side of the eddy which will help you get your anchor into the bottom without being too deep. Try to get as near the center of the eddy as possible without running out of enough current to hold your boat strait back in the current. Your bait could be Steelhead or Salmon, but any good bait may work this time of year. This is your best chance to catch Sturgeon that are eager to bite. Your rig is simple, a single 10/0 octopus hook on 200 lb braided leader under a sliding “Break Away” dropper with a 10-16 oz sinker. We prefer 200 lb main line as well. Super Line like Power Pro and Spider Wire Stealth seem to be the best. It is always a heart breaker when a large Sturgeon you have had on the line for the last 30 minutes hooks your line around a rock and “Snap” she’s gone just that easy. With 200 lb test you rarely ever break off a fish. Tie your bait onto the hook with “Magic Thread” to help hold it in place. A properly baited hook and bait may catch 2-3 sturgeon if baited correctly. Cast your bait to the center of the eddy and feed out line until you feel your bait hit bottom. Hold your rod still and take up the extra slack in your line. Feel closely to tell if you weight and bait are sitting still on the bottom or sweeping along the bottom with the current. You want your bait to hold still and not sweep out of the hole. With any luck in less than 10 minutes you will be getting some action on the end of your line. Feel for the bite, but never set the hook until the fish swims off with your bait. A sturgeon may pick up and drop the bait several times before committing and taking the bait all the way into its bucket mouth and shutting the door! When the fish swims off taking up whatever slack may be in your line wait until you feel the “weight of the fish” before setting the hook. Square your body up to the direction of the fish and when the tension of the line pulls your rod tip down let him have it, right in the chops! Once you have set the hook and are fast to your first fish remember to keep a tight line always. You will be using a barbless hook which can fall out of the fish’s mouth with the least bit of slack. Sturgeon tend to jump this time of year so be ready to keep up with the slack. Watching a sturgeon jump is one of the most rewarding parts of fishing for sturgeon in the Snake River, but also a potential heart breaker…. Often you’ll have the hook pop out if you can’t keep a tight line on the fish when it breaks water.
Summer Sturgeon Fishing: July – September
As the weather warms up river activity amongst boaters and fishermen escalates. On any given weekend in the summer you will find sturgeon fishermen in most of the “common fishing holes” along the Snake River in Hells Canyon. By now the Sturgeon here in Hells Canyon have been fished hard for 2-3 months and with fishing pressure building each week the bite tends to become much more difficult. Water temps warm into the 60’s and no longer are the spawned out steelhead available to the sturgeon for food. Their diet changes to fresh water mussels, crawfish, and available fish species like Suckers, Small mouth Bass & Steelhead / Salmon smolt. After many years of fishing for sturgeon in the summer months here in Hells Canyon we get the feeling that the combination of warm water and heavy fishing pressure tend to put the fish into mode where the fish are much pickier on what types of bait you will get them to commit to. There will always be days where your bait may not matter, but on the day where the sturgeon are on a light bite we have found that nothing will out fish live steelhead smolt as bait. There is just something about a nice fresh, soft & bloody trout that will get a picky sturgeon to commit every time. Our guides will spend an hour in the morning having our clients casting small spinners baited with a piece of worm to catch that day’s fresh bait. Totally legal in Hells Canyon fresh trout is the key to Sturgeon in warm water. With the warmer temps the river have dropped by now and the river current has tamed considerable. Most Sturgeon fishermen here on the Snake River will continue to fish the same parts of the “Sturgeon Holes” that they have caught fish earlier in the spring. This is where you may want to mix it up. Fishermen always tend to target the deepest part of the hole when looking to catch Sturgeon, but when the diet of the fish changes here is when you need to know….Actively feeding Sturgeon move into the tail outs of the hole and here is why…
- 1. The tail out of a large deep sturgeon hole almost always consists of a gravel bottom.
- 2. A gravel bottle is where you find the most Clams, Mussels and Suckers.
- 3. Almost nobody has been fishing these tail outs sore lipping the sturgeon.
- Sturgeon that you find in tail out conditions tend to be good biters even in the summer.
How do you locate the tail out of the hole? Start by finding the deepest part of the hole with your sonar. Take your boat straight down river with the flow of the current always watching your graph. You are looking to see when the river starts to shallow up. The deepest part of the hole may be let’s say 60 feet deep and as you go downstream the river depth may shallow up to 15 or 20 ft. you will notice that as you shallow up the river current will increase. Somewhere in the middle of this gradual rise of the bottom will be the sweet spot. Finding this will be trial and error as every “sturgeon Hole’ is a little different from the next.
Back Bouncing for Sturgeon….
Yes, that is right I said back bouncing for sturgeon. Many of you may be familiar with the Technique of back bouncing for Salmon. Exactly the ame principle and it very may well be the funnest way to hook up on sturgeon there is. Start by finding the tail out of the hole and position your boat at the beginning of the tail out or let’s call it the deepest part of the tail out. Use your trolling motor to hold your boat bow into the current and slowly lower your bait and weight downstream behind your boat. Once you have the proper amount of line out behind the boat you will feel the weight (10-20 oz) make contact with the bottom. At this point continue to adjust the amount of line that you have out behind the boat so the you can just barely get your weight to make contact with the bottom. You want to be able to lift your weight off the bottom with a lift of your rod tip and place it back down by dropping your tip. All the while you feel your weight “Bouncing” on the bottom of the river. Now that you have the “Bouncing” thing working for you can maneuver the boat around in the tail out of the hole. Go side to side and drift back a little at a time working the entire tail out. It will be obvious when Sturgeon begins to take your bait. Often times the bite will start with a small “TUG TUG” at the end of your rod. When you feel this keep your rod tip high and stop the movement of your boat and just hold still. When the fish takes the bait you want to wait until it pulls your rod tip down and basically set the hook itself. The hookup will be very positive because there will be little or no slack or stretch in your braided line. When you are sure you have the weight of the fish at the end of your rod set the hook and the battle begins.
Fall Sturgeon Fishing: October – November
River temps begin to cool off by mid-October and Sturgeon will begin to feed up for winter. The bite picks up quite a bit from the warmer Dog Days of the Heat of the Summer. This time of year the Snake River is full of Fall Chinook Salmon, summer run Steelhead as well as the resident species the make up the Bulk of a Snake River Sturgeons diet. To say the least there is no lack of feed for sturgeon in the fall. Most anglers turn their efforts toward Steelhead fishing here in Hells canyon during these months taking Sturgeon fishing pressure to a minimum. Large Hells canyon Sturgeon can be quite easy to catch this time of year for those Sturgeon Heads that would much rather be fighting a 10 ft fish than a 3 lb A-Run Steelhead. Steelhead gills, Salmon bellies, and Fresh trout all seem to work well as bait this time of year. An Avid Sturgeon fisherman should take advantage of this time of year. Pressure is at a minimum, the fish are on an aggressive bite, and the Canyon isn’t 100 degrees!
Winter Sturgeon Fishing: December – March
River temps on the Snake River in Hells Canyon can drop into the lower 30’s in the dead of winter. It is not uncommon to see large sheets of ice coming out of the tributary rivers Imnaha R., Salmon R. and Grande Ronde rivers during the winter. These cold temps slow down the metabolism of all the fish in the rivers including the white Sturgeon. Sturgeon will feed very little and tend to bunch up and go fairly dormant to save energy. Our guides here at Hells Canyon Sport Fishing rarely fish for sturgeon during the coldest parts of winter, but for one who’s willing to commit the time and patience Sturgeon can most definitely be caught in the winter. The “Best” bait for winter Sturgeon in my book would be raw Salmon roe. Take the type of netting used to tie up steelhead egg clusters and tie a large Sturgeon version of an egg cluster. Keep in mind you do not want to use eggs cured in Salmon or Steelhead egg cure. Raw eggs seem to work the best, even if they had been previously frozen. Eggs tied up in this netting will stay on the hook well and “Milk Out” in the river leaving a huge scent trial that even cold dormant sturgeon my find to appealing to resist. Look for slower water that is in or near the deeper pools in the river. Bring lots of hot coffee along with really warms cloths and a propane heater. Patience will be the key along with good bait and finding good winter holding water. With a little luck you just may hook up and be warming up sooner than you think!
It’s what we do…..
- Fish hard every day – We love what we do so this comes natural.
- Take our Job seriously – We are professionals providing a public service.
- Doing it right – We put forth the extra effort to make sure every day on the water goes as best as possible.
- Take care of and fight for our precious resources – Without rivers full of fish we would be nothing.
- Make everyone’s trip special – We are in the business of "Making special memories!"
- Pay it forward – We give back to our communities as much as possible because we can and it’s the right thing to do.
At Hells Canyon Sport Fishing we are proud to provide what we feel is a top notch guide service to our clients. A combination of experience, passion and talent all come together right here.
We know that giving an honest 100% and being totally focused will put more fish in the boat at the end of the day. We want to catch more fish than the next guy!
We know to never give up because sometimes by spending that last extra hour on the water can make the whole day. This is true and sometimes going a little above and beyond will make all the difference in our clients fishing experience.
We won’t blow smoke just to get you to book with us. We provide honest fishing reports and do not want you to book if we know fishing will be bad. We try to give you as much information as possible so you can decide if a trip with Hells Canyon Sport Fishing is right for you.
We want to see you catch fish just as much as you do. We do everything we can to put you on fish and put fish in the boat. Our guides won’t just hook fish and then let you reel them in. We want you to hook your own fish and we work hard to make that happen. A boat full of happy clients is our goal each and every day.
Our fish catching ability is well known, but our safety record is just as important to us. All our boats are equipped with lifejacket, first aid kits and other safety equipment. All our guides are trained in CPR and first aid.
Our guides are all licensed in their areas by… The U.S. Coast guard, Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board, Oregon State Marine board, Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. All our guide boats are Safe, Licensed, Bonded & Insured for a liability of 2 million.
These are just some of the things we do every day to be the best that we can be. Be Honest; try harder than the next guy and Fish Till It Hurts!
It’s what we do….
Jason Schultz * Jim McCarthy * Doug Richert * Ryan Rosenbaum *
James Hollingshead * Jennifer Nightingale