Amazing Spring fishing awaits anglers in North America’s deepest river gorge at Idaho’s Hells Canyon Reservoirs
If you’re like me, you’ve been dreaming of warmer days filled with fishing, hiking, and camping. In some parts of Idaho where the snow is still deep, these days might seem far away. However, warm days are right around the corner at the reservoir complexes on the Lower Snake River.
Hells Canyon, Brownlee, and Oxbow Reservoir have great early-season recreational opportunities. Located on the Western edge of Idaho, nestled in the deepest canyon in North America (yes—deeper than the Grand Canyon!) at around 2,000 feet elevation, this area warms up early in the spring with average highs reaching 50 degrees. Visitors to the Hells Canyon reservoir complexes will find themselves in a rugged, beautiful, and remote wilderness where they can largely escape from crowds.
The area offers plenty of recreational opportunities: fishing on all three reservoirs, camping in developed and dispersed campgrounds, hiking throughout the nearby Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and wildlife viewing (I like going to see the mountain goats from the spotting scopes at the Hells Canyon Creek Visitor’s Center.
Spring anglers visiting the Hells Canyon Reservoir Complexes have a variety of choices in where to go and what to fish for. For steelhead fishing, anglers can head down to Hells Canyon Reservoir, where the fish are stocked during the fall and winter and can be caught well into the spring. Most of the effort targeting steelhead occurs from the mouth of Pine Creek upstream to below Oxbow Dam.
Bass fishing in all three of the reservoirs is highly productive and usually picks up in mid-March. Fishing crank-baits from a boat is the most practical way to catch bass; however, I have had personal success fishing soft baits right from my campsite during spring. Panfish, like crappie and perch, will also bite on soft baits, though fishing for panfish usually picks up late spring and early summer. Angling for catfish can be a fun, laidback, late-night activity on the reservoirs. Plus, catfish are usually the best eating early in the season!
The area surrounding these reservoirs offers ample camping opportunities for recreationists. Idaho Power runs several campgrounds offering both full RV hookups and tent sites equipped with fire rings, picnic tables, and accessible restrooms. Many of the campgrounds also have boat ramps right on site (see map). Hardy campers can find numerous primitive dispersed camping sites along the reservoirs. The map above displays some popular camping, boating, and recreation locations.
There are a lot of diverse fishing opportunities in the southwest region of Idaho, however, spring can be a transition time where fishing opportunity is limited. As you’re waiting to start catching perch at ice-out on Cascade Reservoir, hammering largemouth bass at C. Ben Ross Reservoir, or trying your luck in Idaho’s Chinook fisheries, give the Hells Canyon Reservoir Complex a try!