Robert Duncan and Vern Steward, both of Joseph, are lucky fishermen.
Steward landed a 40-inch, 18.5 pound steelhead - and since it was weighed 10 hours after landing, it was likely at or above 20 when netted - and Duncan caught an even bigger fish. Duncan's, as a wild fish, was released, but, given its length and fatness, guide Chris Frost estimated its weight at between 22 and 25 pounds. Both fish were taken from the same boat, on Feb. 15, from the same hole on the Clearwater River.
"It's been a while (since I've been steelhead fishing)," Duncan said. "It was my first trip in a few years. I'm more of a salmon fisherman."
Well, these particular steelhead were certainly big enough to masquerade as salmon.
"I've never caught a steelhead like that in my life," Duncan said. His biggest steelie before this was around 12 or 13 pounds.
Steward's fish, as of last week, won the Clearwater guides and outfitters February big-fish contest by a pound-and-a-half. Duncan's, as a wild fish, didn't qualify and was released. Unfortunately, both Duncan and Frost had forgotten their pocket scales on the day.
"I so wish we'd had a scale for mine," Duncan admitted.
The anglers were both using barbless hooks baited with sand shrimp. The shrimp were flown in the day before and were still alive and kicking, Duncan pointed out.
Both fishermen were running 15-pound-test Maxima line and 10-pound-test leaders.
"It probably took 20 minutes to land them. At first we didn't know we had anything as big (as these were)," Duncan said. The fish, he said, were among the biggest the guide had seen this year.
"Both were once-in-a-lifetime fish," Duncan beamed. "And both out of the same hole." Duncan and Steward hooked but lost two other fish in the same spot that "could have been equal or better."
Duncan said that Steward had initially suggested the two fish in Hells Canyon, but Duncan had promised that "if we go to Orofino we'll catch bigger fish."
It seems that turned out to be good advice.