Even on the best days, steelhead fishing is usually a game of long odds. But for those anglers willing to put in the work, you might just have a chance to experience something magical.
In the early morning of Oct. 6, 2023, Kyriacos Panayiotou of McCall, Idaho waded into the cool waters of the Clearwater River, Idaho’s legendary steelhead mecca. Using a two-handed spey rod, he began searching the water, hoping a steelhead would grab the fly.
“The full floating spey line was at approximately 120 to 130 feet when the fly started the swing,” he recalls, waiting in anticipation for a strike.
“At around 30 degrees of a swing, this beautiful wild steelhead buck boiled to the surface and grabbed the fly with authority. The vintage Hardy Perfect reel could do nothing in slowing down this fish … it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Upon seeing the massive steelhead close up, he immediately knew he landed something special. “I was able to measure the fish with my flexible tape and proceeded to take a photo of the wild steelhead next to my spey rod for future memories … and released it back to the water to continue its journey.”
The fish measured 41 inches long – a full 1 3/4 inches longer than the previous catch-and-release state record set in 2021 by Scott Turner. Based on fishery monitoring data, Clearwater Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont knows just how rare such a fish really is.
“Since we have all the trapping data from Lower Granite Dam, we have a good sense of the size distribution of Idaho steelhead,” he said. “In a typical year, the number of steelhead in the 40-inch range is less than 1% of the run.”
While Kyriacos Panayiotou had to let the huge wild steelhead go, he took home a new Idaho catch-and-release record and a lifetime memory. That’s the second state record for the Clearwater River this month, swimming alongside the a 11.78-pound Coho Salmon caught only a week later.
Species like wild steelhead, sturgeon and bull trout cannot be harvested in Idaho. As a result, they weren’t eligible for new state records for many years. In 2016, Fish and Game started the length-based catch-and-release record program, opening the door for fish that were released. The program has been hugely popular with anglers and has generated a lot of excitement over Idaho’s trophy fish.