October has been a big month for sea-run fish records on Idaho’s Clearwater River. On Saturday, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game certified a new state-record steelhead that fly fisherman Kyriacos Panayiotou caught from the Clearwater in early October. That record became official only three days after IDFG certified a new state-record coho salmon, which was pulled from the same river Oct. 13.
Panayiotou caught his record-sized steelhead early in the morning of Oct. 6, according to an IDFG press release. The angler from McCall was wade fishing a stretch of the Clearwater and swinging flies with a two-handed spey rod. A traditional fly-fishing technique carried over from the Atlantic salmon rivers of Europe, it’s one of the more challenging yet rewarding ways to catch a steelhead (a rainbow trout that returns to the river after spending years in the Pacific.)
“The full floating spey line was approximately 120 to 130 feet when the fly started the swing,” Panayiotou told IDFG. “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.”
The fly fisherman knew he’d caught something special as soon as he landed the giant buck (the term for a male steelhead.) While keeping it wet in the shallows, Panayiotou measured the 41-inch fish with a flexible measuring tape and took a picture of it next to his spey rod. He reportedly released the wild fish to continue its journey to its spawning grounds.
Although it sounds like Panayiotou would have let the fish go anyways, he didn’t have much of a choice. Idaho’s steelhead runs are endangered, with only 2 percent of their historical populations remaining, according to the Idaho Conservation League. Because of these low numbers, IDFG requires that all wild steelhead be released. (Wild fish can be identified from their hatchery counterparts by their intact adipose fin.)
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Panayiotou’s 41-inch steelhead has been certified as an Idaho catch-and-release record, and it beats the old record set in 2021 by 1.75 inches. The fact it broke the magical 40-inch mark is cause enough for celebration, according to IDFG’s Clearwater Fishery Manager Joe DuPont.
“In a typical year,” DuPont explained, “the number of steelhead in the 40-inch range is less than 1 percent of the run.”