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Idaho Steelhead - Clearwater River in January

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

Bill Matthews Outdoors

January Clearwater Steelhead !

I got the call from Chris Shaffer of Pautzke Baits at noon on Wednesday….He was going to film an episode of Pautzke Outdoors fishing for Steelhead on the Clearwater River with Toby Wyatt of Real Time Fishing and they had one open seat. He wanted to know if I was in or out. It was a no brainer…I was in. You do not say “NO” to a trip on the Clearwater with Toby Wyatt in just don’t.

Great Video by Pautzke Outdoors or the trip!

I finished the work I had to do, packed up a bag and fired up the Tundra for the 6.5 hour drive to Lewiston Idaho. I did not even look at the weather, but I did not matter, I was going no matter what.

I got to Lewiston about 9:00pm, checked into the Comfort Suite and called Chris for the game plan. Chris, his cousin George Csoban from Long Island, and Captain John Albrich from Lewiston Idaho, would pick me up at the hotel at 6:00am and we would meet Toby Wyatt and Lyle Draper for breakfast at The Canyon Cafe in Peck, Idaho.

Great breakfast at the Canyon Inn Cafe!

We met up with Toby and Lyle at the Canyon Cafe where we had a fantastic breakfast, and went over the game plan for the day. After breakfast we drove across the street to the boat ramp and headed out into the mighty Clearwater River!

The set up for the day was a little unique to me. We were using Atlas Mikes UV Glow Yarn, pegged a few inches above a size 2 or 4 octopus hook. It was a very subtle presentation. The trick was to add Pautzke Fire Gel in Anise or Shrimp flavor to the yarn. Steelhead are very scent orientated, and Fire Gel has a super powerful scent AND stays on the Atlas yarn for long time. Especially in the cold water. You can click HERE to read my blog post about Pautzke Fire Gel.

Atlas Mikes UV Glow Yarn

Atlas UV Glow Yarn and Pautzke Fire Gel is all you need to catch huge steelhead!

We drove up river a few miles and got set up for our first drift. Within 5 minutes we were hooked up to a big Clearwater Steelhead. We got it in the boat, took a few pics and released it on back into the river. I knew we were in for a good day!

Soon after, Lyle hooked and landed a STUD STEELHEAD. I’m guessing it was at least 18 pounds and it was flat out beautiful! The fish had a big bright red cheek and stripe…exactly what you are looking for when you come to the Clearwater. Lyle is a big guy, but that steelhead kicked his butt, I think it might have even torn his bicep! You have got to be prepared to do battle with these fish. These Clearwater Steelhead have attitude. They have traveled over 400 miles with nothing to eat, and only one thing on their minds. I can tell you that after this journey, they do not like having a hook in their face.

Lyle with a beautiful Clearwater Steelhead

George got on the board with a nice fish, and John caught a beautiful big steelhead that was at least 17 pounds. I finally got on the board with a tagged fish, but Lyle continued to have the hot hand. Lyle hooked several and landed 4 and they were all big beautiful fish. By his third fish we were all calling him BFL (Big Fish Lyle).

George on the board with Uncle Chris!

John with another incredible Clearwater Steelhead.

I asked Lyle his secret and he told me that since we were just using yarn and scent that I should be setting the hook more often, “It’s not like you are going to lose your bait or anything, just set the hook if it feels close to a bite, you will be surprised how many are actual fish” OK, I thought to myself, I like that advice. On my next drift I told BFL that I would try it. The first sensation I felt, usually one that I would not set on, I jerked..and I’ll be damed if I didn’t hook a fish! It was a beautiful Clearwater Steelhead…exactly what I came here for.

Bill Matthews Outdoors

Thanks to Lyle's advise, I was able to land one more.

I gotta give Lyle credit, he was right and I learned something. I wondered how many fish I must have missed over the years by not setting the hook on questionable bites, but when fishing a single size 2 VMC Techset Octopus hook, with Atlas Mikes yarn and Pautzke Fire Gel, there is no penalty for setting the hook, so why not. I am a better steelhead fisherman for making this trip and listening to both Lyle and Toby.

VMC Techset Octopus Hook

VMC Techset #2 Octopus Hooks did the job!

Thanks to Chris Shaffer of Pautzke Bait for setting up this trip and inviting me. Thanks to Toby Wyatt for being and incredible guide and putting us on fish, and thanks to Lyle for teaching me a few new tricks and making me a better Steelheader!

Pautzke Fire Gel

Pautzke Fire Gel, Atlas Mikes Yarn and VMC Techset Hooks!

Thanks most of all to Idaho, for putting so many fish in the river and doing a great job with the guys are awesome!

if you are looking for a steelhead trip of a lifetime give Toby a call and book a trip with him on the beautiful Clearwater River in Idaho.


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