Fishy Tails

It made little sense to cast a #6 salmon fly to a 20”+ brown with a 3 weight rod.

It made little sense to cast a #6 salmon fly to a 20”+ brown with a 3 weight rod.


Fly fishing is a small world.  

I recently connected on Instagram with Andy at the Steffen Brothers Fly Rod Co.  Andy had seen one of my recent posts on my Instagram page @colorsonthefly of a tailgate wrap of one of my watercolor paintings and reached out to me for more information.  He should order it huh? :) Now back to the story --- 

Within just a few minutes of messaging between us, i had a nagging thought that the “Steffen” name sounded familiar.  

Then it finally dawned on me. I realized that I already owned a Steffen rod that I had purchased more than 20 years ago.  I guess that says something about how many fly rods i own.  It’s a sweet 7 1/2 ft. glass rod for 2/3 weight lines.  It is a joy to cast and I’ve used it many times over the years, primarily to fish small streams of course.  However, that’s not how the rod and I got started and i had to share the following story with Andy.  

It made little sense to cast a #6 salmon fly to a 20”+ brown with a 3 weight rod.

But, i had just purchased a new 7 1/2 ft. 2/3 weight Steffen fiberglass rod and I was determined to fish it.  So i did it anyway.  I was early June, a little more than 20 years ago.  I was walking the bank looking for a riser on the lower Henry’s Fork just below Vernon Bridge, when i came upon a huge brown right next to the bank.  He wasn’t moving far as he fed, but did seem willing, and certainly worth a shot. 
As i stepped into the water below the trout and moved away from the bank to get a good casting angle, it occurred to me again that my odds of landing this fish with this light rod were not good.  But, as i said, it was new and i was excited….

After reaching a suitable spot for a cast, i made a couple false casts away from the fish to judge my distance and get the feel of the rod with the large fly.  My first cast was a bit too far out from the fish’s lane.  The second cast was on target and the fish moved to the fly, but didn’t take.  On the third cast, the fish slipped under the fly and inhaled it like he’d been doing it all day.  

The saying “be careful what you wish for” immediately went through my mind.

When I set the hook, the fish shook his head slightly, but instead of a big run, he just went back to his spot by the bank.  He kept opening and closing his mouth in an attempt to dislodge the fly, but didn’t really seem overly bothered.  After all, how much pressure can a 3 weight rod apply.  So, what to do?  I decided to try the “net him before the fight even starts” approach.  I carefully waded upstream toward the fish while reeling in line, but without putting pressure on the fish.  When i got within about 10-12 ft, I unhooked my net and slowly lifted the rod with the hope of turning his head enough to start him downstream and into my net before he knew what was happening.  In a matter of seconds it was over and the fish was in my net, well at least as much of him that would fit.  I was amazed to say the least.  

I waded back to shore and although my hands were shaking, i was able to carefully remove the fish from the net and lay it near the rod for a couple pics.  I knew my story of this huge fish on a rod designed more for small streams and brook trout would be suspect at best without proof.  The fish was well over 20”… a rarity for me.  

I enjoyed fishing that new rod for another hour or so and frankly can’t remember if i caught more fish or not, thinking more about what happened, than the next cast.  When i decided to quit for the day, i couldn’t help but reflect that fly fishing is always unpredictable and with a little luck, sometimes things that don’t make much sense do work out.  

I’ve fished that little Steffen rod many times over the years, and I never string it up without remembering that great fish and my unlikely success the first time out.    

As a watercolor artist, I decided to further honor this memory and this sweet little Steffen rod.  I recently completed a painting based on the photos i took that day.  More of my work can be seen on my Instagram page @colorsonthefly, at the Saddletree Gallery and Lost River Outfitters in Ketchum, Idaho, Picabo Anglers in Picabo Idaho and frequently at the Full Moon Gallery in Twin Falls, Idaho.  For more information about my work, and to inquire about a commission, I can be reached through my Instagram page or at

Mike Pepper
Instagram: @colorsonthefly

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