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Fly Tying Interview with Peter Steen a.k.a. fly_fishing_pete

The latest fly tying expert in our interview series is Peter Steen or fly_fishing_pete on Instagram. 

TH: When did you first begin fly fishing?
PS: I got a late start into fly-fishing and didn’t get serious about it until my late 30s (I’m 46 now). Work schedules and three young kids really didn’t present me with a lot of free time. So it was only when my wife decided to quit her job and stay home with the kids that I was afforded the opportunity to pursue fly fishing. After a few unsuccessful trips up my local canyon, I finally caught a few small wild browns and was hooked. I picked up a copy of the Fly Fisher’s Guide to Utah and began fishing just about every small stream I could find. I fished alone pretty exclusively for several years and learned a lot about fishing small streams, not to mention enjoying the solitude of long drives and hikes to discover a new fishing spot. I’ve broadened my horizons a bit in the last few years, and now seem to split my time evenly between fishing lakes and streams, and often with fishing friends I’ve met along the way.

TH: What led to your decision to start tying flies?
PS: Mainly it just seemed like a natural progression for someone interested in fly fishing. I imagine part of me thought that you could save money by tying your own flies (which you quickly come to realize is complete nonsense, especially if you have a hackle obsession), but it also seemed like a challenge to be able to catch a fish on something you tied yourself. Not to mention, there was an entire section of the fly shop that I wasn’t utilizing.

TH: What was the first fly pattern that you tied?
PS: It was a zebra midge and it wasn’t pretty. I took an intro to fly tying class at Western Rivers fly shop in Salt Lake City, and wanted to at least tie one fly before starting the class so that I wouldn’t look like a complete noob. It’s probably still sitting in a fly box somewhere.

TH: What is your favorite fly pattern to tie?
PS: This is probably where I’m supposed to say an elk hair caddis, which I do enjoy tying, but I also really enjoy tying simple wet flies – there’s something about partridge feathers and getting a clean head on a wet fly that is very visually appealing to me. I don’t consider myself a commercial fly tier, even though I do sell a lot more flies than I tie for myself (mostly so I don’t have to beg my wife for money to buy a new rod or hackle or whatever I might need on my next visit to Fly Fish Food). 

TH: Which fly pattern of yours are you most proud of?
PS: I don’t tend to name flies, since I assume every fly I’ve tied has borrowed (or stolen) elements in it from other tiers. But I think the patterns I’m most proud of are those which I’ve sold and have helped folks catch fish, because that’s what I think the goal of fly tying is – to catch fish on the little bits of feathers and fluff we lash to hooks. 

TH: What has been your most memorable fly fishing experience?
PS: I’ve had a lot of great days of fishing. I’ve even had some 100+ fish days, but one day that stands out to me was a day that I caught a single 5” cutthroat. My family and I took a weekend to visit National Monuments and Historic Sites throughout southern Idaho, and I brought along a fly rod and a few flies because I knew we would be passing near the Raft River mountains. The Raft Rivers are home to several very small streams that contain native Yellowstone cutthroat, the only place to catch such fish in their native drainage in Utah, and one of the four subspecies of cutthroat required to complete the Utah cutthroat slam program (I had completed it once already but wanted to do it a second time). Most of the streams are difficult to access and require a high clearance 4x4 vehicle, which is pretty much the opposite of the family minivan we were driving. However, I knew of one stream that was accessible by a well-maintained dirt road that the minivan would not have difficulty with, so the plan was for me to rig up, quickly catch a fish, and be on our way. Unfortunately, the cutthroat in the small, brushy stream did not get the memo. Although I had a fish attack my fly within minutes, I didn’t land it and wasn’t able to get the photograph required for the submission of the cutthroat slam. I spent the next 45 minutes fighting the brush on my way upstream and never even saw another fish. As I dejectedly walked back to the car, I snipped off the fly and broke down my rig. I apologized to my family for wasting their time, and knew I would have to spend another day driving 3 hours each way in search of a Yellowstone to complete my second slam. But then my wife suggested that I try to catch the fish that had eluded me at the beginning. It was a pretty good idea, so I put my rig back together, went back down to the creek, and got myself into a position where I could put a bow and arrow cast into the tiny area that held the fish earlier. Low and behold it was still there, grabbed the caddis dry fly I was using, and I managed to hook and land the 5” fish and snap a quick picture to finish my quest. While it wasn’t my most exciting day of fishing, it was undoubtedly one of my most memorable.

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