Stevie started conventional fishing at two years old, and began fly fishing at age six. Her dad, Daniel Kim, is a fly angler, who took her fishing. It wasn’t long before Stevie started pursuing the sport herself. Stevie has now grown to love fly so much that in her words, “any guide knows that if he even suggests conventional, it’s not even a question.”
But at such a young age, when others haven’t even heard of the words fly fishing, why this sport? “For me, I enjoy the challenge. Fly fishing is extreme fishing. It is as technical as fishing can get. There is still room for error, which is very important, but definitely a challenge.”
What did you begin fishing for and how did tarpon, and then subsequently permit, become your target? “I started fishing for brookies and brown trout. My dad tried fishing for tarpon, but after trying it, he wasn’t interested in pursuing it again. I encouraged him to keep going. I wanted to try, but fishing for tarpon is obviously expensive and very challenging. My dad told me that before we could take a trip to a tropical destination, I had to learn how to cast in wind and be able to handle all the things that make saltwater fishing so much harder. I started fishing for stripers out of New York City in Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways. This gave me the chance to work on my double haul and make sure I could handle the chop, wind, and weather.”
Stevie was nine at the time and would practice casting inside her home when the weather outside didn’t cooperate. On her first day of striper fishing, when the weather was tough, and nobody was catching, everyone else headed in. But, she wanted to stay out and continue practicing her cast in the wind.
What is on your bucket list? “My biggest bucket list item was to catch a permit before I was 12. So, I have done that.” What do you put on your bucket list when you’ve already accomplished permit by 12? She has yet to successfully land a tournament qualifying tarpon of four feet. That’s a goal. Another goal is the grand slam.
Her personal best tarpon is 2-1/2 feet. “That’s the biggest tarpon I’ve brought to hand. During the Ladies Tarpon Tournament in Islamorada, I fought a tarpon that was 80 pounds for 31 minutes without it jumping. It had another one swimming next to it, encouraging it to keep it going. That was hard because I basically can’t even do a push up.” She was 10 when she caught her first tarpon, bonefish, jack, and barracuda on a trip to Belize.
You realize how remarkable what you’ve already accomplished is, right? “As soon as I caught my permit, I realized how far I’d come. It was around 12 pounds and for the area where we were fishing in Mexico, that was a nice-sized permit.”
Stevie has learned lessons that some of us have yet to learn. She does not, for instance, choose her own flies when she fishes with a guide. In her own words, “I usually let the guides choose because they know what’s working. If it were up to me, I would pick all pink and purple flies because those are my favorite colors. I’m not yet capable of knowing which flies work best.”
What made her want to pursue permit, the sport fish that has frustrated more anglers than possibly any other fish in the world? “I will always love tarpon fishing, but catching a permit may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. You can fish for tarpon in a lot of places, but I decided to fish for permit on this exact trip because it was a permit destination. While there, I never just targeted one type of fish. I’ve always been ok with catching fish of any species. Whether it’s a valued permit, or a small barracuda, I just like having a bend in my rod.”
Stevie, to our knowledge, is the youngest person to catch permit on a fly. Certainly, there are many anglers, young and old, who look up to her now, and will look to her in the future. Does Stevie have a mentor in the fly fishing world? “Heidi Nute. She is the world record holder for 16-pound class tippet for tarpon. She is not very tall or super strong, but she knows how to fight a fish better than a lot of anglers. Heidi has amazing technique. She is such a great inspiration to women and girls in the sport. She is a really good person to look up to.”
I know this is still some time off, but you’re so focused and driven. Do you have any idea what you want to be when you grow up? “I have a couple ideas. One is to become a surgeon. I like the idea of helping a lot of people, and I think that would be a cool career. I also love to bake, and of course there’s fly fishing. Who knows?”
Rubik’s cubes? “One day, I came home from school and there was a Rubik’s cube on my desk. I immediately started playing with it and spent hours trying to figure it out. My dad told me it was a hard thing to do, so I shouldn’t get frustrated if I couldn’t solve it, but that just motivated me more. I spent about six months online trying to figure it out. I tried over and over until I finally solved the whole thing. Now I can solve it in about a minute.”
Do you have a favorite rod and reel combination? “Oh yes. My Scott Meridian 2pc 10 wt with a Nautilus Silver King reel.” According to Daniel, Stevie’s dad, “It was really important to get her set up correctly. When Lefty [Kreh] met Stevie, he was concerned about her chasing adult tarpon. The salt game can be so frustrating and physically challenging, but I couldn’t say no to Stevie wanting to do it (and she had shown she could swing a 9 weight all day for stripers in wind). Lefty made sure she had the most efficient cast to get it out there without hurting herself. And, I made sure to think through her gear choices: choosing setups with low swing weight and good feel. She worked her way up to her tarpon setup.”
Fly fishing in a tournament is completely different than going out for a day of fishing, which is stressful enough. What made you decide to fish a tournament? “I hadn’t thought I was ready for that level of intensity, but Heidi, the tournament chairwoman, believed in me and invited me to compete. I really got into the idea and started prepping for it. I even bought a remote control toy truck to practice casting at a moving object in the park. The hardest part for me was the lack of sleep you get during the tournament. There were events at night, and I usually go to bed at 8 pm. I had to be up really early for the tournament. That was definitely the hardest part. It was amazing to me how many women were cheering me on every day. Everyone was so supportive, and that was a big part of the tournament. It’s amazing to have a group of women who support you.” (We agree!)
If you could give one piece of advice to a first time angler what would it be? “Go for it; especially as a woman or a girl, you have a lot of people who are on your side, and who will support you. Go for it.”
I hear you and Lefty have a story? “Yes. I was fishing in Belize and coincidentally my dad was taking a video while I was fishing. By accident, he switched the video to slow motion and recorded a video of me jumping a 55-pound resident tarpon. That video went viral and has 300,000 views. Lefty saw the video and wanted to get in touch with me. He sent me a signed book, and invited us to his home in Maryland. We drove down one weekend and he helped me with my cast. My cast is not as good as his, but the improvement in my cast comes from him. He’s not only an amazing angler and teacher, he’s an amazing person.”
“It didn’t take me five minutes of speaking with Stevie to be taken aback by her drive, determination, and sheer intelligence. It’s hard to believe that Stevie is only 11 years old. Talking with her inspired me. No doubt she will have this effect on all who are fortunate enough to meet her. I have no doubt that the world, and fly fishing, will be a better place with Stevie in it.” Jen