The rivers around Bozeman look about as far from a trout stream as the Mississippi does as it winds its way through the Louisiana Delta. The annual runoff used to be a time during which we begged for access to remote creeks and stocked ponds. Daily commutes looked more like driving from Austin to Dallas than Bozeman to Livingston. I don’t know if it’s time, experience, or age that makes it all seem reasonable, but it does anyway. This is the time of year for me to take a breath, get lost, and get ready for the spectacular summer months ahead.
I was thinking today about my run in with some Permit this spring and what it all meant anyway. It’s a fish unlike any other fish, in my experience (which has been written, talked, and whispered about for years), and the exhilaration that comes as that line goes tight is one I’ve experienced too few times in this life. For years, I thought of New Zealand and the fish there as the Holiest of Holy. It is an amazing place with awesome fish, but I think I’d take a shot at a Permit in the Key’s over a 10 pound Brown on a dry. Truth be told, if given the choice, I would negotiate for both, as the choice is a tough one.
Most of you are somewhat familiar with the story so I won’t go on dribbling about the first trip, second trip, missed fish, broken rods, wind, clouds, rain, crappy casts, and the inability to see fish swimming in front of me.
In a nutshell, I made two trips to Turnefee Flats Lodge this year in search of Permit and whatever else was swimming within 30’ of the boat. The first trip was planned well in advance and has come to be the one time a year when my wife and I get away from the kids, work, and house for a week and just chill by ourselves. So, it was already a great trip - in my head - before we started.
The reality of the trip was that I happened to be the only person to ever get deathly ill after eating Scallops the night before we left for Belize. I had a wonderful flight on Apathetic Airlines during which I threw up half a dozen times between Dallas and Belize City as the snarky first class flight attendant did his best to keep me from destroying his sacred shitter in the sky. Upon arrival in Belize City, oh did I mention that we were travelling on the first Saturday of Spring Break? 73000 people went through DFW that day and I had the pleasure of standing in line with most of them, trying not to hurl on their shoes. Ever jammed a Suppository up your arse in an airport Men’s Restroom? I have. Anyway, we had the pleasure of standing in line going through Belize Customs with 500 other fat, white people on vacation for about an hour and a half. My wife’s luggage didn’t make it. So, the trip started off shaky, even with the good mojo going on in my head.
Things settled over the week and I had great time fishing with one of the best human beings and fishing guides that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. “Dubs” is his name and Permit is his game. When the wind is blowing and the clouds are out, all the other guides seek refuge on a Bonefish Flat, but if you like…”Dubs” will pole it out all day long and never complain. I like meeting fishing guides that work harder than other…there are few of them around (I’m one…but humble). It’s the willingness to work hard, never give up, and we are in it together that makes a day with “Dubs” so unique (he also gets a lot of fish).
So the week flew by with more than one minor to major moment of angling fubarmanship on my part. A hooked Eagle Ray, two broken rods, and 4 legitimate Permit eats and misses are kind of the highlights of the angling perspective. I have not drank since June 13, 1990…I cam close on the final night of this trip. I could taste the whiskey burn in my nose as we motored across the lagoon at the end of the final day. I thought to myself, in that moment, of all the things I’ve been through in the last 24 years…12 inches of fly line, poorly stripped 4 times over 48 hours of fishing had brought me closer to the bottle than a divorce, job uncertainty, kid problems, broken hearts, tragic losses, and on and on. By the time I reached the lodge, reason had returned and a hug from my wife made the frustration temporarily bearable. I was a douche for the next week, more so than usual for me, I would say that I was more like a Douchebag than an actual Douche.
If not for a few kind souls and one very sympathetic adventurous angler, I’ d probably still be acting like more of an ass than I usually do. To make a long story and little less long, I was invited to join a group back to Turnefee Flats just a few weeks later as they had a last minute cancellation. I case you’re wondering…I’ve been in the “Biz” for almost 15 years now and this is as close to a “Freebie” that I’ve ever come and it still cost more than I care to admit. But my wife said yes, my employees said yes, and Apathetic Airlines had some great last minute fares.
This was the first “Hosted Trip” that I have ever been a part of rather than the ringleader. As a last minute add-on, I had resigned myself to just go with the flow and be grateful to be spending another week of my life in Belize. I hoped for redemption, the opportunity to fish with “Dubs” one more day of my life, and for general harmony in the world. I cared more about the first two than the third, but it was on the radar.
As it turned out, this was a group of some very skilled anglers that were about as easy going as one could imagine. Fishing sucked, for the most part, and yet everyone had a great time and even better attitude. I never did hear anyone complain about the fishing…it didn’t suck, it just wasn’t what everyone had hoped for.
My redemption came on day two of the trip while fishing with “Dubs” and Ian Davis from Yellow Dog.
The story of the fish? The day was pretty much over, the winds had picked up to 20-30 mph…maybe 15…it was “enough.” We had just finished a flat and resigned to head back when I asked Dubs if he thought he could work the “Permit Bar” in this wind and with this glare. In typical Dubsisim…he says, “I don’t know, I can try”…and off we went for one last look that day.
The wind was coming at us and the sun was at our right, melding a nasty combination of chop and glare that gave me little hope as Dubs climbed up his platform. In my mind, I think to myself that there is always tomorrow. As Dubs starts to Pole on the leeward side of the bar, we all focused on the water ahead, looking for a tail, a push, anything to get just one shot at a Permit. After a few minutes of listening to him sigh and grunt, he says, “ I see a push, very far away…like maybe 500 feet, maybe a mile…a long way away. For the record, I can actually see fish and pushed very well, but all I saw was whitecaps and glare…I knew that I couldn’t cast 500 feet or a mile.
Then he sees the push again and then he sees tails slicing through the chop, he tells me that they are may 300 feet, maybe 500 feet in line with that point of land two mile away. Ian chimes in with an “Oh Yeah, there they are” while I stare at mile after mile of nothingness going up and down and shiny as hell. Now they are maybe 150 feet, I see the push, I see the tails. They are moving fast, left to right, across the sun, and with the wind in our face. I lose them, they are now 100 feet, 80 feet, 60 feet, I don’t see them, Dubs and Ian are trying to get me to them. Ian finally says, “Right there, by the Yellow leaf,” I think to myself, we’re in the fucking ocean, what yellow leaf? I see the leaf, I see the tail, it’s 30 feet away. I punched the best cast of my life 12” in front of that fish, into the glare, into the wind, and everything stopped. It was that moment I had hoped for and it was real and I was there. It was only a moment, as it passed as soon as it began.
I felt the grab, I don’t know how else to describe a Permit Grab. When you are tight to the fly and the fish eats, it just feels like something whacks your line. Like a Bass eating a plastic worm, except it feels more like you imagine what a boulder landing on your head while wearing a helmet would feel like. When it happens, there is no doubt what just happened. I kept the rod low, moved it front to back, left to right as I stripped set, hard. The fish was not there and the feeling of rejection, denial, and humiliation reeled over me for a moment. It passed quickly.
By now, Dubs was yelling at me for using my rod tip to se the hook and I was defending myself saying that, Yes I moved my rod tip, but I also jammed that fucking hook hard with the strip. He calms down and says Ok. I see Ian, in my peripheral vision, looking like someone just rammed a push pole up his ass. My rod nearly gets pulled from my hand as that Permit rips 150’ of backing and my line off in 10 seconds. It’s on.
My heart was pumping; it was a moment of exhilaration unlike any I’ve ever known before. I literally started to cry as the fish crossed the shallow bar and headed to the deep back on the leeward side. Rod high, arms high, I was just hanging on at that point and life was good. I knew I would be fine if the fish came off, I had done what I had hoped to do and was there when I did it. The fish to hand, the fight, the pic…these are the icing and I can take it or leave it (I like the icing, but I won’t admit it to most).
When it was all said and done, I collapsed on the bow of the boat and let the emotions wash right on through me. I cried more; it’s just what I do when I’m really happy and appreciative of a moment. That 20 minutes or so was full of moments that make all those other moments seem so much less relevant. The fish was 20-25 pounds, my best Permit, my second Permit, and the most remarkable fish in my angling life, I think. They are all special, but this one really was special.
To have that experience on one of my favorite flats with my favorite guide, with another angler that “got it,” is an experience that I hope says more about what is that fishing does for the fisherman than what I did. It was a moment when a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck, some great guidance, and a cooperative fish all came together for just a moment and the world was truly grand.