Coming Full Circle

Flats fishingSeveral years passed by and the thoughts of going back to the salt did not subside, the timing just had not worked out. I wanted to return, but much to by dismay, I just wasn’t able to make it happen. In 2013 the timing was looking right again and I was able to book another November trip.

The November trip this year was set up a little differently. We decided to do it over a long weekend; we headed down on Wednesday, the week before Thanksgiving. This can be a good time of year since it is just after the hurricane season in the Yucatan. The weather is typically getting better after a lot of rain and wind during September and October. There are arguments made regarding the best time of year to go fishing in the Yucatan. So far, November has worked out for me, but other than during hurricane season, the fishing is said to be great any time of the year. High season is in the spring when the bay is slightly more crowded and the guides are usually filled to capacity.

We went to Fisherman Lodge in Punta Allen, it is managed and staffed with many of the same people from the island where had fished before. The lodge is set up nicely with rooms being clean and comfortable and the food, as before, amazing… fresh caught lobster and fish served the day they were harvested, breakfasts made to order, great lunches and drinks on the boat, an appetizer as soon as you come in from fishing, and the most wonderful dinner each and every night. The ambiance at the lodge is another great part of the trip. Mike Ledezma, the lodge manager, is doing it right.

I am not sure what changed inside of me, but for this trip I decided I was mentally ready to hunt permit. Permit, to most fly fisherman, are considered to be the holy grail of fly-fishing. This fish is at the top when it comes to a hunt-able fish that does not need bait to entice it to the fly. Permit are tough to find as they blend in so well with their environment. They seem to change color as their flat body reflects their surroundings like a mirror. The guides and fisherman learn to look for nervous water. Nervous water comes from the dorsal fin cutting through the water or just under the surface of the water, and making a slight line of distorted water among the vast amount of other water that also looks nervous (or maybe that is just me). This is not easy to see for the amateur, but with time, it can be trained or enhanced with careful attention to the surroundings. Once the nervous water is spotted, the fish, if it is heading your way, can close the gap, of up to hundreds of yards, in a matter of seconds. It is imperative to find the fish through spotting nervous water, seeing a fin or tail or spotting a reflection that looks like a shiny plate in the water. The fly gets presented in front of the fish and usually retrieved with a long, erratic stripping motion that gives the fly a fleeing type appearance to the fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince deciding I was ready to hunt permit on this third trip, I did my best to remove all other distractions as tempting as they may be. We passed up barracuda, bonefish, snapper (ok I did cast at a shark), and all other fish in our path in the off chance that a permit was just around the corner. Day one brought Rob Pope and I together with Eliezer or Eli (pronounced El-eee) for short. He is a young guide with a lot of experience on the flats and has a very amiable disposition. Eli likes to hunt permit and tarpon, in that order, so we were starting off the day right with a trip out onto the flats looking for permit. Once we motored out to the starting point, Eli got up onto the poling platform and Rob and I took turns on the bow. Standing up front on the panga with a rod in hand looking for fish can put the mind through a lot. We were not finding a lot of fish. I would intently look for fish and then find my mind wandering, to how my left foot kept falling asleep as I stood there. It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand, so I stepped down to line management for Rob for much of the day. Later in the trip I learned how to settle my mind when I was on the front of the boat. Rob got a couple of good casts in at permit that morning. I got a couple of bad casts in at permit that morning and we finished up the day with Rob chasing bonefish.

On day two Eddie and I got to fish together. Our guide was Thomas (pronounced toe- moss) who is arguably one of the best permit guides in the world. Thomas was in his 28th year of guiding clients for this elusive fish. We went out to the flats with high expectations to have a great day on the water. We started seeing permit at the second flat we fished. There was a lot of permit activity and Eddie was up on the front of the boat and I was back managing the line and filming with the GoPro. Since permit were all around us; it started to get real exciting. Eddie was casting and I was managing line as best I could. At one point Thomas called out to a group of permit coming our way, I stepped up onto the bow and pointed them out to Eddie, Eddie made the cast, stripped a couple of times and one of the permit took the fly. Then the fight was on. The fish was running Eddie multiple times into his backing on his 9 weight Sage One rod. At one point Thomas asked if he had enough backing left on the reel since the fish was running fast and furiously towards open water. Eddie fought the fish like a true pro and after 40 minutes we had our first permit of the day to the boat. This fish was the biggest permit Eddie had ever landed. I was glad to be a part of it and happy to capture the whole thing on video.

I am sure this writing will not do justice to the excitement that I felt, and am currently experiencing, as I write this and relive the day. Next I was up on the bow and we were off hunting again. Just before lunch we went to the southwest side of an area called Cocolitos. When we stopped for lunch, and as I was breaking out my sandwich Thomas said there was a permit just south of us. I threw down my sandwich, jumped out of the boat and we waded on foot toward the fish. As we closed in on the permit it had its head down and was tailing (the tail was sticking out of the water while he was eating something from the bottom). I made a couple of casts and set the fly down in front of the fish. The fish turned and went the other way. We went back to the boat for a short lunch and then resumed fishing. Thomas called out nervous water at 300 plus yards and we worked our way toward the fish. Thomas and I at one point bailed out of the boat and again tried to stalk a permit on foot. The area was shallow and the approach was better on foot so we wouldn’t scare the fish with the boat. I had a couple of chances at a couple of milling fish, and then all of a sudden a group of fish was heading towards us. Thomas told me to make the cast, wait for what felt like an eternity, and then streep streep streep came from Thomas. One of the permit took the fly and I got overly excited setting the hook like I would on a trout. The hook set solid and the fight was on. After 25 minutes of fight I had my first permit and boy was I excited.

To be successful catching permit, time must be dedicated to looking for them with the off chance of getting the opportunity to present a fly and hopefully getting the permit to take it. The permit can see better than most fish in the ocean and they evolved with two sets of nostrils for an amazing sense of smell. If the permit takes the fly, hang on tight for the ride of your life, something like the feeling when my daughter talked me into going on the big roller coaster at California Adventure. When the permit decides to run, just a little pressure needs to be put on the line to hook the fish up, and then get your hands out of the way. The reel turns at an amazing rate and the fish runs at break neck speeds.

We finished the day with a couple of chances, but no more in the boat. The next day I fished with Russ Osguthorpe and we saw many permit, but a front of weather was coming through and the fish were not eating, at least what and/or how we were offering it to them.

Leaving the bay is always bitter sweet. The fond memories will linger, but who knows when I will be blessed enough to tread in those waters again. It is my hope to go back soon, but what that means is still up to the imagination. So until the day I get to return I will relish the memory stamped in my soul.

Shaylin Peck