We set our alarm for 5:00 AM so that we would be totally ready by the time Katchu, our guide, got to El Pescador with the boat. All showered and fed and ready to go, we were looking forward to a day of more productive fishing than the previous day’s tarpon hunting.
We were going to be headed up along the Mexican/Belizean boarder where we hoped to stay north of the clouds. The day looked promising as we headed out. There were no other boats headed our direction as we made the 45 minute ride up the interior of the bay. A good sign.
We got up to the park and paid our $5 USD entrance fee and in 5 more minutes we were set up, drifting along near the shore, looking for permit. Katchu told us that the fishing for bonefish would be better in a couple hours and that at this time in the morning (about 7:50 or so) we should try to find some permit. I was on deck again first and had the Sage Xi3 10 wt. rigged for permit, which in this case meant 15 pound tippet and a lightly weighted Christmas Island Special.
Along the shore were cruising a couple nice bonefish and Katchu positioned me to cast to them. I was maybe too keenly aware that I had a 10 weight in my hand and I tried to have a delicate presentation and ended up totally under-powering a couple of casts. It was such shocking casting that even Shane had to say “Those are probably the two worst casts I’ve ever seen you make.” It was objectively true, so I couldn’t argue. It was a case of dramatic over-thinking.
Luckily, things changed quickly when nervous water was spotted coming towards us… a school of permit. I made the cast, right in the middle of the school, and just like their cousins, the Jacks, the permit parted and quickly regrouped. I stripped fast and one fish became hell bent on eating. He chased the fly with reckless abandon. Just like with Shane’s Jack the day before, I could see the fish, water sheeting over it’s head as it chased down the fly to eat. It did. I set the hook. It was off to the races.
Now, fishing for permit presents some interesting gear choices. The fish I ended up landing was not really a fish you’d throw a 10 weight for… maybe it went 2-3 pounds, but out there on that same flat were permit going 20+. The Orvis Helios 8 wt. probably would have been better, but, ya know… probably better to be over-gunned than under.
The permit was my first. A milestone in its own right.
Shane was up and after being out of position for most of the other permit we saw, we headed to a little Caye riiiiiiiiight up against the Mexican boarder to look for bonefish. It must be said that while we struggled with light and clouds, we could see the Mexican side bright and sunny all day. It will give me extra reasons to root for the US when next we play soccer.
The fishing along this little caye was just fantastic. There were about a million bonefish there, but also jacks, barracuda, snappers and permit. We fished one little school of bonefish and if I missed the fish the drill was to cast out to line the school so they would retreat. This they would do, totally according to the script, and then they’d come back in a couple minutes. We could have sat on that school of bonefish all day. We traded fish for a good amount of time and fun was had.
When Shane was on deck we saw, right mixed in with the bones, permit. There were actually two schools of permit and there were some tense exchanges between Shane and Katchu about what cast was the best to make but in the end Shane made the cast that needed to be made and he was soon watching his line rip through the water, attached to a permit at the other end. Then… the fish just came unbuttoned. No reason… it just came off.
We fished down to the point of the Caye and got to do some wading. Shane is at his most content when he gets to find his own fish, so this was a good stop for Shane. It was a good stop for me too as I stuck a fair number of bonefish there myself.
We fished here until it was about time to head back and Katchu said “If we want to get you the Slam, we better go now.” So, we went. It took all of about 5 minutes to get to the canal and another 5 minutes to get to the little mangrove enclosed lagoon where we’d be looking for “baby” tarpon.
I had never caught a tarpon. But, ya know, before that morning I had never caught a permit either. I had hooked a tarpon (the day before) and made quick work of botching the job, so… I was glad to hear “baby tarpon.” They sounded maybe a bit easier.
Newsflash… the babies are not really babies… they are more like young-adults full of testosterone and anger. The first fish I cast to (which was totally not small, by the way) attacked the fly like my wife going after a pair of comfortable black high-heels… like me after bacon… it was savage. I felt totally unprepared. Actually, I WAS unprepared and quickly botched it. I then botched the follow-up.
We retreated further into the mangroves and I found myself in a mangrove-lined dead-end mini-lagoon with a tarpon at the other end and my grand slam on the line. An off-shoulder backcast was called for and delivered. The fish showed some real psychological issues as it threw itself at the fly and I nearly had to seek immediate psychological help after I botched THAT attempt. The fish, however, was still looking for the fly after I had just pulled it from its mouth and two more strips and the fish ate. I didn’t botch this one. I didn’t give an inch. I bowed to the fish when it jumped NINE FRIGGING FEET in the air.
The fish was in. The grand slam was in the bag. I was amazed. A Grand Slam that featured my first ever permit and my first ever tarpon. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. But it did. What an amazing day.