Mar 11

Grand Slam Reflections… The Permit

Carried over from Grand Slam Reflections… The Getting There.

The Permit

On the third day of the trip Shane and I were in the boat of Katchu, a guide from El Pescador, headed up to the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. We were looking for more action than we’d had the previous day on the tarpon flats of Savannah Cay. We wanted to catch fish, which is sometimes not what happens when you are hunting permit or tarpon.

Chillax'n on the boat ride north.

We set up on the inside of the lagoon, drifting silently over turtle grass, Katchu on the poling platform with his long, wooden push poll in his hand and his eyes scanning the distance. We were looking for permit. Shane and I didn’t really want to look for permit. We wanted to wade for bonefish. Katchu wanted us to look for permit and it was his boat. Katchu told us that the bonefishing would get better later in the day and we should drift along the permit flat first. I think, largely, the line about the bonefishing getting better later was fiction, but Katchu had a plan and he was going to execute on it no matter what we told him we wanted to do. So… we were on a permit flat looking for big black tails and not silver or blue ones.

I was up on deck first with a ten weight in my right hand, the fly in my left and fifty feet of fly line on the deck. I was scanning the water, looking for tails or nervous water. Now, a tail is a damn hard thing to miss on a wide open flat, but the stirring of the fish below the surface that creates “nervous water…” well… I have a hard time spotting that. My brain just isn’t trained that way. Every breeze that came up looked like fish. Every current that ran into a clump of turtle grass looked like fish. What doesn’t look like nervous water, though, is the flash of permit in the sun and that is exactly what I saw.

“Permit, 12:00!” We had found them and they were on the move. I had one shot and, well, it was the first cast of the day. It didn’t all come together and the fish passed out of range, heading up wind and away. There would be more, I was told. I didn’t really believe it.


As I stood on the deck, thinking back just a few minutes to me botching a good permit shot, the guide spotted two bonefish cruising the mangroves. I was very conscience that I had a 10 weight in my hand and I was thinking that the presentation would be too heavy. It is a dangerous thing, thinking. I made the first cast to the bones and tried to ease up on the power so the line wouldn’t smack on the water. Totally underpowered, the cast landed in a heap. I cast again, but my head was too much in the game and the result was the same.

My friend Shane, who is a certified casting instructor couldn’t hold his tongue. “Those are the two worst casts I’ve ever seen you make.” he said. It was pure truth. Those casts were just horrible. I couldn’t help but give a little laugh at the ridiculousness of the casting and the degree to which I could rain on my own parade. It was also glad that Shane had just shown that he wouldn’t hold back the truth and when you are out there to learn, you need the truth.

There wasn’t too much time to dwell on things. Permit were again spotted. “Permit, 1:00!” said Katchu. I pointed my rod. “More right! More right!” The rod passed 1:00 to 2:00. “More right! More right!” I was pointing at 3:00 now. We joked that Katchu’s clock went something like 12, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 6, 11, 11, 11, 11, 11. I pointed my rod at 3:00, but saw nothing. “Where?” I asked. “Nervous water, don’t you see it?” I didn’t… I didn’t see anything. “There, 800 feet, do you see it?”

“WHAT? Of course I don’t see it!” Again, I could do little but laugh. I might not be catching fish, but at least I was seeing the humor in it.

Just as I was about to step down and give the bow up to Shane we saw more nervous water, permit, moving at speed. Downwind. Moving our way. Katchu said “Cast Now!” and I did. The fly, a Christmas Island Special, landed in the middle of the school and the school parted. I let the fly sit for a second and then started stripping as if I were casting to Jacks. The school came back together and balled up around the fly. As the fly swam fast out of the school one permit broke off and followed it. The fish chased the fly down just an inch below the surface, water sheeting over it’s face as it opened its mouth and ate the fly. I saw every detail. I set the hook. The fish was on, the line was cleared and the reel began to sing its beautiful song. Soon the permit was in.

Per Mit. Not a big one, but an honest to god Permit.

This was my first permit ever. Someone later told me that there are two kinds of permit. There are “permit” and “big permit.” I had caught the former and I had done so pretty much completely to the contrary to almost anything you will ever read about how you cast to and catch permit. There was no crab pattern. There was no leading the fish and letting the fly sink or settle. I cast on top of the fish and stripped as if I were trying to keep a strip of bacon from a hungry dog.

This is where the guide shines and local knowledge burst to the fore. On my own I never would have selected that fly. On my own I never would have made that cast. On my own I never would have made that retrieve. On my own I never would have caught that fish. Katchu knew. I think Katchu has been down this road more than once and also knew that first permit and first tarpon tend to come with first big tips. He may not be able to read a clock, but he knows his waters and he knows how to catch fish and thank god for that.

Next up… the Bonefish.

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Nov 10

Belize Report, Day 5 – The Grand Slam

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.

Permit. Not a world record, but a frigging permit!

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.

I'm ready for my close-up!

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.

Point, cast, catch... Shane at work.

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.

Belizean Bone rocking the Skinny Water Culture mask.

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.

Just on the other side of this tunnel, I botched TWO tarpon eats.

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.

There it is. Amazing.

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.

Thanks for being there Tarpon.

One of the best beers I've ever had. A Grand Slam Beer.