Carried over from Grand Slam Reflections… The Getting There.
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.
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.
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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