I’m sure everyone has heard about Irma and the damage that was done to the Keys. In places it’s worse than you can imagine, and in others it’s less than you’d think. Key West did incredibly well, without much of a storm surge, and while there are a lot of trees down it’s on the way to a full recovery. The shop is open as I write this, and we are back in full (if slightly fuzzy) effect.
From Cudjoe where the eye made landfall east, it’s a different story. Parts of Big Pine and Ramrod were hit by tornadoes, which left things pretty banged up. The streets are covered in what seems to be so many cubic city blocks of yard waste. There was a large amount of storm surge, and many people are left without a place to live until things get rebuilt. John O’Hearn was hit especially hard, and part of the last few weeks have been spent helping him get rid of the water soaked stuff in the house and find a place to live for the year it will likely take to get back to normal. Others, too many to name, are in a similar situation. There has been a lot of cutting, hauling and adjusting since we started to filter back home. We have been involved with the Guides Trust Foundation, which is offering the best place to send financial help to the members of the fishing community affected by Irma. Another thing that would help is to book a guide and let them get back to work.
These pages are not weather reports or gofundmes, and that’s all I have to report about little Miss Irma. Between the above mentioned helping of John and others (not to mention our own contribution to the local mulch pile), I was able to get out on the water for two days with Ian Slater. On the first day, last Monday, we were joined by Kat. I’ll start there and get things current.
After five days of working and wondering what things were like, not to mention the appeal of being the only people on the water, Ian and Kat and I got into the skiff and headed out to see what was going on. The slick calm removed our ability to see if the flats had changed much, and added an always welcome effect of difficulty to the permit fishing. We found some tailing shots at our first stop of the day, and I was happy to be up first. The fish gave me a total of about four quality shots, though none resulted in a connection. I had one give the fly a hard follow and was briefly tight, but I got the sense that the tension could have been from grass or a nearby snapper (of which there were tons) and not the intended mark. Kat then got out of the boat and walked over to where I was, getting a few shots of her own. One of these was very well executed, and had the fish not made a last minute direction change would have been nearly perfect. After this shot we waited around for a while until it was apparent the action was finished and we moved along.
We looked nearby for the rest of the morning, seeing a few errant groups of smaller permit sniffing around the edges of where we thought they might be but never getting a solid shot at a feeding fish. We walked a bit, hoping to find a shot from foot, but soon we aimlessly poled along the bank we were on, breaking out some lunch and having fun. Kat tried poling, Ian stayed on the bow with an 8 weight in case we came across a bonefish. I sat on the cooler and talked smack in the heat of the day while we idly passed the time. In the high sun and slick calm I figured our chances of finding a permit shot as low–until I saw a number of tails knifing. I told Ian to get out after them, but he handed me the rod and told me to get after it, which I did with exactly zero more convincing. I walked to the group of tailing fish and got a cast off a little too early, though on my second presentation had a single fish break off from the pack and track the fly. I could see the fish in the water, which is a rare thing in the slick, and on the second strip watched it do its business on the hook end. When the fish was clear to the reel the rest of them continued tailing, and as I gave chase towards deeper water Kat hopped out with her own rod to take a stab at a double. I watched things unfold over my shoulder until it was clear I had to focus on the task at hand, and after covering a few hundred feet after the fish it became obvious that this permit was bigger than I had anticipated. Ian collected Kat when her shot was over and they poled over to lend a hand. I opted to land the fish myself, which is always an awkward call, and I’m sure they each have plenty of pictures of my multiple failures. I finally dropped the rod and got both hands around the tail, waiting for the fish to stop thrashing under water before lifting it up for a couple pictures. The fish was over 20 lbs, making it the largest I have caught without any help from a boat, and a great way to get back at it after storm:
When we poled back in to position there were a few more tails to throw at, and it was Kat’s turn. She again had a few good shots, two of which were criminally unrewarded. We left when the fishing slowed again, and made our way to some new territory.
We looked in some new places in the afternoon, seeing a few fish but never finding another proper shot. Just when we were gearing up for a final assault in the late afternoon a summer storm popped up. The rain we tolerated; the lightning we did not. When our efforts at making light of the situation became unfunny we left for the ramp, getting soaked on the way.
The second day I fished was Thursday last, and it was just Ian and myself. We still had permit on our minds, and followed near our plan from Monday. In the morning we didn’t have a lot of opportunities, and fished hard until midday when things started to turn around. I waded for a few hours at a very educated population of permit. Of these, all were foiled by different means.
I had a good shot at a group of tailers that got hung up in the bottom, leaving me tight to a sponge in the middle of a feeding school. I had a few shots at singles that never gave me a clean angle, and I walked what felt like a half mile after a large permit back that was snaking around in the calm. I had a few clean shots at this fish, though on my second again fell victim to gravity. This fly I broke off out of frustration, and while I was putting on some new tippet saw the fish still tailing away. I turned my back to the fish to concentrate on my knot tying, and when I finished adding some new tippet and a fly turned around to see the fish tailing still. I got a final shot off in its direction that scared him off for good before turning back to the boat that was now a long walk away. I saw a few on the way back to the boat but never had a clean opportunity, and when I got back in the skiff Ian fired up the motor and we left for something less frustrating.
At the next spot we looked for a while before we found what we were looking for, and when we did it was in more water than we had hoped for. The fish would tail only occasionally, and this caused a few casts to spook fish. I kept at it, looking hard for small black triangles, and when the action slowed down and I saw a single tailing in the shallower water a fair distance away I happily headed in that direction. The fish turned and gave me a great shot, and the fly landed where it was supposed to. The fish tailed hard and I stripped to come tight, though I never felt or saw a reaction from the permit. It continued on its way and I threw again at it, once more thinking that I had the fly where it needed to be. I picked up when the fish went past the danger zone, replacing the last casts with a more aggressive presentation. The close landing of the lead eyed fly spooked the fish, and I was left frustrated at the expiration of such a textbook opportunity. On my way back to the skiff another small group of fish pushed a wake, and I got between them and where they were headed for a cast. As soon as the cast landed I was tight, and I got back in to the boat to give chase–after the much larger than anticipated fish on Monday, and with my frustration level needing every reason to simmer down, I was not interested in taking any chances. The fish gave a good account of itself but soon we had it nearby for a tail grab, which felt especially good after all of the earlier difficulties:
We left after this fish was caught, returning to the flat of our prior discontent for a dose of redemption. I had a wading shot that never turned into anything workable, and when I got back into the boat we discussed a new plan that involved staying in the skiff, and within minutes the shot we were hoping for arrived. Ian spotted a fish that I didn’t, and I took a voice-guided cast to where it was. As soon as the fly landed I saw the fish, and we both got to watch as it swerved over to the fly. One strip and we were tight again, completely erasing the earlier frustration once the line cleared to the reel and we were on our way to a quick fight. Here’s what number two looked like:
After the second fish we kept at it without another shot, and when the sun got low we headed home.
I’d like to thank Ian for a pair of great days on the water, and I’m looking forward to more days on the water instead of hurricane clean up. Tomorrow and the next I’m fishing with John O’Hearn, and we are going to throw 1kg at permit. Ian will join us tomorrow as a second set of hands in the event we come across a potential record, and reports will follow.
More to come (finally)