A week ago, Kat and I returned from Belize for our annual trip with Eworth Garbutt in Belize. Our goal was to permit fish, turn off the phones, and spend some time on the water together. Further, Kat and I had been talking about the possibility of her throwing some light stuff at the fish. The ladies’ permit records are mostly very available, and despite being a member of the “Florida big three” the 2 and 4 pound tippet records remained vacant. Given this availability and the fact that I already had everything we needed for the attempt we took the light string down with us and intended to throw it if the conditions looked right. We started in Placencia, and the plan was to move around anywhere we wanted to check out in search of permit.
We left out of Placencia, and from the start had great fishing. Kat and I alternated shots when we were fishing from the boat, and when it was feasible Eworth let me out to wade a flat while he and Kat fished toward me from the other side. On one such occasion I came across a school of small permit tailing on the crown of a long bar, and put a fly in the midst of them. I came tight, though it wasn’t to a permit as I’d hoped–instead, it was a yellow jack come to confuse the issue. The ghost of the day with John O’Hearn and Chad Huff past, it seemed, had come to haunt my fishing in Belize. I stripped in the little yellow jack, and quickly threw into the melee of black tails again. This time I came tight to a more solid weight, though it was not a permit. Another yellow jack, this one much larger than the first, took off into the deeper water on the other side of the bar and I stepped away from the still tailing permit as quickly and as quietly as I was able. Eworth and Kat were approaching me in the boat, having finished their pass. I worried that my opportunity to catch a permit would be interrupted by their arrival–by any standard, the appearance of my line stretched out across the shallow water would indicate that I was tight to just what we’d come for, and the logical move for them would be to come close and offer to take pictures of and part in the occasion. I waved them off, which would have made little sense had I been tight to a permit, but they shut down a few hundred feet behind me and Eworth started poling in quietly to the activity.
I landed the yellow jack and held it up to explain my strange behavior, and pointed to the permit still (unbelievably) tailing on the bar. I threw into the sickles for a third time, finally coming tight to the object of my desire on the second strip. This fish was relatively small but welcomed as both a real example of luck as well as the first of the trip. Here’s a picture:
After that we bumped around for a while, not catching any permit but seeing them in almost every place we stopped. On another long bar Kat was on the bow before we had a chance to split up, and she had a great shot into a large group of permit. She came briefly tight to a fish from a large school, and even though we had a chance to chase after the school we let them slide on after a few more shots and split up–me walking on the flat, and Eworth and Kat fishing from the boat. We had another shot before I could get out of the boat, and all things seemed to be in the proper place for another capture. I started walking down the flat as Kat and Eworth idled around the bar to start toward me from the other side, and as I walked I saw them start to throw at fish as they started. I kept moving, seeing nothing, distracted by the continuous shot unfolding a hundred yards from me. Soon Kat and Eworth turned to chase the school that was now moving in the same direction I was, and I took a wider line to intercept them if they should cut back in some deeper water. Soon I saw a small group of fish doing just that and threw in front of them. I was tight suddenly, and cleared the line as the fish went fast into the deep chasm off the shallow crown.
At this point, it’s hard to say exactly what I was thinking. Maybe the recent experience with the tarpon on six in the trees fueled this particular idiot fire, but as I looked at the line’s severe angle in the deep water I made a decision that the fish must have gotten the line around a sea fan or coral head and I dove in after it to make things right. I kept kicking in water that was soon over 100 feet deep, and never found the line to be at any angle other than straight down. By the time I realized I’d simply jumped in after the hooked fish I was far away from the bank, and just pulled and kicked and hoped things would work out. Eventually, Eworth idled over to give me a hand. I landed the fish solo in the deep and held on to the boat while Eworth putted back to the flat for pictures. Here’s some action shots of the idiocy as well as the capture:
After that fiasco the fishing for the first day came to a close, and Kat and I headed back to Placencia to rest up for the following day.
The second day of fishing we started out in the opposite direction, heading south to Punta Gorda. We fished our way toward the Garbutt’s Lodge there, finding a few shots along the trip. When we passed near a local river mouth, Eworth stopped to watch what appeared to be a giant number of tarpon busting bait in the dark water. Kat grabbed a rod and hopped up; in three casts she was tight to a small tarpon that she landed for pictures:
I got up right after this to get one myself, though for a half hour I couldn’t buy a bite. I changed the fly a few times and kept at it, but we soon were on our way to Punta Gorda with only one tarpon between us. When we arrived at the lagoon in PG, Kat got the 4 pound outfit ready. We had a few great shots as soon as we started fishing, and one of these convinced everyone on board that we were about to come tight to a line class record. The fish didn’t finish the deal, however, and we kept on in search of a fish to play our light string game. Kat fished most of the morning, as we all felt like the record was something we wanted to take part in, but took a break during the middle of the day and I got up. As soon as I did a school of small permit started rumbling around the flat, and I threw into the bobbing peaks of water and stripped to come tight. This fish was small, and part of me wished that Kat had still been up with the 4#, but it was nice to get one on the boat and change the pace after the hyper focus with the light tippet. I don’t have a picture of this fish, as it was lost in a phone related accident, but imagine a small permit and you’re all set with the visuals. We finished out the day with a quick look on the outside, finding no fish to throw at before heading to the lodge to get some dinner and rest.
This day was spent fully in PG, and we all felt committed to the plan of a record pursuit. Kat was up to start, and we found a number of fish in a small basin that were waking and tailing around. Early, she hooked a fish that was pushing some water, though we realized after a few minutes that this was a bonefish–not the permit we were hoping for. Not to be deterred, Kat fought the bonefish to the net and we took the fly out to preserve the tippet for a permit. She got up again with the light stuff and continued to fish, the shots never lining up. We saw a wake inside a mangrove shoreline, and as soon as the fly landed it was inhaled by another bonefish. This fish ran back into the hazard of mangrove roots, and Kat broke it off. As I looked for the bag that contained the tippet and scale, we realized that we’d left it at the lodge. We were invested at this point in Kat catching a fish, and Eworth and I both felt that she’d had a bad beat with some great casts, so Kat remained up and grabbed the rod rigged with 16 for the rest of the spot while Eworth made arrangements for the bag to get brought our way. She soon got a cast in front of two decent fish, and one of them wiggled on to the fly and ran off. Kat fought the fish fairly, and despite a small obstacle in the form of a seedling mangrove the fight was uneventful. I tried to net the fish once a little early, and it scooted off. Kat started to pull the fish back to the boat, and when she did the fly popped out. We looked at the hook–apparently, the hook had been opened by the fish pulling against the mangrove and waited until the final moment to give way. Sadness prevailed.
Kat stayed up–at this point, she was going to catch a fish one way or another. The fishing slowed down as we waited for the tide to get right at the place I’d caught one the day before, and in a few short hours the bag arrived and I tied up a new tippet for the record rig. We approached the spot from the same angle we had the day before, and soon saw the rumble of a familiar school as they ricocheted around the shallow basin. Kat took a few casts at them, though the school kept changing directions every time the cast would land. Finally Kat got a shot off into the middle of them, and a single tail spun around and knifed after the fly. Kat came tight and cleared the line, and Eworth poled as fast as he could to keep up with the fish. Kat played the fish lightly (of course), so I had time to get the net ready and tried to listen to Eworth’s advice not to take the shot too early. Once the fish rounded a small mangrove clump in the middle of the basin we were home free, and in ten minutes Kat had the fish near the boat. I took one too-early net attempt, turning things tense when the fish went under the boat, but Kat stayed connected and passed the rod around the bow. Soon the fish was on its side, and I slipped the net under the permit. We went through the record requirements of weighing and measuring the fish, keeping it in the water to make sure it got its strength back for the release. I won’t bore you with the technical photos, but before we let the fish go Kat took a few glamour shots to mark the occasion. Here’s what the fish looked like–a 3.5 pound permit caught on 4 lb tippet:
After this great showing, I grabbed one of the other rods and stood on the bow. Soon, a familiar looking school of permit came around again and I got a cast into them. I soon reeled in another permit, this one smaller than Kat’s:
We were of course elated at this point. To go from losing a fish on a hard beat in the morning to a pending record was a great moment from Kat, and for us to add another fish to make it a double made it all the sweeter. We fished throughout the afternoon, getting a few shots but never catching another. The day couldn’t have been any better, however, and we went home to download the pictures and fill out the application still full of the best stuff fishing has to offer.
As the midway point of our trip had passed, we discussed what the plan should be for the remainder of our trip. We elected to stay in PG for the morning, then fish our way back to Placencia for the last two days. We started off in the lagoon, and had tough fishing in the morning. Kat had a few shots at a school of smaller fish, and handily put a second fish on the board in the early part of the day. Here’s what the little guy looked like:
I hooked a little fish in a small mangrove pocket that broke me off in the roots, and Kat had a few more shots in the later morning that didn’t work out. We finished our fishing in the lagoon and headed towards Placencia, hoping to find some interruptions on the way. We found a smaller number of tarpon than we had two days prior on our way down, and while these fish weren’t playing Eworth made a run into a nearby river mouth for a look for more. We found a number of little tarpon on the shoreline of the narrow river, and I hooked a few that never stayed connected before they stayed down for good. We had lunch and moved on, stopping on the way to Placencia at some nearshore flats that looked great on the way down. We didn’t find anything until our last stop, at a place near our destination. I hopped out to wade after a pair of large tailing fish in some deeper water. I got as near to them as I could, but never saw them until they spooked off the flat. With that, our travel day was done and we settled in for the last two days in Placencia.
On our fifth day of fishing, the weather took a turn for the worse. We looked in places that we’d found fish on the first day of our fishing, and found nothing between the rain showers that soon took over the sky. Kat and I walked after a school of fish at one place before the sky disappeared, and while we got the casts in play the permit were already on edge. We hooked a few tarpon nearby, and spent most of the day running from the clouds and searching for some sunlight. By the end of the day we were chilly, fishless and soaked. We returned to Placencia to get fed and warm before our next and final day of fishing.
Our last day of fishing was another tough one, and our soaking experience the day before had us fearing the rain more than we would have ordinarily. The fishing was on the edge of getting good–we had a number of shots in the morning, but never made a connection. I had a cast at a hard tailing school of fish, and they saw the fly and fled. Kat had a number of shots at a large school on the same flat, and from the looks of it both her and Eworth were waiting to come tight more than once before the fly got hung up on the bottom and she broke a rod trying to pull it free.
The weather caught up with us in the early afternoon, and Eworth made a strong call to run far away to another inside lagoon to find a fish in the clouds. Kat had one shot there at a large tailing permit, and while the fly landed in a good spot the fish never noticed it before taking off from the boat. I caught a bonefish on a cast at some surface disturbance, and within an hour the clock had run out on our trip. We rode back to Eworth’s house, grabbed our rods, and headed back to the hotel to pack.
As always, I’d like to thank Eworth for a fantastic fishing trip. It’s become an annual thing for us, and I feel lucky to do it every year. Next year we’re planning on bringing Ian and Chelsea, which will be a fun addition.
I have to write up Monday with Ian Slater and Tuesday with John O’Hearn and Ted Margo to get current. I’m leaving tomorrow (Sunday) to fish with Steve Huff for two days, as always in search of the six.
More to come,