The last four days Aaron and I went fishing in the Del Brown Permit Tournament. I had a great time with Aaron, and would like to thank him for some of the most amazing days of permit fishing I’ve ever had. It sure was a blast, and we won the tournament. After a close second in the Merkin (not to mention the Poor Boys two weeks ago) and a tough Gold Cup, the win felt especially nice.
Also fishing the tournament was Kat Vallilee, my girlfriend, with Captain Drew Delashmit. Thanks to Ted Margo, who was unable to make his tournament with Drew but allowed Kat to fish in his stead. Drew is awesome for making this happen as well, and Kat was happy to try her hand at permit fishing.
Here’s how it all went down:
We began fishing to find out what our plan should be for the next three days. Prefishing a tournament is always a tough deal: you want to catch one, but you also don’t want to mess up the fish and detract from successes that might count on the scorecard. We looked in some places we felt confident in, and while we saw a few single fish here and there we did not have the meat we wanted so we continued to search for a group. When Aaron pulled in to a flat mid-morning, the conditions looked perfect. We were there for a few minutes before a school of fish ambled on down the bank towards us, and our first shot at them got a grab from a decent fish. We caught the fish handily, and Aaron snapped a picture of our high five:
We let this fish go then quickly relocated to an area far away from what we now wanted to save for the tournament.
At the next flat we stopped at we picked away for a half-dozen shots, and near the end we had a shot at a single that did the deed in fine form, wagging as it ate the fly and staying put as I set the hook. As the fish decided what to do next I noticed the line was wrapped around the platform, and the fish waited politely for it to clear before it took off. At this point the fly simply came out, and I tried not to overthink things too much. Ordinarily, once hooked a permit will remain hooked: for as difficult as they can be to feed, their mouths are forgivingly accepting of a barb. That said, two of the last three permit I had hooked at this point had come unbuttoned at times when they shouldn’t have (the other being the giant in the lights a few weeks ago), and I was glad for Dave Dalu who reinforced the need not to overthink things via our text messaging exchange that evening.
I found out that evening that Kat had also hooked a fish today (her first permit on fly), but a bad knot on the leader I tied for her the night before caused the fish to break off. Luckily, she didn’t break up with me.
Day Two (First Tournament Day)
We started with the fleet at 7:30, flushed with anticipation. In a tournament where the weather is usually difficult, it was one of the first times we had sun and wind together. We started at a place we knew might hold an early morning mudder, and while we saw one straight away Aaron pushed the edge for another hour without seeing a fish before we left for somewhere else. At our next stop it took about an hour to find the fish, but when we did there were enough to make us happy. Tailing and happy, the fish afforded us maybe six or eight shots–none of which worked out. By the time we changed flies we stopped seeing them, and at this point we were feeling the burn of not getting the job done. We left here for there, where we had found the fish the day before. The day was also beginning to slick off, and this is usually the death knell of fly fishing for permit.
Not ten minutes on to the flat, we saw a suspiciously similar school of fish approaching. My first cast was too close and scared them, but on the second cast to other members of the group I came tight on the drop. Aaron quietly poled off of the flat to avoid spooking the meat, and started the motor in the deep water. There, at 11:11 AM, we caught our first fish of the day. We measured and photographed the fish, that was not large by any standards (20.5 inches), but made us feel like good things were about to happen. This is the only fish I don’t have a picture of, but the next one I do.
Returning to the flat, after 10 minutes we saw a single fish sitting into the current. I threw the fly and the fish fell in behind it, wagging as it ate. Off to the races once again, this time with a nicer animal. At 11:37, just 26 minutes after we scored our first fish, we put another one on the board, this time a 29.25 incher. Here’s what it looked like:
By any standards, catching two permit in a day is awesome. That said, when you’re fishing against people as qualified as are in these tournaments, it often isn’t enough to be in first place. But we had time left (and now no small amount of momentum), so we went to where we had missed the hookup yesterday to look for a third fish. A single shot didn’t work out, but the second one did. A pair of fish was cruising through the glare to our south, and while cast landed farther away than I would have liked we left it in play, waiting for the fish to find it instead of sending another flying crab at them from the sky. This turned out to be a good call, as the smaller of the pair found the little Skok bug irresistable and hammered it. After a tense few minutes, we grabbed this fish for our third capture of the day. Aaron took the following picture to document the catch, a nice fish near 25 inches if I remember correctly:
After this, we were happy: three in a day is rare in general and rarer still in a tournament, but we were also acutely aware that if someone caught five today it would not be the first time it had been done in this tournament. Justin Rea and Diego Rouylle, in separate years, have each guided their anglers to five fish in a day in a permit tournament. Still, we were satisfied enough with our scorecard to not break off a beautiful box fish when we hooked it messing around. I had never caught one of these cool creatures before, and I must say I was in awe of how pretty it was. Here are the pictures, showing how much the color changed when we put it back in the water:
With three fish on the board, one of which was relatively long, we returned nearer to Key West for a final look for another opportunity. We saw a single fish in the final hour, and a too far upcurrent cast was all I could muster for what would be our final shot of the day. The fish saw the fly and tacked across the current to track it, and while Aaron and I both thought he ate it we never got tight–a result, we thought, of the fast swing across the current made possible thanks to my less than perfect initial placement. With that we had five minutes left, and we diligently poled the rest of the bar until the lines out alarm sounded on my phone and we reeled up and headed to check in.
There, we found that we were far from the only people to catch fish this day: Justin Rea and Greg Vincent had a great day with two, 24.5 and a 25.5 inches respectively. Many other awesome guide-angler teams caught fish, and while we had a slight lead after the first day we were acutely aware of the pack behind us and could feel Justin and Greg nipping at our heels. One thing I know for sure is that there is never a sure thing in a permit tournament until the check in is complete.
Day Three (Second Tournament Day)
We started again at 7:30, and went straight to where we had seen the tails the morning prior. We had a few shots at fish, with the best likely being the first: I threw the fly to a single as he tailed, and while he got all up on it and tipped down I never felt any weight. This fish blew out when some nearby herb that was setting up some buoys decided to floor it out of a nearby channel, and left us frustrated as the clouds rolled in and covered our fishing grounds. We stayed with the fish here for nearly two hours, plugging away in the increasing glare for shots at tails. I had a couple great shots at a very tolerant fish, throwing the fly at it maybe six times before it finally blew out, and a final toss at a single that appeared in the glare as we finished the flat. This was another good opportunity, and the fish even slowed and looked hard at the fly before blowing out. We left this area for where we had found some fish the day before, and took a long pole around in an effort to find them again. No such luck for us this day, and we continued with our fishing elsewhere after the tide changed. We looked and looked, never finding a fish. We caught a nice bonefish, which was interesting because two separate knots went through the guides and required me to untie them solo as the fish was running away and back at us. With this we left for another area, and while we stuck with it through the glare we were unable to find a permit to throw at: our fishing, it seemed, had dried up and Aaron and I made plans to fish new water the next and final day. Luckily, upon our return to the dock we found that our lead was intact, though Rob Fodyce and Tony Nobregas had caught a fish, along with Don Gable and Mike Ward–two teams that were now closing in on our increasingly tenuous lead.
Lots of people had caught bonefish, including Kat Vallilee, though with her’s there was an issue: when she hooked it, the line had become tangled in the platform and Drew had helped clear it, disallowing the catch from the tournament. Even though it was tough she did the right thing, and earned respect because of it.
Day Four (Final Tournament Day)
With the lack of fish the day before where we had been fishing, Aaron and I decided to move to parts new on the final day. With a start that was interrupted by a school of manatee that we tried to herd away from the fleet, we spent a half hour running to new grounds in hope of finding the tails. Our first stop–nothing. Our second, the same. By our third flat we were scratching ourheads–where had the fish gone? We fished a long bank, seeing a single at its end, and then started at the far side and fished to where we started. Again, we found a single pair of fish that blew out on my cast. The clock was ticking, and our decision making was tough. We bobbed in the current of a nearby channel, discussing our game plan. In a tournament, when you’re wasting time discussing what to do next, it’s a safe bet that things are tougher than you’d like them to be.
We finally decided to take a look on a nearby flat, sticking with our gameplan from the day before. Our logic was we might find fish there or not–if we did we would stick with the original plan. If we didn’t, we would relocate to some new water and take a chance to come across some value. As we pulled in to start the flat, the conditions looked good. We saw a fish mud, and looked for it for nearly ten minutes before we finally saw the little fish and had a shot at it. I cast the fly three times before the permit spooked off, and at this point I was pretty bummed that we hadn’t yet converted. Aaron then pointed out a stationary pair of fish high up on the bank, and put the boat into position for a cast. I took the shot probably too early, and the fish weren’t interested in the sudden-appearing act. They moved off, upcurrent and away from us. Aaron told me to keep an eye on them, and while I lost one I kept track of the other. As the fish began to slow down I took a longer than ideal shot, and when the fly landed I couldn’t see much of what was going on. I counted the fly down, not wanting to strip it out of range before the fish saw it, and then saw the tail wag. I stripped the fly once, paused, and on my second strip the line came tight. I cleared the line as the fish ran upcurrent, and then we watched as the fish got up on its side and skittered just under the surface. When we first saw the fish we didn’t know it was big, and when we hooked it we could see even less of it. When the side of the fish became clear, however, we were aware that we were in touch with a true giant, and this made the rest of the fight more tense. The fish slipped into some nearby deeper water, and at one point ran down to some sort of obstruction. I could feel the line darting as it dragged my leader over whatever it was down in the depths, and I forgot about it and continued with the fight as though it hadn’t happened. In a painfully long 15 minutes, Aaron slipped the net under the giant and the deed was done. We were fired up, and I thought my heart might stop. It’s a great thing to catch a large permit on a silly fly pole; it’s an awesome feeling to catch a giant in a tournament. We didn’t weigh the fish, but it was nearly two inches longer than the 28 pounder John and I caught in the Merkin, and while not as deep it was certainly as wide. Here’s what it looked like:
and another view:
At this point we were sure we needed another fish to win the thing, so we went through the same flat again. We had a few shots, but the fish seemed completely disinterested and we moved on. At this point we had a lot to be happy about, but after many close seconds and knowing how good the rest of the field was we pushed hard to find another opportunity.
Aaron brought us to a place a half hour away, where he thought there might be a school of fish for us to throw at. We looked for nearly an hour, seeing a single fish, until behind the boat (barely 30 feet away) I spotted a pair of fish suspended in the current. My first cast was behind them and to their left, and I re-cast in front of them after it became apparent they didn’t see it. The smaller of the pair immediately darted to the fly, and as I stripped once the fish got behind the fly and wagged its tail. I stripped again to set the hook, and while I didn’t come tight I did see it move forward and stop again. I don’t know if the fish ate the fly the first time I stripped the fly or the second, but either way the next time I stripped I felt the fish and it bolted away. Since we had most of the fly line stripped out and the bite was very close, the fish had to clear nearly 80 feet of fly line. It was a tense few seconds as the fish skittered off, but once we were clear to the reel and the fish settled in a nearby channel we made short work of the fish. Here was the final fish we caught, our second for the final day and our fifth for the tournament:
Knowing full well that anything could happen, Aaron and I continued to fish the flat that gave up the above fish as hard as we could, and when the alarm sounded we both commented on how early it seemed. We headed to the dock with our strap twice marked, hoping for the best.
There, we found that only one other team had caught a fish that day. Kat Vallilee and Drew Delashmit, after breaking off a permit on the prefish day and losing a bonefish release on a technicality, strapped a permit–Kat’s first ever on fly. As the first lady angler ever in the Del Brown, and after only fly fishing for a year and a half, Kat came correct with a seriously respectable capture on a tough day:
I can’t say how awesome it feels to finally win a permit tournament. We had a ton of good fortune and things fell into place for us easily, and Aaron Snell did an incredible job finding and keeping us in fish that were willing. I’m especially thankful to Dave Dalu, who has given me invaluable tournament advice over the course of our friendship (the most recent, “shoot to hit, don’t shoot not to miss”, is now my mantra when I’m preparing for a shot). I’m also grateful to Loren Rea for putting together another awesome Del Brown and I can’t wait to fish this tournament again next year.
That’s it for now…Monday and Tuesday with Simon Becker. Monday we are to be joined (finally) by my friend Jason Schratwieser, and Tuesday we’re to be joined by Kat.
More to come,