As promised, here’s a detailed report of the Del Brown this year. It’s worth wrapping our fishing up with the days that preceded it, as they seemed to make a nice arc, though as I’m sure I’ll discuss where that arc ended up is no place I’m satisfied with.
Two weeks before the tournament I fished a pair of days with Ian Slater and a day with Drew Delashmit, the latter of these on an invite from Darren Soice. With Ian I had great fishing, catching a few tarpon in the early morning before we switched over to permit fishing in the afternoon. The first day we lost three permit, in a single day matching the total number that I’d lost to date this year, each in separate but equally strange fashion.
One was from an eat close to the boat that after taking a long run came unbuttoned. Another we fought for a while, losing it in a nearby channel, and the final one was a spectacular bite from a shallow tailing fish that ran off for 50 feet before getting rid of the fly and leaving us without a fish. On our second day of fishing things turned around, and we had two bites that brought two permit to hand for a picture:
With Drew Delashmit and Darren Soice we continued the good run, and after I lost one to a bad hook set in heavy current I was able to connect and stay attached to one that felt great before the upcoming event:
Darren also caught one, and while I don’t have a picture to post here it was great to watch and rounded out a fantastic day of fishing thanks to Drew getting us in range of more than a handful of willing fish.
Closer to the tournament I fished for three days, two with John and one with Ian, and we were plagued by wind and clouds. In the two days with John we were unable to make anything happen, and while we tried to keep our focus it proved difficult in the high water and cloud cover. I was joined by Ben Hall, a friend of mine from New Zealand, and in the final minutes of the last day with Ian we were able to pull from the cloudy conditions a single fish:
Despite this great end to the three days of fishing it was painful to fish for permit in the thick clouds, ones that hovered consistently over water too deep for the fish to get their tails out of. John coined the phrase that we used to describe these three days of fishing, and its name was simple: garbage. Despite this I was looking forward to to a break in the weather, and I figured that the fish we were going to find in the Del Brown would be willing to play along with our plan.
Day One (Prefish day)
John and I decided to run our plays nearby, hoping to avoid chasing our tails. We scouted some places that we’d been finding fish before the weather moved in, and throughout the day were able to find a few areas that had some potential. As usual we were as interested in finding places we did not want to re-visit as we were in places to which we’d return, and as soon as we made a determination as to which one a place was going to be we moved on. The day slimed along through the detritus of the past week’s ongoing weather, showing us very little of what we were after. We stuck with it, never finding a fish that gave us a solid chance, and in our day of searching we only found a pair of places that were worthy of a return. We hoped that the improving weather would push some fresh fish in to the areas we’d been, though there was of course no guarantee of this.
Day Two (first tournament day)
We left with the rest of the fleet at 7:30, setting out with the other boats in a sea of confused foam. John stopped nearby for glance before we headed to one of the places we’d found fish the day prior, and even in the early light it was clear that this was a good call. We had a pair of low-quality shots on the grassy ridge before a pair of fish gave us a shot of perfect quality. I had to throw the fly twice before it ended up in the right spot, but when it did there was no error from the fish and one of the permit lined it up and did what it was supposed to. The fish took off for a nearby channel, and after it settled down things continued to be ordinary. The fish was netted without issue, and before 9 we had it measured and released. Not a big fish, but enough to get us started on what was sure to be a high scoring tournament:
After releasing this fish we were focused on getting a second, and John had us back on the ridge in short order. We had another pair of shots on our way down, and one of these very nearly worked out. We watched as the second of a close pair burrowed after the fly, and John and I were both surprised that we only came away from the encounter with nothing more than a faster pulse. We stayed on longer, waiting on more tide to move, but after two hours had found none of the fish we had been expecting and left for new ground.
John fished smartly in the face of some ignorant fish, all but one of which had clearly not read the memo to attend the places we preferred them to, and in the early afternoon he took us for a ride to finish the day somewhere new.
At this last stop we saw a fair number of fish, though in nearly all cases the fish saw us first. When we were able to line up an opportunity the fish seemed on to us before we could get a fly nearby. After two hours of fishing we had only a single clean shot on what would have been six great opportunities, and at 3:30 we reeled up and headed back to check in. At the dock we found that other teams had found their way in to some great fishing, with two boats (Justin Rea and Jose Ucan and Rob Kramarz and Chris Stinnet) catching three and one boat (Will Benson and Alejandro Cruz) putting a pair of fish on the board. A number of other teams had caught a single fish, and while we weren’t in last place we were in a position that required a lot from us moving forward if we wanted to win the thing.
Day Three (second tournament day)
John and I repeated our program from the day before to start, looking exactly where we’d found the shots that had given us our fish. We fished there for an hour, finding only one permit before John and I started to discuss making a move. In order to overcome the tough fishing we were finding nearby (not to mention the scoring deficit we found ourselves in) we needed to bring at least two or three fish on board, and likely more. The fishing was barely enough where we’d been to make this happen, so at 10 John took us on a long boat ride in search of something we could do some damage with.
After we arrived we started fishing, energized by the thought that things might turn around. While there were some clouds we still had a decent amount of light, and between a few of the black shadows we spotted a permit that looked eager to make a mistake. I made a longer-than-necessary cast at the fish but got away with it, as the fish glanced at the bottom and gave us a chance to slide the fly in front of it, and as soon as the fish picked its head up it saw the fly and kicked easily over to it. This permit did everything perfectly, and as I set the hook I had a clear feeling that things were going to start falling in our direction. The fish came at the boat before it figured out where it wanted to run, and as the line cleared to the reel the fly fell out. We cursed briefly, knowing that this wasn’t our fault but frustrated at what this meant: in nearly every tournament I’ve fished one fish is enough to make or break our fortunes on the leaderboard, and we needed every one we could possibly get.
We continued on into the afternoon, getting another shot at a large single that whipped around on the fly just as we lost it in a cloud. John moved us nearby for a look for some schools of smaller fish, and at this final stop we were welcomed with a close shot at a permit that we didn’t see until it was too late. Despite the frustration of this missed opportunity we were engaged, hopeful that the schools of smaller fish we hoped to find would be in the area and give us a chance to put some points on the board.
The fish came in waves soon after, and as the first approached I again felt confident that we were going to turn things around. The fly landed in front of the first school and they knifed around it, each strip I took with the expectation of a live thump. None of the fish that wove behind the fly ever erred, and we were left to wonder what went wrong as they spotted the skiff in their midst and sped past the boat. Another school showed up nearby, and again we got the fly into a good position. Another few fish veered around the fly and we once again thought things were going to turn around; once again we didn’t come tight to a fish.
Awfully, things went on this way for another hour before lines out: each school that showed gave us hope when the cast was in play, the fish weaving behind the fly and acting interested but apparently avoiding the final moment of inhalation. At 3:30 we left, annoyed with so many fish that looked so close to biting so many times but instead left us with a zero scorecard.
At the dock we found that other teams had fared much better than us, specifically Willy and Alejandro and Justin and Jose. Both had caught multiple fish again, the latter scoring four and the former with two, leaving the rest of the field in a distant second at best and setting the stage for a great final day showdown that I was frustrated not to be a part of.
Day Four (final tournament day)
With what had become despite our best efforts a 5-fish deficit, John and I needed to make a number of moves on the last day if we were going to make our way to the top. John boy has never been shy to shoot high, and in the morning he took us to a place that he thought could get us started with a fish or two. After a half hour run in the morning he powered us down and we began looking for what would have to be the beginning of an epic day.
The first shot came imperfectly, and while we got the fly in front of a small group of fish they were less than pleased with the situation and turned hard away from our presentation. The next shot was better than the last, and this time we were able to get the fly our in front of a larger school of fish with a longer lead. The fish again fled quickly as soon as they noticed the fly, and our third shot at an even larger school confirmed that this was not going to be where our comeback began: once again, as soon as the fish noticed the fly in the water they took off, creasing a nervous wake as they swam away from us unattached and faster for their fear.
The morning hadn’t produce what we needed, though there was still a theoretical possibility that we might make our way back in to contention if things went perfectly. Our possibilities were slowly trimmed throughout the rest of the morning, and by the early afternoon we were clutching only a distant hope that we could catch 6 fish in a few short hours. Once another tournament boat decided to get clever and try to fish in front of us we focused on fishing behind them, trying to catch a fish that they’d thrown at to make a point. This was, in retrospect, our submission to the facts at hand: while we’d had the fishing to catch enough to win, the fish had not been of the attitude that was required to make things happen. As soon as the other boat left we hooked one, enjoying at least catching one for what it was: a great fish that we worked harder for than we should have had to:
After this fish we were nearly out of time, but we stayed on until the final minute in case a giant permit decided to trip and land on our fly. It didn’t, and we went back to the dock to see what the final tally was for the rest of the field. In this tournament I was now grateful for one fact: when it gets away from you, at least it’s over after three days.
In the end both Will and Alejandro and Justin and Jose caught 7 fish total, though Alejandro and Will had one that made the 30-inch scoring bonus threshold to propel them into first place. Both of these teams fished a fantastic tournament and deserve all of the credit they get for their three days of fishing. I can’t wait to do it again, but for now it’s about what they did. In third place were Rob Kramarz Chris ‘Permit King’ Stinnet, great guys both who caught three on day one. The biggest fish went to Will and Alejandro for their 32″ fish on the last day.
More to come–I’ve been working on other writing projects recently, so these pages have slowed a bit. I’ll keep them going though, since it’s kind of my thing at this point, and I’ve got plenty of fish stories and pictures to share since the Del that I’m going to get to shortly.
Thanks to the people that read these reports–I appreciate that anyone cares at all about my fishing and this fishery enough to read them.