Last week, finally, Dave Skok came to town. There were a lot of reasons for this trip, not the least of which was for me to fish with Dave; the last time we fished together was on a trip to Costa Rica, which was full of sailfish and many fun times but at this point was nearly 7 years ago. Since that time Dave and I have been in close contact as he develops flies for the shop, though we haven’t spent any skiff time together. In addition to the erasure of our fishing gap, we wanted to get Dave down in order to do a tying demo at the shop.
The last of these worked out great. Despite missing his flight the evening prior, Dave arrived in the early afternoon before to the tying demo and we made it to the shop on time for the event. While I’ve been to a fair number of these get-togethers over the years, this one was markedly (and awesomely) different. Names like Rea, Delashmit, O’Hearn, Becker and Chard were there to check out some of Dave’s flies and the techniques he uses to tie them. The evening concluded with a brief baitfish show for those less crustacean-inclined, and we wrapped up the party early to get some sleep for our upcoming day on the water.
The first day, we fished with Simon Becker. I’ve suspected for a long time now that Simon and Dave were each cut from the same cloth, and fishing with them confirmed that suspicion. We began at a reasonable 8 AM, and had a full day in front of us. Our first stop produced a single shot at a group of tailing permit, though we were unable to make anything happen. At our next we saw nothing, and while we could have stayed around the area and picked away at what looked like B fishing, Simon made a move to a place far away for a change of pace. As soon as we arrived, the reason to be there was obvious: small groups of permit raced around and pushed wakes as they skittered across the bank. Dave was up first, and it took him only two shots to get results. The fly landed perfectly on his second cast, and a small fish peeled out from the school and lined it up on the strip. Another strip and he was tight, though the success was short-lived. The permit stayed on long enough for the hearts to start beating, and came off just as quickly. Sadness prevailed as the little permit jettisoned Dave’s offering and fled.
I was up next, and had a number of shots at cruising fish. Two were close to making it happen: the first, a short cast at a what was likely a pair of permit mudding. When the fly landed and I stripped it out of the cloud, a permit was behind it. We all thought good things were about to happen once again, but the permit saw the boat as the water cleared up and took off. The next shot was one that we thought was again headed for happiness as the fly landed in front of a larger fish, but the result was the same–just as we thought the fish was going to seal the deal it looked up and fled. Sadness, once again, prevailed.
After a fair number of shots for me it was Dave’ up again. The small permit had moved on, and so did we. At our next stop Dave had a close shot at a large fish. In addition to the fish being quite close to the boat, the fly landed too close to the fish, and the combination of these factors led to more sadness. We bumped around for another hour in the failing fishing, and Simon once again called a long move farther from home.
By the time we arrived at our next spot it was nearly 4, and the fishing appeared to be slowing further. We saw nothing, and as Simon called another move I figured it was towards home. It wasn’t home that we were headed for, but yet another spot. I grabbed the rod and had two great opportunities at large fish on another flat. The second of these caused one of the wide permit to swerve and follow, and I thought we were surely in for a capture, but the fish veered off and left us before making a mistake. Dave had one more shot to finish the day (or so I thought), and we headed onward.
As it turned out we were not headed for the dock, and as Simon slowed down 45 minutes later I figured we were in for a short look only. We soon saw tails, and Dave hopped out of the boat to give chase on foot. After some positioning on the moving target Dave made what looked like a perfect cast, and Simon and I watched the permit give a hard start in the direction of the peddled crab. The fish looked hard and then tore off, and when Dave returned to the boat he gave us the blow-by-blow: he had made a cast that was as good as we suspected, though the fly had picked up a bunch of turtle grass in the current and spooked the fish off when it got close.
I then left the boat to wade myself, and had a few hard to see fish get by me in the failing light while Simon and Dave attempted to pick them off after I had a shot at them. This continued into the evening, with a spectacular backdrop captured on the digital by Dave Skok:
At this point it was nearly 7:30, and as I hopped back in to the boat I saw another small group of tails on the edge of the flat. I hopped out and got into position, and while the cast landed where it needed to for me to be happy the same was not true for the small permit. They fled, and in the low light Dave captured the fish on camera that I could not on fly:
We left for home at 8:00, a full 12 hour day behind us. We hurried home to get some sleep, since I suspected Simon might have a long one planned for us once again the next day.
We met at 8:00 again, and while we were excited our edges were slightly filed down from the long day before. This can often be a good thing with permit, in my experience, since being slightly tired prevents me from thinking too much. At our first stop near home, Simon powered down and we saw a small school of fish tailing along the bank. I hopped out, and while Simon had to scare a shark away as soon as I got out of the boat it looked to be a good (and now safe) opportunity to catch a permit on foot. I shadowed the school for a few hundred yards, each time casting when I felt they were within range and each time watching them move just beyond my range. After 30 minutes of walking around I figured the fish to be gone, so I hung tight and waited for a few minutes. I saw one fish first, and then the rest as I began to cast. It was a large school of small fish, larger than I first thought, and when the fly landed a few gave chase. As the fish moved toward me I could see a few fighting over the small merkin, and the bite came about ten feet from my rod tip. The fish flushed and I was tight. I cleared the line as Dave snapped some pictures from the boat:
I captured the fish going full wade, and when I walked the little guy over to the skiff Dave hopped out for more happiness documentation:
Following this capture, there was a brief refractory period of happiness. We then continued on our way, and it didn’t take Simon long (does it ever?) to find us some more great opportunities. Dave grabbed a rod, and soon had a shot at a nice tailing fish. This one didn’t work out, as the fish got in the glare behind us and prevented a proper fly placement. The next shot was a stunner: a large group of fish approached us from down sun, and Dave tossed the fly in front of them. Distracted by some tastiness on the bottom the fish stopped, and Dave’s cast remained in front of them but out of interest’s way. His second cast was smack in the middle of them, and one tilted down and wagged hard as the school swam toward the boat. Dave didn’t come tight right away, but when the group of permit saw the boat and took off he was tight to a solid fish. Dave soon reeled in a solid fish of around 16 pounds, which I documented (with far less talent than Dave) on Simon’s iPhone:
After that we were primed, all happy smiles and hoping for more. We continued to look near where Dave had captured his beast, and there were many more to throw at. The fish kept coming and I kept throwing, though another capture eluded me. When the fish came close enough to get a fly at they were near spooked already, and the best I could do was not what was required.
After the fishing slowed we moved on, into a dry spell in the afternoon. We traded bow time on a shot or two, and as it got later Simon brought us nearby where we had the closing action the day before. I was up first and immediately had a few shots at fish tailing hard in the current. I slipped out of the skiff for some more wading, and Simon and Dave remained in the skiff to throw at anything that came by. I had a nice shot at two passing permit high up in the shallow, and while one of them ate the fly I never connected and had to watch them skitter off unattached. Of note was a fish that somehow got past me and alerted me to its presence with a hard tail shake behind me. While I threw the fly I was unable to see the fish until it was too late, missing out on what would have been a great opportunity had I been facing the right way.
The fishing was good but not as heavy as the evening prior, and while I wandered around for an hour or two as Dave and Simon solved all problems fly-related in the skiff. We called it a day near 7:30, and after a long run in retired and made plans with John O’Hearn for our next and final day.
Despite the long two days that came before, we let John talk us in to an early start. We met him at 6:30, and took a look for some laid up tarpon before the light got higher and we went in the direction of permit.
It was our intention to throw some 4 lb at permit, and while I was up I grabbed the light weight wand and set to waving it. The fish we saw first were smaller, but of course we decided to throw the 4 pound anyway. The wind blew, and the fish seemed to know they were safe upwind: each shot was into the breeze, and each was shot down as soon as the loop encountered the lightest of tippets along the leader. I soon gave up in frustration, and handed the bow (and a much-needed 9 weight with a normal leader) to Dave in hopes that the fish would cooperate. They didn’t, though we had a great many shots at schools of fish that were trampling down the bank.
We had maybe 15 shots before the fishing dried up and we headed elsewhere. The fishing slowed in the middle of the day again, but once again in the afternoon we found the mother lode: a bank populated with giant permit, many of which would have been more than sufficient for the 4 pound record.
I threw at them the first time through, and had a serious look from a fish that looked every bit of 30 pounds. Dave was up the second time through, and had some great fishing for 45 minutes. Singles and pairs showed up and got thrown at, though none of them took the fake feathers. I grabbed the light tippet for a final pass, though at this point the fishing had slowed down and we headed home.
I’d like to thank Dave Skok for joining me for some great fishing with awesome guides, and I think the chances of this becoming an annual trip are near 100%. If you haven’t already noticed, Dave is tying some of the most creative (and effective) flies for permit the world has ever seen. I can’t wait to see more of them, and him, in years to come.
Friday with Ian Slater, Sunday through Tuesday with John O’Hearn and Frankie Marion. After that Kat and I will be in Belize for a week with Michael “Reckless” Hetzel. Reports will follow in due time.