Fishing with Ian Slater
On Tuesday after I returned from the trip with Steve and Jason I spent a day on the water with Ian Slater. I’d been on a bit of a low-yield run with permit, after the two trips with Chad and Dave Skok, and was looking forward to ditching the 2lb in pursuit of just catching one. The permit fishing had been tough by most accounts, and we switched up a few things in our terminal tackle to see if we could get some positive reinforcement.
We started in the early hours with a pass of an edge in search of a barracuda, thinking that the cooler water temperature and low light would give us a good opportunity for something we haven’t done a lot of yet this year. We saw a pair of fish at our first stop, getting one to follow the fly and no interest from the second, then moved on to another spot in search of the same. There we found some more great looking water but few targets; it took a half hour for Ian to give it a hard enough push for us to feel good about leaving. The light was up high enough to see, and we both had permit on our mind.
We readied the permit rod at the next spot, fully focused now and ready to run the play by play. Ian pushed us along a channel, us both keeping an eye for one to pass by on the flat. Within 15 minutes we spotted a single fish on the other side of us, having pushed higher on to the bank than we expected. We got a good first cast off at the fish, which did everything just like it was supposed to. After we cleared the line it was clear that the fish wanted to stay shallow, so we poled after it instead of starting the motor immediately. It was bigger than we thought at first, and after we were clear of where other fish might be we started the motor we gave chase under power. Usually a fight with a permit is a tense but uneventful affair; with this fish things were different. We idled after the fish, retrieving line from streaks left from its face dragging along the seagrass, and hoped quietly that the fish wouldn’t rid itself of the fly until we decided it was time. Within 10 minutes we had a hand on the fish, which we estimated at 20 pounds. I was happy to have put one on the deck after so much difficulty in the past few weeks, and we basked in the moment after we let it go:
After that we were ready for another, and made our effort as solid as we could to get number two. A week before the March Merkin is as good a time as any to feel like each fish means a little more than normal, and Ian and I fell easily in to the groove of trying to get something done with a little added pressure. Throughout the day we had a few more shots, and given the difficulty of the conditions I considered us lucky to get that. Our next shot was at a group of three fish tailing in the shallow water, and for these I was able to get out of the boat and wade in their direction. They were spread out, making a cast at a group impossible, though the center one appeared to give a good angle. I got a cast into what I thought was a decent spot, and fish tailed hard near the fly, but I never came tight. I kept walking toward them after they retreated, and while I saw another good shot developing it never reached maturity and I got back into the boat for more looking. We saw another pair of fish an hour later, hidden in some cloud glare and deeper water, and as soon as we spun the boat in their direction they disappeared. We hung around and waited for them to return, never seeing them again before we left for elsewhere.
The next was at a pair of fish high up on a bank, just beginning to get their feed on as the water started falling. We were able to get a cast off in their direction, and though it was imperfect I’ve seen plenty less perfect work out favorably. The fish took a look and got squirrely immediately, not ready to make a mistake, and shuddered their wobbly way off the flat in fear. We kept on in the same area, moving another pair of fish that were too close for a shot, and when the tide picked up Ian relocated nearby for a hunt near where we had the disappearing act and tails from earlier. I had what could have been a great shot come apart when my backcast wrapped around the pushpole and snapped the fly off (sigh…), and after I re-rigged we were not able to replicate the shot. We did see a few fish in the glare, however, and with that in mind milked the spot for what we hoped might be some victory that never came.
In the late afternoon we found nothing but more water than we wanted in places, and as a last resort Ian made a long push toward a bank as the tide started to fall. We had been there for nearly an hour, distracted by the laughing gulls chirping one another for a place to stand on the yet-unexposed coral, nearly done with our day but not yet willing to concede when Ian spotted a few tails. He re-positioned the boat so I could get out and wade, and when I did the fish disappeared. I ambled over to nearby where they had been, taking my time and waiting for another sign of what they might be up to in the slick. I spotted one after a few minutes, a pale ear perked up in the current as it fed. My cast was where I wanted it to be, though the current drew the fly fast past the fish, bowing the line between us and hiding the fly on my side of the transaction. The fish was not bothered by this attempt, and continued on its way into the current. Here, another problem presented itself: soon, the fish would run in to my long shadow and spook off. To avoid this I had to walk away from the fish, seeking a more acute current angle and some protection from what would surely be an end to the shot if the fish’s evening sun was interrupted. I walked up current into ankle deep water, not bothering to look at the fish for fear of getting sucked in to a too-eager attempt, and spun around to address the fish when I felt I was high enough. As soon as I did I was met with another arrival, and exactly the kind I wanted to see: another permit had slid in to the situation nearer to me but further down current than the first. Both tailed shyly, the lobes of their tails sending vees down current that soon melted in with the surface distortion behind them. I made a cast directly in front of this new target, and soon started stripping in quickly to make another presentation when the fly was past its eye. The fish noticed this and urgently twitched after the fly in a J, tracing where the fly began curving below me in the chop. When the permit finally overran the fly it stopped, lifting its tail out to the knuckle and bearing down on its target with a shudder. I set the hook, sending the fish off the bank with the current but faster, whipping spray off of its back as it escaped the shallow site of its mistake.
I had assumed the fish to be small, as it was in quite shallow when we’d hooked it, but after I had to get back in the boat for a chase with the motor it was clear this wasn’t a tiny fish. Again, the fight was harder than normal, apparently energized by the cool water, and we had to weave our way behind its tactics. At one point we were worried it would get over the bank on which I’d hooked it, but by this point the fish was tired and elected instead to turn sideways in the heavy current and use its body to prevent us from getting any close. In a few minutes even that didn’t help, and we grabbed the tail. The fly was buried deep, past the crushers, and after a one-fingered excursion I was able to remove the hook and get some pictures:
I’d like to thank Ian for a very redemptive day on the water, one that included some great fishing despite the tough weather and lately insubordinate permit. It was great to get a few before the Merkin, which starts on Tuesday. The weather looks cold and windy, which means another grind this year, but it doesn’t look like a complete shut down like we experienced last year. I prefish with John tomorrow, and we will throw 2 lb in case we have a volunteer.
More to come,