At the beginning of this month (I know, I’m behind in these reports) Chad Huff came down for a few days as part of our now annual 2lb permit fishing attempt with John O’Hearn. Chad came down a day prior to the three we had scheduled with John, and Kat and I went out with him for a day on our own.
I’ll start this report by admitting, clearly and without qualification, that I am a terrible fishing guide. I’m not a guide, obviously, though on this day I acted in that capacity by choosing some places to fish as well as poling the boat. I won’t go in to too compositional much detail about my inability to effectively communicate the few fish we bumped in to, and I’ll just leave it at how I put it earlier: the guiding left piles to be desired.
The first day of real fishing was one that Chad and I have both been looking forward to since we came within four ounces of breaking the record last year on these same days. I had spent a day at work not working tying a dozen leaders, which I hoped we wouldn’t need all of–since the time we caught that fish, we’ve not been able to keep one on past the hook set save for one fish. Sadly, while we had 45 minutes of fight time on that one, we were unable to close the deal before the hook fell out. The sense we’ve all had is this: as long as the hook stays in, we have a pretty good shot at making this record ours.
The day began with very few shots in the first places we went to. We bounced around in pursuit of some fish to throw at, and in the late morning had a great shot at a large single that I delivered the fly short of. In picking up the fly to recast the fish wiggled towards it, giving up interest when it saw the boat. We kept on looking, not happy about the fish we’d just missed but encouraged that its presence might mean there were some more around to throw at. We stayed on the lookout and continued on in difficult light.
After I had the shot Chad was up, and he soon had a shot at another large single fish that we spotted on the grass. Chad then passed the rod to me and I got up for another shot that didn’t come for a while. We stayed on the lookout for the rest of the morning as the water got high, and we even made a pass on some places that were surrounded by water deep enough to make the idea of catching a permit on 2 pound tippet seem as possible as teaching a manatee to cross the road. In the early afternoon, things started to turn around. We found a group of mudding fish, watching a hard follow that had us convinced that we were about to be connected. This fish also never got tight, and I began to feel a deep frustration towards our target species growing inside me.
The day continued on with Chad and I sharing shots in an attempt to have some equity in opportunity. Chad started out on the final bank that we were fishing with him on the bow, looking hard for some fish in the high water. In the course of an hour of fishing we had a few decent shots, though the reality was that most of the fish were shrouded in too-high water that made for a nearly impossible presentation. After we made it a ways down the bank Chad generously offered me the bow, and I of course accepted.
After spotting a tail that never gave us an angle Chad saw one a hundred yards down the bank, and we got in to position for what was soon clearly a small group of fish. They looked perfectly sized for what we were looking for, and in a minute two of them slid across the current towards us as John pegged the boat. Ordinarily a shot like this we would be absolutely taking from foot, though with the light line John made the call to wait on them from the skiff. We had a single shot at the fish as they came our way, and as soon as the fly landed we were all holding our breath. Skok’s creation landed a bit in front and slightly upcurrent of the pair of fish, and as the tide pulled it out off the bank the right hand fish swerved hard at it and slowed down with a shake. I stripped and the fish followed the move, having missed the fly, but the second time the fish slowed it was clear to us all that what we were hoping for had in fact occurred.
I lifted the rod and gave a light set to bury the fly, and then kept things only slightly taut as the fish figured out what was going on and took off with its classmates toward some deeper water. We nearly had the fish on the reel when things went slack, and when I reeled in we saw tippet had broken. The only reason we could see for this was that there had been a weak spot: despite the obvious frailty of the tippet, for the fish to break off when it did flew in the face of our experience with the stuff–we’ve survived much more on it than we were exposed to with this fish. The lesson we learned from this (which we’ve already learned, but apparently not enough) was to change our tippet, and often. As difficult as tying with the stuff is, losing a fish we worked so hard to hook is worse.
We finished out the bank with another hard follow from another fish, though to this one we were never able to connect. We headed home glad that we had two more days planned for some redemption.
This day was our best in terms of shot quality. We started with another close call from Chad, who got the fly in front of a large single that was perfectly located in a shallow spot for what we were trying to do. This fish tucked in behind the fly immediately, following it closely nosing down toward the bottom. We all thought it had eaten, and couldn’t believe that the fish swam away unattached after it noticed the boat and trembled off of the flat towards some deeper water. After this Chad passed the rod to me, and we had some serious rod-trading action within the next hour. John had us in the path of a few groups of permit sliding towards us, and we had a few shots that we all thought (again) would work out. None did, and at this point the frustration started to settle in and make itself a snack.
My inner monologue started to turn toward harming my equipment when in the early afternoon a fish spun on the fly and made every movement we associate with eating. I lifted the rod, fully expecting to be tight, and instead watched as the fish swam away. Honestly, since the time this trip happened I’m not sure I can recall exactly how many close calls we had on this day but the thing I remember clearly was wanting to break my rod more than I’ve ever wanted to in my adult life.
The warm mayonnaise on the compost pile arrived in the afternoon, after we missed a great shot at a single fish that snuck up in our blind spot. As the light changed we shifted our angle, returning past where we had blown out the fish and hoping for another shot. John spotted a small group of little permit, and despite the wind we were lucky enough to get a fly in front of the group. One of its members curved behind the fly and ate, and as I lifted the rod tip to protect the light tippet the little fish swam at us with its mouth open. We could see the fly in the water as it left the fish’s mouth, and watched the permit search for the fly that was now heading back over our heads at high speed. The fish never gave us a chance for redemption, however, and instead took the rest of its friends with it and waked around us for a while before leaving for good.
We kept moving throughout the afternoon, finishing where we’d ended day one and not finding anything where we’d broken the fish off.
Our third day of fishing was the slowest, though we did have one delightful experience that was worth relating here. John had us high up on a giant bank after a tough morning that produced none of the days’ prior action. The only shot we’d been able to squeeze from the dry morning was essentially spilled and then tracked all over the floor by yours truly, and we’d been looking for hours for another chance to start a two pound party with a fresh target. We spotted a large permit headed our way and got the fly a fair distance in front of it so we might get it down to the required depth. The fish saw the fly and spun hard, falling in closely behind what we’d hoped it would. I stripped the fly slowly and felt a light confirmation then lifted the rod to get the hook in. The fish didn’t react, instead continuing to feed on the bottom it had stopped to inspect. We couldn’t figure out what was going on right away: we were tight, but the fish didn’t seem to be attached. It took us another 10 seconds to figure out that we were hooked up to a snapper, and another 5 for me to make the leap that it was small enough to lift in to the boat. Chad unhooked the small mutton snapper and we kept an eye on the permit, which was starting to grow wary. As soon as I threw the fly back towards it the permit spooked off, and I quickly grew disgusted with the situation. Chad graciously let me remain on the bow to work through some frustration, and I had another shot at a smaller (though still well big enough) fish that fell in behind the fly but never erred. The clouds arrived soon after this fish left, and we fished the rest of the morning in the clouds without a shot.
In the afternoon we found a few more shots, one that could have worked if we’d seen the fish earlier, and ended the day with a long pole into the wind that never showed us a fish.
I’d like to thank John and Chad for sticking with the ridiculous game plan, and I hope that we can redeem ourselves next week when Chad comes down for another two days of trying–after the above trip, we are all in search (and need) of some redemption.
More to come