Fishing with John O’Hearn, Ian Slater, and Frankie Marion
Fishing with John O’Hearn, Ian Slater, and Frankie Marion
Early in the year, I put together three days at the end of August with John O’Hearn. After that, Frankie Marion and I hatched a plan to try to get some permit bites on slo-mo motion capture, and he flew down for the days with John and me. Ian Slater was brought in to the fold at the last minute, for a day before we started with John and an evening session after our last of the three days. Frankie added a day with Kat and Drew Delashmit to the tail end of this, and so the plan of attack was hatched: Six days of fishing, with Frankie Marion along to capture what he could on digital media.
With a tropical storm headed our way, we didn’t have very high hopes.
Ian met us early in the morning, and we set out for a long day of trying to get one before the weather got us. The wind had died down pre-front, and the first place we went to had what we needed: tails wagging in the calm. In our first morning attempts we had a few great shots at tailing fish, and while we didn’t get a bite Frankie assured me that the footage of our pedestrian approach was far from banal. Twice, I thought we were coming tight for sure. Twice also our fly never found a rubber home, and we bumped along on our way to look elsewhere when the tails ceased.
At our second stop, Ian again found us a body of fish to make something out of. These fish, however, in contrast to those we found earlier were not feeding but simply waking around. I threw a number of casts at them, and after the same number of passive refusals we elected to leave them be and look elsewhere.
In the middle of the day we found fewer fish, though with our plan of an extended day this didn’t cause us too much concern. We bounced around, essentially awaiting the evening hours, and threaded our way through a few shots and lunch to keep ourselves fed and focused. As the later hours approached, we positioned ourselves for some lower water that we hoped would be interrupted by tails.
Sure enough, where Ian said the would be, so they came. I had a number of great shots in the failing light, which nearly allowed us to get a bite on film. At one point I had a grab from a member of a passing pair, and why that fish didn’t stay buttoned I’ll never know. We did get some nice footage of fish not eating the fly, however, and when the light sent us home we headed there with our tails tucked safely between our legs.
The next day we didn’t fish, and the following Sunday began our three-day run with John O’Hearn.
Day one with John was a wash: we had some decent tails to throw at in the overcast and increasingly menacing skies, but none were taken and as soon as the tailing depth gave way to deeper water we took stock and tried to decide what to do next.
It’s a rare thing for John and I to call a day short (or off), as a big part of the fishing we’re doing is in preparation for tournaments that are susceptible to weather of any kind. Despite this, however, we decided to call it an early day with the hope of potentially staying late on Tuesday. The storm was moving through, and we all thought that there may be a chance for a post-storm tail fest in the coming days.
The second day of our fishing with John was a beautiful one. The storm had cleared out, leaving in its stead some relaxed weather that felt great to fish in. At our first stop, John took his time as we waited for some tailing fish. The first shot came within a half-hour, and while we took this one from the boat we decided to exit the boat from here on out. A short time later, John saw a waking school of fish approaching the boat from a few hundred yards and I got out to intercept them on foot. The school held a nice line, but I cast too early. The fish sped up, and I put another cast out in front of the wakes. I stripped through the bouncing water and soon came tight as the waves slowed down at my fly. The fish was sporty in the recently cooled water, and I had to get back in the boat to chase it down. Soon, John grabbed the tail of the fish and we had our first capture on film for our efforts. As we looked at the fish and held it for its close up, we noticed that the fish was tagged. Given the (extremely) low rate of tag returns we made sure to write down what was left of the tag, which was worn down and appeared to be a far from recent addition to the fish’s uniform.
After this, we had high hopes for the rest of the day. A fish to hand and on film by mid-morning is usually a sign of good things to come, and we put forward our best effort to make sure the streak continued. John soon found us some more targets, and we kept throwing the imitation crabs at their business ends.
Of note was a hard follow from a giant fish that we all thought ate the fly but never confirmed our suspicions with some tension. The light lowered and the fishing slowed, and we headed home to have a birthday dinner with Kathryn and prepare for our final day. Through a few text messages with BTT, we discovered that the tagged fish we caught was originally tagged by Dustin Huff, all the way back in 2010. In fact, the tagging kit that produced the tag was only the 8th ever issued. Pretty amazing stuff that this permit was caught five years after being tagged for the first time.
At dinner we found out that John was unable to fish late into the evening, so we secured Ian Slater again for an evening session. Our plan was to fish with John until 3 PM, then switch boats and go back out with Ian at 3:30. In theory, we would be able to fish a long day and cut up the inevitable midday slow-down.
Our final day of fishing started out with a slide in the wrong direction. John had a new fly that he wanted to show me, and as we were driving out to the spot we discussed it. I cut the fly off that I had on from the day before and attached this new tasty treat, and when we saw a flagging flock of tails I set out to position myself for a wading shot. John didn’t realize that I’d tied on the new fly, and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to. While the pattern was just what we wanted, the weight wasn’t: instead of a lighter, tailing-depth fly, this one was made specifically for deep fish in heavy current. My first cast landed where I wanted it, and as I stripped the fly I thought I was tight to a fish. Horribly, I realized that the tension I was feeling was turtle grass on the bottom as the fly dug in. I took another shot at the fish, after clearing the salad off the bend, but by this point the fish were blown and I was far from happy. John and I bickered about just who’s fault this error was, and Frankie had to put up with some childish silence from the two of us.
Another spot and the ice was beginning to melt, and by our third stop we were again talking but not much. Part of the reason we were so upset by this, honestly, is that John and I are usually pretty pulled together about this stuff. Losing a perfect shot on a fish that we know we can catch bothered us both. We were in full tournament mode at this point, just trying to get a fish on the board to erase the mistake. Frank looked on, considering downloading Candy Crush on his phone to pass the time.
After a few minutes, we had a school of fish approach us from down the bank. I hopped out to wade after them, and on my second cast watched one line it up and wiggle. I cleared the line and fought the small fish from the water, and when I grabbed it and brought it back to the boat for inspection and tagging we were all smiles again.
We tagged the fish, held it for some glamour shots, and sent it off to get bigger. Within a few minutes, John spotted another group of fish. I hopped out to give foot chase, and Frankie came with me to try the from the water filming. I put the fly in front of the school, and soon was tight to another permit. Things were, to say the least, looking steeply upwards:
I fought the fish, and as it neared Frankie and myself for the release the school again approached. I quickly unhooked the little guy and stripped out some more line, and with another three casts put the fly in front of yet another volunteer. This fish was slightly bigger than the other two, and constituted our third in a half hour. In a few minutes the 20-incher was being held and tagged, and we all could now laugh over the earlier candy-crushing quiet.
The thing about three, really, is that you always want four. So we set out to make it happen. John had us on and near fish in short order, and while I got out of the boat to make some casts we never had a really tight opportunity. The fishing slowed as midday approached, and when the clock rang 3 we headed in. After a brief stop to stock up on drinks and snacks, we go into the boat and joined Ian for an afternoon session.
The water had slicked off further, and we fished a spot before we got into position for the evening event that Ian was hoping for. Our fishing started out slow, and we waited for the tide to get right as we held fast to Ian’s plan. It was a good thing we did, as in an hour or so we saw the beginnings of some fish sliding around. I had a shot at a tailing pair of fish that never showed themselves for long enough for me to get at, and then another group of fish showed up down the bank, tailing away. I slid slowly into range, and Frankie followed with the video camera to try to get some media of the action. On my second cast I had a fish rush forward and bite the fly, which in half-speed playback looked pretty neat. The fish tore into the channel, and I made a motion for Ian to come and pick me up before I got spooled. He did, and after a tense 20 minutes in a nearby channel Ian grabbed the tail of a very large permit that had made a bad mistake.
After we landed the monster, which we didn’t weigh since my scale never made it on the boat with us but we estimated at 28 pounds, we headed over to the nearby flat to get some close ups. As Frankie and Ian messed around with the big girl, we saw a school of small fish approaching the boat. I grabbed the same rod we’d just used to catch the fish we already had and threw in front of the army of tiny tails. Unbelievably, I came tight to a fish on my first cast, and fought the fish as Frankie and Ian snapped away. Once I grabbed the little fish I brought it over for a photo-op I’m likely never going to be able to duplicate: two fish, caught back to back:
About the above photo I will say this: while I was fighting the small fish, the school from which it came continued to tail away, and if either Frankie or Ian had grabbed a rod they would have surely been able to hook another one. After that, we were ecstatic. Five in a day, including a giant and a close double, is enough to make anyone’s year when fly fishing for permit. But Frankie spotted another single fish tailing in the shallow water, and while Ian grabbed the other rod out of the rack to go get his I set after the single for a shot at a sixth. On the third cast at the shy tail, the fish rushed forward and ate the fly. I set the hook on a fish that was larger than I first thought, and after a few fumbled grabs in deeper water held my sixth fish for the day.
Ian soon screamed from far down the bank, having come tight to a fish in the final minutes of activity. I started the boat and headed that way with Frankie, though Ian elected to stay in the water for a full-wade capture of his fish. Unfortunately, a small shark also gave chase to the same target, and we were sadly left with only a half-permit for our final capture of an amazing day.
Regarding this day, I do have to mention how easy it was to have guys like John O’Hearn and Ian Slater on the back of the boat to get us into position for the action. Without guys like them, even one permit on fly would be out of my reach. And I’ll also add that, having seen some of the footage that Frankie Marion collected throughout our time on the water gets me pretty excited to see the final product.
At the end of this week I’m fishing with Aaron Snell for the Superfly, one practice day and one day of competition. On Sunday Kathryn and I leave for Belize, where we’ll be fishing once again with Eworth Garbutt and his brother, Scully. Joining us will be Michael Hetzel.
A report, and photos, will surely follow.