The last two days I fished with Simon Becker. The first day we were joined by Jason “College” Schratwieser and the second day we were joined by Kat Vallilee. Our fishing was good, and as always it was a pleasure to fish with Simon Becker. Here’s how it all went down:
We started early, and Jason and I were excited to see a beautiful day unfolding on the water. We started the morning by tarpon fishing, and it didn’t take College long to make a short backcast at a rolling fish and dry off a nice 50 pound pon. The fish was full of spite, however, and didn’t allow Jason to secure the release before running in to a large (and potentially shark-infested) channel nearby. Within minutes, Jason’s prize jumped (“like a cat” was how Simon described it) away from a mean-looking shadow below. As soon as he could, Jason broke off the tarpon and hoped for the best. It’s unknown whether the bull shark succeeded in getting a snack, but we relocated and hoped for the best.
At our second stop, Simon had us strip out both a permit and a tarpon rod. The first thing we saw was a permit, its second dorsal fin barely peeking out from the glare. Jason made a decent shot, and we never saw the fish turn on the fly. Simon called for a re-cast, and as Jason stripped the permit fly back to him in preparation to cast again the permit followed in hot pursuit. Unfortunately the permit didn’t seal the deal, and we watched as the fish blew away from the boat in the glare. Following this run in with a permit we hoped for more from them, though it was the tarpon that showed themselves next. It was easy for Jason to make the change, and with his tarpon fly he was able to get a bite from a small fish that remained close enough for him to try to get the leader release. Inches from the technical release, Jason got too excited, breaking the fish off. Greed, it seems, is a cruel and cunning mistress.
After this we left the tarpon for a full-focus afternoon on permit. Jason was looking to catch one (who isn’t?) and I was happy to watch. We bounced around from flat to flat, finding good conditions but sporadic populations of our target species. At our third stop we found them in great supply, tailing and mudding. Jason had a few shots, and while the fish were there the wind now was not–ordinarily the death shroud of a fly-caught permit. We took a break for some delicious BLT sandwiches and refocused, hoping that the calm wouldn’t prevent us from success. A half hour in, despite the fish everywhere, we were starting to doubt our chances.
We stuck with it, however, and Jason made it worthwhile. He put a nice cast in front of a pushing fish, and when a tail peeked up from the glassy glare he was tight to the other side. In short order Jason caught a nice permit, his self-reported 10th, and I was happy to snap a picture of the boys when they got the fish on board for photos:
At this point Jason was officially off the bow. While I owed him a favor for holding the spotlight in February with Steve Huff, after two tarpon jumped and a caught permit we had reached sufficient reciprocity. We left for some new places when the fishing dried up, and I never had a shot until the end of the day. As the sun got lower Simon stuck with it, keeping us out for a few extra hours. A final edge had a reasonable distraction in the form of a tailing school of permit, and I waded after them for nearly an hour until they spooked off the flat.
For our second day of fishing, Simon and I were joined by Kat Vallilee. After her showing in the Del Brown, we were both hoping to get her another permit–nothing like some momentum with permit fishing. Also in play was a five dollar wager with John O’Hearn, fishing the new owners of Abel Reels, in a side bet to see which boat did better. Momentum behind and carrot in front we started early once again, and Kat made quick work of a decent tarpon from an early roll:
I was up next, and in short order Simon had another schoold of rollers coming at us. I got the bite and this time Kat landed the fish. No question, we were among the scales:
We each had another bite from a tarpon, and when the fishing slowed we went elsewhere. Kat had a single shot at a school of bonefish, and on her second presentation she came tight to a nice one. I landed the fish for her, and soon Kat wanted to jump in for an on-the-flat portrait of a bonefish. In went Kat, I handed off the fish, and then off went the fish. Simon got a nice picture nonetheless, likely one of my favorite bonefish release shots:
I had a few minutes on the bow, never seeing a bonefish, and then the rain started. As the rain moved in we stopped for lunch, enjoying a repeat performance from the homemade BLT’s. BLT credit, incidentally, is due in large part to Lynn Bell (owner/operator of the Square Grouper) for explaining to me that baking, not frying, bacon is the way to go.
After the rain quit we went to another spot and found no permit. At our second stop of the afternoon we found them: singles and pairs waking through the calm flat, tailing and doing all types of permit stuff. Kat had a few shots at fish that were out of range, and in a half hour had put together a nice resume of near misses. Finally, a very large single came on the the flat and tipped up just 60 feet away from us. Kat threw the fly a few feet in front of the tail and stripped twice, and we watched as the tail dropped and the bulb of water moved toward her fly. She set the hook when the fish ate, and it crisply ripped the fly line to the reel and headed for deeper water. Simon started the motor and Kat stayed tight to the fish, which was stll dumping line. Soon she was slack: the fish had found a hazard in the deeper water off the flat, and broke her tippet against it. Kat was bummed–her second fish in as many weeks had fallen victim to circumstances out of her control. She hopped back up on the platfom and Simon idled back to the flat. They pushed through it until a half hour had elapsed and Kat offered me a turn.
Simon and I fished the flat for a half hour, and soon a pair of fish came through our window. I had an easy shot thanks to Simon’s nice poling, and put a fly in front of the duo. I had to sell the fly for nearly 10 seconds before one finally ate it on the drop, and when I set the hook I was ecstatic. Oddly, the fish ran in the same direction at Kat’s giant had, and found a similar obstruction. I had two separate sea fans that nearly cost me the fish, and while there were a few tense moments the permit stayed connected. The last tension came when Simon was ready to net the fish and we were joined by a 40+ pound barracuda that had eyes for our capture. While I love a barracuda, and would surely enjoy putting this one on the tape in the Cuda Bowl, in this moment I hoped I wouldn’t see the food chain in action. The permit weighed close to 20, and while the cuda thought about it he didn’t commit. Simon scared him away with the net, and soon had the mesh around our fish while the barracuda took off:
We continued on to attempt the slam for Kat, and while we put in the effort we were not rewarded with the final piece of a most difficult puzzle. As always it was a sincere pleasure to fish with Simon, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Next days I have booked are with John O’Hearn on 2 and 3 of August. There is talk of trying for the 2 pound tippet permit record–nothing like trying to make it harder just when things seem to be working well.