March Merkin, 2014
The last four days have been truly incredible. I write this the day after fishing for four with John O’Hearn. While we didn’t win, we put forth our best efforts and tried hard. Before I get in to the specifics of each day, I want to take a moment to congratulate Captain Scott Collins and Greg Smith. Those two put out a great effort on the last day to beat us out, and they have my everlasting respect.
John and I began our tournament with a prefish day in order to get a plan together for the competitive days. We had some decent shots at fish, and perhaps should have caught one, but we moved around a lot and covered more ground than we would have if we were fishing the tournamet proper. We had perhaps a dozen shots, and called it an early day to prepare for the next. Without a fish to increase our confidence we were slightly concerned, though as is always the case in the permit tournaments a fish on the prefish day does not equal one in those that follow.
Our first tournament day was windy, cloudy, and far from perfect. We ran to a place we thought we might get a shot or two in the clouds, and it didn’t take long to see a tail whisper in a wave. I threw the fly and got nothing, and in a few minutes it happened again: we spotted a fish close and I threw the fly, again with nothing to show for a too-close cast. In another 20 minutes, we had a small fish present itself to us and threw the fly once again. This time, as I stripped I came tight to the permit. In a flash the fish ran at top speed away from the boat, breaking our leader in what must have been a weak spot. We were dejected: in a tournament where a single fish often takes first place honors, losing one can make the difference between first and last place. Add to that the conditions, which were far from perfect, and it can be gut-wrenching to lose a permit. We soldiered on, trying to feel confident that we hooked one instead of rejected from its loss. The rest of the day was relatively typical for permit fishing in tough weather–we had maybe 8 shots, some of which very nearly worked, and headed home to the scoreboard.
There, we found that Captain Doug Kilpatrick and his angler Ned Johnson were the only ones to post a capture, taking the lead on the first day with a 29 inch fish. Any fish over 28 inches in a permit tournament is historically tough to best, and at the end of day two they were the ones to beat.
The second tournament day was likely one of the most amazing days of permit fishing I’ll ever have, though I hope for my tournament career that this proves not to be the case.
We left in the morning to fish a new place, somewhere we had seen a fish a few weeks before. We poled along the edge for 20 minutes, and at 9:10 AM (only 40 minutes after we left the dock for the start) we saw a large fish push mud as it fed in the current. I threw the fly near where I wanted. As I stripped it back to me, I felt the fly stop. I could see a large black tail, flagging in the mud it made as the fish inhaled the small crab fly. I set the hook and came tight to a fish that we knew immediately was a giant. The fish, after eating the fly, simply stayed put shaking its head. It took over a minute for this fish to clear the fly line to the reel. When it finally took off I came close to losing it when a loop of line ended up wrapped around my finger. We were off to the next 45 minutes of our lives, fighting the fish in deep water and giving the requisite attention to not losing the largest fish one of us had ever hooked. When we landed the fish we were elated. While not the longest fish in the world, it certainly weighed enough to keep us stoked: 28 pounds, the largest I’ve caught. Here’s what it looked like:
While I’m usually not a fan of the rod-in-the-mouth shot, I did it. So there.
Following this capture at 9:55 AM, we had the rest of the day to make up some more ground. As is so often the case, however, we were unable to get another grab from the few fish we saw. By 4:30 we had painted ourselves into a corner, and left where we were to fish a final edge on lower than hoped for water to run out the clock. In the final half hour we spooked a group of three small permit, and I waded after a large fish that was snaking around the shallow with its back out of the water. The second cast spooked the fish, which blew off the flat with a great explosion and a clear indication that this was likely not going to happen. We saw one more large fish sliding around in the skinny, and as I left the boat with my 9 weight to wade after it John said “You have five minutes.” Pressure has never brought out the best in me, and with a large permit tailing in front of me and a ticking clock in the background it was all I could do to prevent my nerves from weighing me down. I threw the fly one time at the fish, and when it got behind it and shook as it ate I couldn’t believe it. The fish tore off the flat, carrying flyline in a large arc behind it. I hopped back in to the boat and we started after the fish, landing it at 5:15. Rob Fordyce and Tony Nobregas graciously took a picture of John and I as we landed the permit, documenting a moment that John and I will likely never forget. That photo I don’t have, but this one I do:
The fish weighed an estimated 20 lbs, though on the strap it was very nearly as long as the 28 pounder we caught in the morning. We barely made it back to the dock in time for check in, where we found that we were the only people that day to catch a fish. They measured 30 and 30.75 inches, with the longer being the fish from the morning. Going in to day two we had a strong lead, but we also knew that in order to assure a victory we were going to have to catch at least one fish.
We left for new ground on the third day, and immediately upon our arrival we had a few great shots at large fish. The fly never landed exactly right, and the fish were relatively non-compliant, but we nonetheless stuck with it until John very nearly sank the boat in some heavy waves after his bilge stopped working. We had to run around for 15 minutes to clear the water from the boat, and then returned to areas near where we caught our fish the day before. We had, throughout the day, maybe 8 shots at fish–all were acting properly and a few were wuite interested in the fly, though none gave up the bite.
We returned to the dock, where no one had yet caught a fish. This changed when Captain Scott Collins and Greg Smith arrived, strap in hand, to get their three fish on the board. With a great show of angling and guiding skill, these two pocketed three fish on the final day, beating us out for the victory. We took runner-up and big fish honors.
It’s hard to lose in this way, I’ll admit it. But I’m happy to lose to guys as talented and with such great pedigrees as these two. John and I are happy for them, and can’t wait to face them next year.
Next Wednesday and Thursday with Doug, and we are to be joined by Dave Dalu. More to come.