The March Merkin just wrapped up, and it was quite the event. Last year set a standard of poor weather, and 2018 was apparently competitive by nature. What could be worse than last year’s weather? As it turns out, we only had to wait a year to find out.
Our prefish day was on Monday, and between bands of incoming rain and wind ahead of the cold front we were able to piece together a half-dozen good shots. We were fishing on 2 lb, trying still to get that out of the way, and lost a nice fish on the hook set in the morning. In the following three days of tournament fishing, John and I were unable to get a shot. We saw a fish (running away from us), and that was it. We fished hard and hoped to find something, but never did.
But this report isn’t about our fishing, because one thing is very clear: this year, the March Merkin wasn’t about anyone other than Joe Skrumbellos and his guide Matt Fitzgerald. In the last hour of the last day, these guys found some warmer water (which they’d scoped the day prior), and hooked a large permit. The fish ran and dropped the hook, and when they noticed the fish still on the flat they poled it down. Joe got a second cast off when the fish turned, and the fish ate again. This time they caught it, and after they landed it they continued on. I believe they had another shot, which the fish didn’t eat, and then on the way out a final one that Joe also convinced to eat and that they landed.
It’s an incredible story, and one that I can’t resist sharing on these pages. The fact that these guys did what they did is testament to the very best things there are in this sport. They work hard, stay humble, and when the chips are down just keep at it. Even as someone that tries hard to win and hates to lose, I have to give it up to them–completely. It’s one thing to catch one when the fishing is hard, as has been done before in this event multiple times. It’s another to do it twice, infinitely lapping the field a second time.
If you are a fisherman that wants to be good, these guys are worth looking up to. In a world of social media-manufactured reputations, these guys are happy to be fishing, in this case better than a field of competitive and accomplished permit guides and anglers. They are willing to work hard in the face of some awful conditions, and keep their casts and boat position in check throughout the loss of everything they’d worked for. To get the fly there at all after three days of staring into the fishless chill is one thing, but by my math they had four shots and got the fly there–every single time. One fish didn’t eat, but every other shot they took got a bite.
So that’s the report, and one that I’m happy to write. Joe and Matt now have three permit tournament victories, and are unquestionably some of the greatest in the game. If you ever meet them, you’d never know it because they would never tell you.