A few weeks ago the 2021 March Merkin came to a close. Once again, it was marked by some of the toughest weather we can have this time of year. This came as no surprise, as this marks the seventh year that we’ve been on the defensive for this tournament. As such it felt normal, and Ian and I made the best that we could from the prefishing day. We oscillated between moving our way through the conditions and standing our ground against them, finding only a few fish at the end of the day that justified the effort Ian put forth on the back of the boat. With no check-in the night before the event, we went home to rest up before the scoring days began, preparing for the staring, poling, and (hopefully) casting that was going to happen.
Day One (first tournament day)
Of the three scheduled days this was the most likely to be painful. The wind was at its fiercest, and without much to hang our hats on from the even less accommodating conditions on the day before it was shaping up to be a brick of a day. Ian and I did everything we could to maximize the probability of a clean shot, and our efforts led to two shots that had every chance of working. The first of these was a let-down: the fish simply ignored the fly, never taking an interest, and despite three separate casts in its direction we were never able to turn it toward what we had in store. The second was near the end of the day, when the wind was at its most vicious, when a large single fish passed by the bow. Ian spun around to keep pace with it into the wind, remarkably maintaining the distance between us as I threw across the stiff breeze and tried to get it right. On the third cast I finally made it out in front of the animal, and when the permit noticed the fly it spun hard in the direction of what we’d thrown.
The first time it stopped and made a hard wiggle I figured we were surely on. The second time I was even more convinced, but never came tight. The fish seemed to be avoiding oral contact with the fly, and I’ll never know if it was intentional or not. Sadly, it didn’t matter: what we came back to the dock with was nothing, though it was the same for every other boat in the field. On day one not a single fish was caught, which made the next two days feel even more important.
Day Two (second tournament day)
Ian and I made similar plans for day two as we did on day one, and after an hour of looking we found a small group of fish that gave us a chance. I made a cast at the right side of the three that could have worked, though they turned back left and caused us to re-cast in the other direction. When the second cast landed it was easy to see that things had a high chance of working out, and when one of the fish turned and lined up the fly we were both unsurprised when we came tight. What followed was a textbook fight with a medium-sized permit, though the additional stress of fighting it in a tournament made it feel sweeter when we got it in the net. We quickly measured the fish for scoring and set it on its way, not bothering to get the grip-shot. We idled back in to the bank we’d caught it on, immediately getting a shot at a small group of fish that ignored the fly, though we chose to believe that their ignorance was explained by the fact that these fish may have been the ones that were with the one we’d just caught. A few minutes later we had another shot, this one eliciting a hard shudder that followed a swoop behind the fly, leaving us shaking and wondering why the fish hadn’t sealed the deal. The lights were lit in the wind, and we were doing everything we could to get our faces in it.
Our next shot was at a fish that we had a hard time seeing, though the muds it made gave us the occasional idea of where it was. I threw in front of where we saw a puff and was tight on the fall, though the fish came at us and I was soon missing the attachment I’d tried to make permanent. We never got a good look at this fish, and there was a chance that it was a bonefish, though this is likely a story invented by my subconscious after losing a permit that would have meant more than one usually does. We continued on, still ready to make another fish or two happen while we had the opportunity.
For the rest of the day, our efforts were met with fascination by the local permit population. They would pull behind the fly at high speed, throw on their parking brake, and wiggle as they appeared to eat it. Each time we were not tight we were annoyed, feeling like we should be once again in contact with a fish, but we focused on doing the next right thing and not getting so annoyed that we started to change our approach. By the time the lines out alarm sounded we had only our first fish to show for our efforts, and another half-dozen that we privately discussed were closer than we liked to benefiting our position in the field.
At the dock we found that, while frustrated by our weak showing, we were in fine position: only one other boat had posted a fish, and we were behind them only by size. Going in to the last day we had our minds on catching at least two, which we figured we would need to make things turn our way for a metal fish in the end.
Day Three (final tournament day)
We were prepared to make our requisite showing on the last day, and on the way out we felt that it wouldn’t take much to make it happen. We had a good lead over nearly the entire field, and all we had to do was bring it home. Simple.
The day worked into morning, and when the first play didn’t work we moved on, still hopeful. The morning became afternoon, and we had a few low-quality shots that I was unable to make happen. By the time lines out was imminent we were holding in the wind, biting our lips and hoping for a giant to swim by so that we could redeem ourselves. In the end, the fish beat us on the last day and we headed in to see how things shaped up for everyone else. If I’ve learned anything in the years of fishing these tournaments, it’s that sometimes it just isn’t about me.
Nick Labadie and Robert Dougherty caught two fish to take the lead, though when Steve Friedman and Ivar Bolander returned with another they won with two larger than Nick and Robert. Third was taken by my friends Aaron Snell and Sam Kaufman, who caught a larger fish than us to take third. Congratulations are in order for all of the above teams, who made it happen in some truly difficult conditions, and while we didn’t take home anything I was glad to spend the time trying as always.
Next year I intend to take a year off from the permit tournaments, focusing on the 4# permit record and the tarpon tournaments instead, though I’m sure I’ll be back at it sometime in the future. For now, I’m looking forward to the Golden Fly and the Gold Cup with Ian, and the Del Brown and IGFA Permit Invitational with John–not to mention the 4# fishing John and I have planned for the fall months. Currently the record stands at 24 pounds even, and we have high hopes of besting it.
More to come,