These pages haven’t been getting much love lately, and for that I apologize. I have been fishing, though, and have much to report.
First, I had a great few hours with Justin Rea earlier in the week. In a morning fun-fish, we caught a few bonefish while wading. It was great to see some fish around especially after the lower-than-normal numbers that we’ve been stuck with for a few years. The best part (other than fishing with a guide as good as Justin at all, of course) was watching a bonefish break Justin off by swimming through and around his feet.
Starting Wednesday, I had a three day run booked with John O’Hearn. Originally we were to be joined by my old friend Steve Hemkens, though at the last minute his plans fell through. As such I invited a few friends along for some of the time and redoubled John’s and my focus on the 4 lb tippet permit record, currently held by Del Brown and Steve Huff with a 24 pound fish. Here’s how it went down:
We began by fishing for permit, but not with four pound tippet. We knew the fish were likely to be smaller than they would be elsewhere, so with Kat on board we elected to fish for small ones first and try to get one on the scorecard. I was up first and blew a shot at a pair of fish. On my second shot in my first two-shot rotation, we found a single fish next to a school. While John was advocating to throw at the school, I was unfortunately focused on the single fish I could see in the early light, and I refused to throw anywhere but at him. My second shot landed, and as I stripped the fly the fish tailed up and took part. I set the hook, and had to clear the line from more than a few small obstacles before I got the little guy on the reel. After that it was smooth sailing, and Kat got to grab our first fish of the day. Here’s the photo:
After this the schools of small fish continued, and Kat had a number of good shots at the smaller permit before they stopped shimmying and we left for places with larger animals. While Kat didn’t get a bite from the schools, she was in the running at least twice. Sadly, the fish didn’t participate.
We then ran to parts unknown, looking for some larger fish. I grabbed the 4 pound rod, and despite the difficulty of casting a heavy permit fly on the light tippet we were able to get the fly in front of a few bigger animals. The closest we came was when a trio of large permit tailed down the flat towards us. I threw the fly in front of them and one tailed up hard on it, and as soon as I felt the weight I committed the cardinal sin of permit fishing, now made necessary by the light tippet: I trout-set. This pulled the fly out of the fish’s mouth and far away, and while the fish made an effort to get at the fly again it had traveled too far. The fish saw the boat and spooked, sadly leaving us shaking with nothing to pull on. I had another few shots here before Kat was up again, and she had a number of shots at true giants. As an aside to the pursuit of the 4 lb tippet permit record for me, we also had something in mind for Kat: the women’s record on 16 is just under 26 pounds, and nearly every one of the four fish she threw at would have made that stick to be sure. In the end no one except us wanted to play tug-of-war, and we left for another spot where I had a couple shots at fish with the light stuff, never getting another grab.
At our final destination, Kat had what could only be described as the perfect permit shot. The fish was tailing every 10 or 15 seconds, totally focused on the bottom. The right-hand cross wind made the cast difficult, but Kat had four shots at this fish before it spun on the fly, looked hard, and spooked off when it saw the boat. Tough luck, but great theater.
We were joined on this day by Aaron Snell, who had the day off and wanted to come along. I can’t tell you accurately how great it is to spend a day on the water with two great fishing guides and better friends, and that Aaron always takes such beautiful pictures made it all the better. We were in full 4 pound effect, and with the addition of a third pair of hands had high hopes. The weather, unfortunately, wasn’t as good. Leaving in the morning, we were met with some clouds that would prove to be difficult. Aaron took a couple pictures of the sky and the expectations as we left the ramp:
At our first stop, we found very little to make anything out of. The schools we needed weren’t there, and we left for parts nearby for another look at the problem. There we saw a single the moment we shut down, and while we took a shot the rest of the fish (apparently the single was a member of a large club) blew out. We chased what was likely this same school around the flat for a while until we couldn’t handle the bad light any longer, then ran back north to where it looked to be clearing. We fished from flat to flat, hoping for a big fish, never finding one. In the afternoon, after more than a few fishless hours, we began seeing a smattering of targets. I had a great shot at a single that I blew, then on another nearby flat we spotted a pair of fish that seemed perfect. I tossed the fly toward them, and as soon as it landed the larger of the pair snatched it up. I cleared the line, setting the hook with the rod tip and hoping not to screw this up.
The four pound record stands currently at 24 pounds, by all accounts a nice permit for a fly rod. This fish was close, and after the first 20 minutes we were able to pull on the fish without fear of causing a dart that could cost us the connection. After another 20 minutes, we were on the fish for sure. We were unsure of the weight, though we all agreed that it was surely over 20 pounds. As such the net was deployed. Aaron took this picture of the fight while it was happening before we entered end-game mode, where cameras were not allowed:
In just under an hour, we had this fish lolling on the surface with the hoop of the net nearly under him. The break off came when I got greedy, trying to back the fish up just enough to allow Aaron to scoop her up. While heart-breaking, this is par for the course with light tippet record fishing. We finished up the day throwing at a few more fish that didn’t comply before we called it a day.
After the close loss with some ancillary company yesterday, John and I fished solo the final day. The weather again made it difficult, but we dodged the rain and clouds eough to have a few shots in the morning. We left the big-fish places when the rain moved in, and I pushed John for a flat with 16#, getting him a single shot at a small fish before we ran back to a place where we thought a large creature might reside. The weather began to clear up, the water got right, and in the afternoon we had a great shot at a pair of fish. The fly landed, the fish ate, etc etc, and we were tight to a fish on 4 lb tippet. This fish wasn’t as big as the fish yesterday, though we thought it big enough to attempt the capture anyway. As it turned out, it wasn’t that difficult: after 20 minutes, on the same flat we hooked the fish on, John slipped the net around this fish and we had done the thing. While not big enough to qualify for the record, it was still a thrill on 4 lb tippet and a great way to spend a half hour. The fish swam away healthy, which bodes well for releasing the fish when and if we are able to break the record.
Here’s what it looked like:
After that, we smoked a cigar and basked in the afterglow of doing something pointless successfully. Happy times, indeed. We returned to the flat, energized by our recent success, and had another shot near where we had hooked the first one. The fly landed right the second time, and we hooked this smaller fish handily. In ten minutes, our heart not in the fight with a fish we knew not to be a record, the fish got us on some rocks and broke us off.
Our final interaction of the day came from a fish that was by all accounts a giant. I threw the fly to this beast as it tailed, and as the fly dropped and we saw the fish dart to it I lifted the rod and felt the fish before pulling it out of range, again missing a bite to the light-tippet-induced trout set. Our final shot was to a nice fish that was following a shark, which was cool but didn’t result in a bite.
I’d like to thank John O’Hearn, Kat, and Aaron Snell for a great three days on the water. While we didn’t catch the record I know now that it’s possible–as long as I can tolerate losing fish to the pursuit, we will have a chance.
Next week is the Superfly, and Aaron will have his camera.