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Fishing For Permit

by Larry Schork

This was my fourth trip to Belize with the goal of catching permit. Anyone who fishes for permit knows how difficult that is. You need to have so many things go right: moon, tides, wind, sunlight, time of year, and a guide. Your skills have to be perfect: casting, knots, fly selection, equipment, leaders, etc. In my three trips prior to this one, I had around 30 or so shots.

Of that, I’ve managed to hook two and have one chomp my fly; about a 1-in-10 hook up rate. Others I’ve known have fared far worse. This for me was a do or die type of trip – either catch one, or give it up and move onto something else like stamp collecting.

This trip began with nice weather but the shots at permit were very low – only two the first day. For the next few days, the weather deteriorated and so did the light. The wind picked up creating chop, making permit fishing very tough. In those three days, we had maybe two more shots and didn’t even fish for permit one whole day. On the fifth day, our guide told us we were heading south, just what I wanted to do on this trip because I felt there would be less angling pressure. We were motoring out about an hour when we lost steering. Fortunately, we were close to a little fishing village and steered in on manual after going around in circles a few times. The village was very primitive with no dock, just shanty-type houses. I expected the worst. A mechanic showed up and went to work with only an old Leatherman for a tool. I felt it was hopeless and so would be the rest of the day. To my surprise and delight, the mechanic had the steering part (taken from some other boat) and we were on our way but now it would be about 11am before we even reached our destination and started fishing.

As we pulled into the flat, we started seeing tails signaling permit feeding. We began taking our shots, missing the permit in the usual ways: too short, too far, too much right, too much left, wrong fly, wrong strip, wrong set, etc., just a few of the million reasons not to catch fish, but things were looking up. On about my third shot of the day, I had my first hookup. Good cast, good set, and the fish turned on the fly and I set on it. It took off peeling line but came off about 2 seconds later. The hook set wasn’t good enough. I had used one of my hand tied crabs but the hook gap was too short. Just another of the many SNAFUs I’ve had permit fishing. My dreams of catching a permit seemed to fade but we kept seeing fish and maybe it was just a matter of time. Maybe though, if we’re down to a hook gap issue, I had figured out everything else and it might just happen.

Not too long after that, we saw a permit tailing near some mangroves and I began to make casts to it. The positioning wasn’t great; I had to cast around mangrove shoots and the water was very skinny but the fish seemed happy. I kept the fly about 3-4 feet away so I wouldn’t spook him. On the third cast, I guessed right and the fish seemed to hover over the fly but not grab it, and then started to move off. I waited to spot him and he moved to the left. I dropped the fly in front and he turned back toward us and began to tail again then moved behind the mangroves, Lord knows why, permit are just like that. I tossed another cast near him. This time he saw the fly and jumped on it. I set and had a solid hookup and off went my reel screaming in response. I thought to myself “I FINALLY HAVE ONE!” but I kept my enthusiasm down expecting the worst. It was just then that something popped into my mind. When we entered this section to fish, our guide remarked how he never had a permit run into the mangroves except for one time and that was when he had told his client it had never happened. Well, guess what happened? The permit headed around the mangrove. So now, I had this line heading straight, the permit going left and my line around the mangrove. I could see my dreams of landing this fish vanish along with my fly line. Another omen was that a few days earlier we had found a fly line that my guide said his client had lost 18 months earlier to a fish in much the same manner.

So I have this permit on pulling line wrapped around a mangrove when suddenly my guide leaped into the water and ran toward the mangrove in waist deep water saying “Turn down the drag, let him run.” The line was still ripping off the reel when the guide grabbed the line and as I lifted the rod high we freed the line from the mangrove with the fish still attached. I tried to get him to turn to open water but once again, he headed back into the mangroves and this time swam under shoots taking along my fly line. I loosened the drag, and my guide went under water to untangle the line. He popped back up with the line free and the fish began peeling off line again. This time he was out in open water where I could fight him and we brought him to the boat about 15 minutes later. Any number of things could have gone wrong but I managed to pull through and finally snagged a nice eleven pounder!

The fun didn’t stop there, though. About an hour later, I had what looked like a line of 3 permit closing fast. I put a 70 foot perfect cast right in front of them. They seemed to disappear just as they neared my fly and headed to a mangrove bank. A few seconds later, we spotted them past my fly, only much closer to the bank. My guide said “Cast it again” which I did and laid it about 4 feet from where they should have been turning out from the bank. It was anticipatory; one of those that you hope they’ll swim over. After all, it is permit, which are more difficult than Jack Rabbits on the run to predict which way they’ll go. Right after the cast hit, my guide said “Cast again further!” I didn’t pick it up immediately and recast because I thought it was in a good position should they turn out from the mangroves. Just then they appeared right over my fly. Guide said “Twitch It!” which I did and set when I felt the line go tight. Sure enough, another permit was on and screaming line. This one went so far into my backing that the line almost ran out. I cranked the drag down. This fish also ran into the mangroves and likewise my guide had to go get the line out. When the fish wrapped around the second mangrove, it was near the leader and just about spent. We released it and it came in around 13 pounds. This was an unbelievable event. I had hooked three permit and landed two. What had taken about 20 days before took only 6 hours. Certainly I look forward to going back!




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