It has been said many times before, a fact which likely validates its veracity, that there are some things in life that never slip your memory, no matter how far removed from the present they might be. That first kiss, your wedding day, or the birth of your children. All these events events represent the best life has to offer us in exchange for a lifetime of toil and sometimes conflict, disease, and pain. Looking into your newborn child’s eyes makes all else fade into the backround white noise of life.
Undeniably, it is difficult to argue that any event in fishing can even approximate this level of joy, but some of us would argue that catching a permit on fly comes close. This accomplisment is much celebrated by saltwater fly fishing affectionatos. It is a rare fly fisherman indeed who has boated a permit taken from the flats using a creation of feathers and tinsel wrapped onto a hook. These strangely beautiful creatures are unusally wary once on the shallow flats. Typically,they arise from deeper channels adjacent to flats , riding the incoming tide like so many silver surfers. The flats offer them their very favorite meal- crabs. Though the shallow water holds the promise of these morsels , they also present a clear and present danger to the fish from all manner of predators. Unable to resist the crabby delicacies that await them, permit depend on their unusally large eyes and resultant keen eyesight to warn them of any danger. The eyes of permit appear disproportionately large, nearly the size of a human eye,and allow them to inspect any perspective meal in phenomenal detail. Thus, artificial offerings are almost universally rejected, whether due to some flaw in appearance, or in method of presentation. Ironically, however, some of the most effective permit flies are impressionistic creations, something Dali might have have made if asked to tie a permit fly. Del’s Merkin is perhaps the most widely used and I would estimate has accounted for more permit takes than any other fly by far. It is crafted from rug yarn and a couple of hackle feathers. Perhaps the permit reasons that this bizarre thing must be a species of crab it has not seen before. Most are not so easily fooled. Many serious saltwater fishermen go their entire fishing lives sans a single permit capture. It’s like the muskie fishermen say- “A real good day is two follows and a swirl”.
This not to say that other fly patterns will not work for these large silver platter-like fish. My own permit experience began at Moore’s Island, hard by Sandy Point, on Abaco, Bahamas. We had made the forty five minute run that calm September morning from Pete and Gay’s Bonefish Lodge in beautiful downtown Sandy Point to the remote and sparsely populated island. I was fishing with a friend from Seattle, a hardcore steelheader. Now, steelhead are magnificent fish in their own right, and we had discussions deep into the night, as well as the rum bottle, the previous evening debating the merits of each species. Of course, my arguments were at that point theoretical, as I had yet to latch onto one of these fabulous fish. I had caught a couple of steelhead on tributaries of the Snake River, so my arguments had at least some foothold on reality.
Theory was about to run headlong into reality as we poled along the edge of a flat, near the dropoff to a deep channel. I had tied on an experimental epoxy fly created at my vice a few weeks earlier. I was curious to see if the Abaconian bonefish might fall for this crude representation of a shrimp. As I stood at the ready on the bow, peering into the clear warm Bahamian water, the guide announced, rather calmly, that he had spotted a pair of permit. I spun immediately to the ten o’clock position he specified. I searched for the characteristic large black sickle shaped tails protruding from the water as permit root the benthos , hot on the heels of an unlucky crustacean. But there were no tails in sight. These fish remained submerged as they scanned the bottom with sonar-like eyes for crabs. My window of opportunity was brief, no time to change to a Merkin. So, I let slip my epoxy abomination in the direction of the silver riders. A small splash, which I feared might send the fish off to the safety of the channel at flank speed, instead seemed to pique their interest. One moved toawrd my fly and WHOA!, it actually ate it! We were off to the races and it was difficult to know which was faster, the permit, or my heart rate. The appearnce of a shark, aroused by the commotion and seeking an easy meal, did little to comfort me. After a hundered refusals, I was determined to get this fish. I seriously considered offering the shark an alternate meal by shoving my buddy into the water as a sacrificial offering to the permit gods, but thought better of it and hoped for the best. A little strategic application of his push pole by the guide frightened off the shark, and I soon landed the permit.
It is difficult to convey the rapturous joy I felt as I posed for the mandatory grab and grin shot with the fish. I had seen many permit on the flats over the years and cast to quite a few, but none had ever approached within a hundred feet of my fly. Now, I had become a member of the permit club, an elite group of saltwater anglers. I never gloated about it to my steelheader friend, nor to any of my friends after returning home. If you believe that, i have some land I want to sell you….
Since that day, I have landed one other permit on fly, once again at Sandy Point. That was quite an experince, but one best left to another day and another post. I was almost to the point of considering myself a decent permit angler, until my friend Greg Vincent, co-owner and director of fishing operations at Pelican Bay, emailed me with the news that he won the Del Brown Invitational Permit Tournament in Key West by landing, on the fly, an astounding FIVE permit in a single day, an achievement which this author feels may never be equalled in saltwater fly fishing. It would be the equivalent of hitting five hole in one shots in golf in a single round. It is doubtful that even Tiger Wood could do such a thing.
When Greg talks permit fishing, I listen. I will have ample opportunity to sit at the feet of the master in about three weeks when my wife and I head to Pelican Bay for a week’s fishing with Greg and Jason. I have a secret weapon to try, a new fly called the Avalon fly. It was developed in Cuba by the French live aboard fishing operation by the same name, cruising the waters of the Jardines de la Reina on the southern shores of that island nation. It is said that this fly is to permit what the Gotcha is to bonefish, a predictable tool for taking permit with a routine regularity. We shall see.
Click the link highlighted in blue above to view a PowerPoint presnetation about tying the fly. Stay tuned to Castingawayblog for a full report on my Grand Bahama adventures.