Permit Judgment Day

Tony surveys the flats on the south Side

May 21 was promised by a Christian web site called “eBible Fellowship” to be a cataclysmic day in history. By creating a tortuous linkage of Bible verses , this group envisioned that the Second Coming would occur on May 21 and a series of horrible events would be set into motion. Here is their description of that fateful day:

“On Judgment Day, May 21st, 2011, this 5-month period of horrible torment will begin for all the inhabitants of the earth. It will be on May 21st that God will raise up all the dead that have ever died from their graves. Earthquakes will ravage the whole world as the earth will no longer conceal its dead (Isaiah 26:21). People who died as saved individuals will experience the resurrection of their bodies and immediately leave this world to forever be with the Lord. Those who died unsaved will be raised up as well, but only to have their lifeless bodies scattered about the face of all the earth. Death will be everywhere. ”

Not noting any specific references to bonefish or permit, I, along with five close friends and fishing buddies, were situated on Abaco Island on May 21, deperately seeking permit and bonefish,. It was a sort of spiritual journey in its own way, I suppose. We had departed the dock at Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse in Sandy Point that morning on our mission. Tony, our capable, but somewhat taciturn guide, turned to port as we cleared the dock area. Conditions favoured “The South Side” where we earnestly hoped to fulfill those bonefish dreams which had gone unrealized the previous day, when we had searched extensively at nearby Moore’s Island for the normally abundant bones and permit that inhabit the area, but to no avail. A single school was our only reward. Fortunately, these fish were cooperative, and Mike and I scored a number of hookups here. Permit remained elusive. None were seen at their usual haunts. Nonetheless, we motored back to Sandy Point somewhat satisfied, but ever hopeful for the following day’s fishing.

Now, it was a new day. As the famous treausre hunter Mel Fisher might say “Today is the day!”, despite it now being May 21, Doomsday. My very close friend Jay Preslar and I pulled up to a large, familiar flat on the South Side, one I had fished many times in the past. We carried a boatload of expectations as we donned our wading shoes and gathered our gear for the impending trek across the mostly firm light tan bottom of this enormous flat. Fighter pilots might have described it as a “target rich environment”, and we had itchy trigger fingers, ready at a moment’s notice, to launch the tiny fish interceptors fastened to the ends of our lines, at the invading force of bonefish . The bones were following the young tide as the forces of moon and earth danced the eternal dance that drives the tidal flow. Bonefish are relentless in their attacks on crabs and other crustaceans living a normally peaceful existence on these tranquil expanses of mud, sand, and grass.

We positioned ourselves, rods at the ready, along a narrow corridor of water well known to serve as a conduit for the silver sided invaders. Jay and I each launched successive waves of flies at the hungry fish, only to be met with a steadfast refusal to be satisfied with a cheap initation of the the object of their quest. A few of the more eager among them eventually succumbed to the temptaion of a quick and easy meal, but instead found themselves runnning pell-mell about the flat in a frantic effort to rid themselves of the razor blades they found in their meals. None the worse for the experience, each fish was released unharmed, perhaps a bit wiser. Each scurried off to rejoin its mates , storming the flats to consume any available protien. 

Interestingly, Jay and Tony had separated from me while searching for bones in the calf deep water. I had sneaked around a tiny mangrove island, hoping to cut off any “squirters”, fish that had separated from the pack. Sometimes, these isolated interlopers can be easy targets, as they are without the safety of the many eyes and sensory organs of a large school. My attention was diverted from the flat by a technical issue with my rod that required about ten minutes to correct. Once all was in order once more, I resumed my stalk. One of the great charms of bonefishing is the need to hunt these fish, and once located, cast to them, combining hunting and fishing into what I consider the finest of all sport. As I scanned the flat, an unusual sight met my gaze. A rather large man was making deliberate, noisy, fast moving steps across the flat, uncharacteristic of a bonefisherman. His path formed a vector leading directly to our unattended eighteen foot Action Craft, anchored in the distance as we combed the far corners of the flat for fish. Several thoughts came to my mind as I obsewrved the man stop, turn, and motion toward his as yet unseen accomplices.

1- They were here to ransack and possibly disable our only way back to the lodge.

2-Their plan was to pilfer the boat, along with its contents ( including my passport and wallet).

3-Perhaps they simply intended to “borrow” the boat in an effort to asist their own possibly disabled craft.

4-My heart beat a little faster when I considered that perhaps they were the Bahamian equivalent of Somali pirates, and believed that dead men tell no tales. The thought of looking down the barrel of a Glock made me wish I had my bottle of Beta blocker pills handy to slow my rapid heart rate.

I urgently made my way back the corner of the flat where Jay and Tony were looking for bones.  Visions of the end times predicted by the Bible group flashed through my mind. Gesturing rapidly towards Tony with the universal sign meaning “Come here”, he rapidly waded in my direction. As Tony approached hearing distance, I pointed towards the man and indicated that I was concerned about piracy on the high flats. When I glanced back towards the invader, I began to feel somewhat sheepish. The man had veered hard to port and away from the boat. Now following him was what appeared to be a small cadre of women. At first I deduced that this man was a guide and the women his clients, but I saw no rods or fishing equipment of any type. Intead they carried sacks. The mystery was solved when I saw one of the ladies bend down and pluck an object from the sand, placing it the bag she carried. Tony and I then surmised that they were gathering conch. I was immediately relieved, but wondered how long the conch population might endure such massive annialation. We collected Jay, ambled back to the boat, and began poling off the flat. That’s when it happened.

As Tony pulled the boat off the flat towards the open ocean, we noticed a huge barracuda out ahead. This piqued my interest, as I had created a cuda pattern of my own and was anxious to try it on a lovely specimen such as this. I quickly tied on the six inch wire streamer with its elongated green head, along with a wire leader. The long cigar shape of the hefty cuda contrasted starkly with the light tan color of the bottom and I was just about to cast when Tony shouted loudly “PERMIT!!!” Indeed, a very large permit was moving left to right in front of us, swimming in a business-like fashion, displaying no sense of immediacy. As I was armed for a battle with barracuda, Tony suggested that Jay give chase on foot. Jay was barefoot, but the smooth sand bottom obviated the need for footwear. Jay slipped silently overboard and began heading towards the monster permit, its weight now estimated by Tony at thirty pounds, a prize specimen. The permit moved out over an outcropping of coral, a place where Jay was unable to follow. The razor sharp edges of the coral stood ready to slice Jay’s feet like a sushi chef carving up a fish. We tossed him his wading shoes and moved ahead. Facing no such impediment, Tony feverishly followed the big fish, as I once more changed flies, this time tipping my tippet with another new tie. This one was my interpretation of a hot new permit fly developed in Cuba. I had used it for bonefish in the Freeport area a few weeks earlier and my guide Ishmael was effusive in its praise. He suggested that I put my own name on the fly. Instead I began referring to it as the “Ish Fish Fly’. I have decribed the details of the fly as well as its construction in a recent post.

The permit now paused to pluck a tasty morsel from between the rocks, its enormous black sickle shaped tail lifted high into the Bahamian air. Sunlight glinted off its tail, shiny as a Ferrari’s hood. I attempted to remain calm as I observed this almost surreal sight. The fish was oriented with its nose pointed directly at me, happily feeding and oblivious to all but its meal. With a single smooth motion, my rod arced accross the bright blue sky and delivered my offering to this wonderful fish. The fly entered the water some eight to ten inches ahead of the fish’s mouth. It drifted into a crevice between two rocks where I fervently hoped it would become the next item on the permit’s menu. A small gasp escaped my own mouth when the permit inhaled the fly. As quickly as I could react, I made a smooth fast strip strike with my left hand. I felt a bump on my line and a lump in my throat, and I prepared for the blistering run for which these gamefish are noted. Instead, I felt nothing. The went slack and my heart fell to the bottom of the flat.

Rather than bolting away, this permit moseyed over to an adjacent coral outcropping, where it scanned the benthos for additional protien. Tony, meanwhile, instead of assuming his normal position at the stern, pole in hand, chose to take the fight to the fish from the water. He walked alongside the bow, grasping it with both hands and propelling both boat and angler onward towards the still dining permit. The fish, for its part, had meandered about the flat, its enormous eyes seeking out sustenance. Much to his credit, Tony  was able to easily navigate the uneven topography of the coral strewn bottom, constantly keeping me within casting range of the thirty pounder. A series of such casts were repeated over and over as the permit alternated between tailing and moving on to greener pastures. Tony and I were never far behind. I felt like an FBI agent hot on the heels of a criminal able to remain just one step ahead.

Most permit encounters seem to be fleeting affairs, chance meetings between angler and fish, like ships in the night. I followed and cast to this single permit for an astounding ninety minutes! Tony guessed that we had covered nearly half a mile in our pursuit. Rarely is an angler afforded the opportunity to observe this animal going about its daily routine, particularly for such an extended period of time. I felt a strange combination of awe and agonizing frustration. I was torn between continued efforts to make this big fish fast to my line and simply watching one of natures more captivating creations in its natural environment. I contemplated replacing the rod in its holder and attaching the 400mm lens to my Canon 30D and capturing a few photos of this beast tailing.The hunter-gatherer instinct ultimately prevailed, and I frantically rifled through my fly box for that special fly that might finally entice this fish to sample the fare which I was featuring. My civilized, artisitic vsion of framing the fish in its natural surroundings were completely overcome by the intense desire to feel its power. I let slip yet another cast.

By now, Tony was begining to grow a little weary of the battle. He said nothing, but I sensed his weariness and frustration. I have to admit that I was physically exhausted as well. Sweat rolled off my face and onto my neck, and my breathing had become heavy. Tony estimated that I had now made nearly two hundred casts in  what proved a losing cause.

I reluctantly capitulated and ceased casting. I watched the permit lazily swim away. In a final insult, he refused to pose for a tailling photograph, instead slowly swimming among the coral rocks. If he had fingers, I imagine what he might have done as a parting gesture.

Intially, I was dejected by failing to add another permit notch to the handle of my nine weight. But after further reflection, having had the opportunity of extended close observation and interaction with this wonderful fish was a victory in itself. After all, how many flats anglers have the chance to make two hundred casts to a permit in a single day? It had proved not to be judgment day for man or fish, despite the “horribletorments” I endured in this lost cause.

Little did I know that my permit encounters were not over for this trip.

More to follow…. Stay tuned, same permit channel, same permit time!!!

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About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
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2 Responses to Permit Judgment Day

  1. loved it dad! you are such a great writer! 🙂

  2. keith says:

    “Permit” me to say……..i,too,enjoyed this story,and enjoy your writing as well!

    keith

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