I must admit, I really did not anticipate or expect the congratulatory reaction I received from so many people as to winning the Del Brown this year. Going into the event for me was as much about sharing a boat with a good mate of mine in Captain Justin Rea as it was about being in a tournament. I guess I looked at it as 3 days fishing in a tournament rather than fishing in a tournament for 3 days. This attitude was the luxury of naivety on my part because this event was only my second having entered it last year as a complete tournament rookie. I have been involved with several billfish tournaments over the years but never before as an angler in a fly fishing event. How lucky was I ? Extremely lucky – I had 3 days glued to the bow on arguably ( or no argument at all ) the most incredible permit flats on the planet. Throw in a guide that seems to have a knack of sniffing these wily bastards out no matter what the circumstances and you’ve found yourself one lucky S.O.B. Lucky as sin if you ask me. Of course now as defending champion I have something to lose so I am sure will have to look at this next year as entering a tournament and fishing for 3 days. I wonder what difference that will make ?
Talking of differences, what will be the moods of the permit gods ( The finicky buggers that they are, I mean bless them all !! ) next year ? In 2008 they ganged up on us on day 2. Having lost 3 fish that day, one coming unbuttoned at the boat yards from the net and two pulled hooks when taking line from the deck, I think they must have felt guilty and decided to pay us back this year. Not only did we not lose a fish the entire three days we also had 2 incidents that really should have cost us at least one if not two permit. Either scenario would have cost us the tournament.
The first was on that magical day 2 was when the third of five fish took off across a very long, even bottom, soft mud flat. No obstructions as far as the eye could see. Nothing but a sleeping nurse shark. So, what did that permit do ? Well, it made a beeline straight for that ‘ Homer ‘ at full speed and slammed into the doughnut filled side belly, kicked it up and moving and then tucked itself tight against it’s flank and whenever possib
le underneath it. I could at times feel the sharks tail hitting the leader. Not good. It was one thing to try and swim around it or circle it while it lay there but quite another to actually watch in total horror this clever little bastard deliberately awaken this shark and get it moving. It somehow new this tactic was a better option. What the $%#$, was all both Justin and I could say. Was this happening ? We fired up the motor which of course spooked the shark into top gear and now the chase was on. Fortunately old ‘ Homer ‘ is more a walker than a sprinter so we managed to get over the shark fairly quickly and with some bullying from the boat we managed to split up the unlikely pairing and get this fish to the net. Job done and finally we managed to dodge one from the permit gods.
The second incident you may ask ? An old crab pot or buoy line maybe, a channel overhang, a branch on the flat, something normal at least. NOPE !! A loggerhead turtle would be the answer there. We knew that we had to catch at least one fish on day 3. The conditions were mirror calm and therefore the toughest conditions available to the permit angler so a multi fish day was going to be a tough ask. We felt that should Will Benson manage a multi fish day in conditions like this then he deserves the trophy and we were fine with that so getting one was as mentioned absolutely crucial. It did not look good for the majo
rity of the day then around 2.40 pm or so with less than 80 minutes left to fish I managed to hook one. Thank The Gods right ? NO would be the answer there because moments after hooking this fish at the edge of a flat the permit ran for a deeper channel just as a loggerhead turtle came up to blow. This permit sprinted at this turtle in a 15 foot deep channel and swam underneath it. The leader touched the rear right flipper which spooked the turtle and the leader snagged on the flipper. I actually saw the permit twist and flash as the changed angle of pull tripped the permit onto it’s side. I thought that was it. These damn permit gods are at it again !! I cannot print what I said but during the process of what I am sure would not be a short tirade on my behalf I heard Justin scream, NO, NO it’s still on. I looked up and even though the turtle, now swimming at full speed on a very erratic course I could see the tail of the permit underneath it pumping away like mad. It was as if this fish had glued itself to the underside of the turtle. This all happened so quickly but both Justin and I instinctively knew the reaction had to be even quicker. What Justin and I did next was something so uniform in timing it was scary !! There was no time to yell instructions or requests from either party. What I as the angler wanted done from a boat handling perspective in those few hectic moments was done and what Justin wanted from his angler as a guide was achieved in short order. Only team work was going to land this fish. There was nothing I or Justin could do individually. We both had to do the right thing at exactly the right time at the same time.
The worst scenario happened immediately with the turtle making a dive. I immediately backed off the drag and threw my rod tip in the water and reached as far as my arm allowed with the reel now a couple of feet below the waterline to get as much line as I could underneath the level of the turtle. Any upward pressure on that leader to enable it to engage with the turtle’s sharp edged shell was going to be a perfect result – FOR THE PERMIT.
Justin accelerated the boat at the turtle and created a huge bow in the line so the angle of pull on the fish always came from a level that was at least the same depth as the turtle or from preferably lower than the turtle. Don’t ask me how we did this, we just did. We chased that thing around making doughnuts in the channel all the while pulling fly line from the reel to maintain the belly and depth of the leader. We stayed on top of the turtle knowing it eventually had to come up to breath and when it finally did Justin threw the push pole into the water alongside the turtles flank. The permit saw the pole and likely heard the splash along with all the bubbles it created in entering the water and may have felt another predator attach was imminent from the side so parted company with the turtle. Great but the question remained as to how much damage the leader had sustained during this ordeal. We babied the fish from then on into the net. How long was that ? I cannot say with any certainty but at a guess I’d say about 3 weeks !!! It was during this latter part of the fight that I can say for the first time in my life that I felt genuine stress while fishing !!! With the fish in the net the Hi 5’s and back slaps started and although more closely resembling two boxers sparing it did not matter because we could feel no pain. It is a moment I will not soon, if ever forget.
I was posed a question after fishing on day 2 as to what enabled us to catch 5 permit in one day on fly, apart of course at being presented with so many opportunities and I found myself saying ‘ You have to fish for them like you don’t care ‘. This was not a specific answer as to that days fishing or being in a permit tournament but rather a general comment as to one’s attitude when fishing for them. It just seemed so fitting especially having grown up in the Islands where the word Permit is never associated with a fish. It’s called a ‘Pompous jack‘! I personally cannot think of one other species of fish where its name so perfectly describes its character. They remind me of a spoilt dog that you come across from time to time where no matter the quality of morsel you wish to give, it’s the manner in which you present it that is the deciding factor as to whether the spoilt little bitch will eat it or not. Pompous indeed!
One of the most beautiful things about this sport is that you are constantly learning so as important to me as the achievement of winning was, coming away from this tournament a better permit angler was of equal achievement. Cap’t Justin Rea was instrumental in this and as with almost all fly fishing requirements, especially in the brine, communication is key. In no other area of the sport, at least that I am aware of is team work between guide and angler more important. The individual skills of either angler or guide are only going to get you so far. It’s the melding of the two that is going to further your knowledge.
It is mind blowing the advancement in fly patterns, techniques and just general understanding of this particular species by some these days. What do I and so many of today’s permit anglers owe to some of the Floridian guides and their anglers over the past umpteen years ? It’s not much, it’s everything! The first permit I managed on fly was over 20 year ago now on a flat in The Cayman islands and caught on what I thought at the time was the ‘ hot ‘ new fly in the permit puff !! I have no idea how much I was behind the curve back then but having been fortunate enough over the years to now be spending several evenings a year at a certain residence on sugarloaf and the days on the flats between there and the Marquesas I have been very fortunate at having the opportunity to accelerate my catch up and have found myself far less behind the curve than I once was. There’s still a long way to go but there is no question at all that if an angler wants to begin the process of targeting permit with a fly they need to get down to those select guides that ply their trade on the most southern of Floridian waters. Thanks again Justin and I’ll see you in Fall mate.