Permit Week on Island X

We’ve just returned from our annual trip to what I’m now calling Island X. There’s not too many secrets left in the fishing world nowadays, but this place is still safely guarded by those in the know. The islands sole guide is very protective of his home, as he should be, and has an extremely full schedule making it very difficult for inquisitive anglers to experience the place. Luckily we have access to prime winter weeks via Anglers All in Ashland and this year I was able to spend the week with a couple great friends/clients (Robert and Cobert) from North Carolina.

I knew the week was off to a good start when the very first group of fish I casted at was a trio of tailing permit at the flat a short walk from the house we stay at. We usually walk down to this flat on the first evening of the trip, just to get a taste of the salt and work out the winter kinks in our casting. This flat is usually productive on a low tide, and it was still falling when we made our way down it. This was the first time I’ve seen Permit there, and I was able to put a good stalk on the fish, but they weren’t interested in what I was showing them. Luckily this would only be the beginning of “Permit Week” on Island X.

Our very first morning of “official” fishing was picture perfect. Zero wind and high skies. I’ve only seen the water slicked out a handful of times here, and it was a treat. As we idled onto the first flat of the day, we could already see multiple permit pushing and tails slicing through the early morning glass. I had a large school of small Permit work through within range and hooked up on my first cast. It wasn’t much of a Permit but it was a Permit on the fly, and my first. As the morning progressed, more and more fish worked through the flat on the incoming tide. I hooked up briefly on a much bigger fish, but failed to come tight and delivered my fly to around 15 more fish that acted like typical Permit. The action was steady until after lunch when the tide slacked out, but it was a great start to the trip. Not only did I land my first Permit, but Robert was able to land two great fish on the first day. 3 Permit in a day isn’t too shabby.

After a few days of fishing I had lost count of how many Permit I’d seen or casted at. Bonefish had surely taken the backseat on this trip, but many were still caught in pursuit of those big forked tails. And anyone who knows bonefish know that the ones you catch on Permit tides are damn big fish. One of the highlights that sticks out the most was a particularly hot afternoon with a high tide and a light breeze slightly ruffling the water. The Permit had pushed up into small lagoons through narrow channels in the mangroves. A sight that will be forever burned in my memory will be two fish in the 25 pound range working across water that was maybe a foot deep, leaving over half of the Permit out of the water. They were up patrolling a sandbar that was only covered by water on a high tide. We worked in quietly and I was able to deliver a good shot, but the fished blew out as soon as the fly landed. It’s rare to see them up that shallow, so they were ultra spooky. It was also interesting how they would swim with their flank parallel to the bottom to get out of the skinny water. The late afternoon lighting lit them up so beautifully, truly accenting the pearlescent sheens and the jet black fins. Cobert was up next and was able to get some other great shots at some more tailers in the same lagoon, and had one tip down and eat his fly, but he failed to come tight. The last fished I casted to that afternoon was a particularly large fish working his way out a narrow channel just wide enough to push the boat through without scraping up against the mangroves. It’s always tough to deliver a fly to a fish moving directly away from you, and I wasn’t really able to get a good shot until he exited the small channel and turned every so slightly to his left on the way out. He looked briefly at the fly and went on his way.

I was able to land a fish in the 20 pound class on the day before my 35th birthday. It was a hot, muggy day and the mosquitos were out in full force. I’ve never had any sort of issues with insects on this island, but this day made up for all the years they were absent. With zero breeze and high humidity, it was actually quite miserable at times. I was forced to wear heavy pants, shoes, and my raincoat to escape the blitz. Add to the fact that for half of the day I didn’t see a single fish of any sort made it a mental grind for sure. Around 1pm the tide started to fill in and things changed. We worked our way back up-tide from the ocean side flats where we had been catching tailing bonefish at midday to an area known as Permit Boulevarde. We could see the first fish tailing before we shut the motor down. A few more groups were pushing around the flat and I instantly had a shot a big fish that followed and tipped down on my fly 3 or four times until it was right next to the boat and finally spooked. It’s a cliche, but there really is nothing like the feeling of casting to a Permit and watching it examine your fly. It’s not just the heart racing adrenaline filling your veins, but a sense of self consciousness. Permit will expose your every weakness and make sure you know you’re not everything you think you are as an angler. Luckily I was able to shake off the jitters right away as another fish worked the edge of the flat but showed no interest in my fly. After three or four more refusals, I switch my fly, hoping for one last shot. Things seemed to settle down and we didn’t see a fish for around 30 minutes, and with the day coming to a close, I was praying for one more fish to work down the bank. We made one more push up the bank the fish had been filtering down, and luckily one more fish made its way toward us. It was a head on shot, right at 12 o’clock about 60 feet. The first cast was a little too far in front of it. The fish turned and made its way toward 11 o’clock. I stripped in my slack, picked up and made one shot a little closer this time and the fish pounced all over the fly and I came tight instantly. Baffled, I looked back at my guide, and then let out an excited shout that scared most of the mosquitos away. What ensued was a long nervous battle. My guide kept ensuring me “He soon be tired.” I played the fish as best I could, and when he was boatside my guide grabbed the tail and lifted the fish in. That was that. One of my most memorable days of fishing I’ve ever had. Permit have a lot of hype surrounding them, but I feel comfortable in saying that they may be the only fish that truly lives up to it all.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m leaving out a lot of details, but you’ll just have to ask me about the rest of it sometime!