- Photography by: Brian O'Keefe
All right, picture this, ALMOST than 25 years ago: I’m the newly minted associate editor of this magazine (at the time, it was still called Rod & Reel, the Fly coming later). I’m newly married. I’m on my honeymoon. To top it off, my wife and I are spending that honeymoon in Belize, for our first flats fishing experience.
After arriving at Turneffe Island Lodge and chasing bonefish for a few hours after lunch, it was now the afternoon of my first full day on the flats. The early morning was productive: I’d landed a couple of bonefish, along with a small tarpon of about 30 pounds. Back at the lodge for a break, the staff had joked about the possibility of a grand slam. I demurred. I was at least experienced enough to know that this idea was crazy. Who would leave the toughest leg of the slam, the permit, to the end? And let’s face it, I didn’t have much idea of what I was doing. Nonetheless, when I climbed into guide Eddie Hyde’s flats boat for the afternoon, in my arsenal was a rod rigged for permit. Just in case.
We were fishing for barracuda, and eventually found ourselves poling along a deepish flat at the foot of a small, football-shaped caye. Eddie noticed a couple of pods of permit working the flat, and all he had to do was say the word. I grabbed the rod rigged with a Permit Puff (this was before the days of the various complex, realistic, multi-legged crab flies, although Del Brown’s Merkin may have been around). Looking down from above on the casting deck, all I could make out were indistinct gray shapes. But when the guide says, “Permit,” I think, Permit.
The fish were very patient with me. I blew a couple of deliveries, then had several follows that put my heart in my throat. Eventually the permit vanished. Now it was our turn to be patient.
Sure enough, 15 minutes later four permit reappeared, their patrol bringing them back in sight (and in casting range). I made a reasonable cast, one fish broke from the pod, followed my fly and seemed to tip down, and I felt resistance through the line. I tightened up, the permit ran off to the left, my line shot to the right, and a small barracuda rocketed into the air, shaking violently, my Puff stuck in its jaw. A few moments later teeth cut through mono and that was the end of that (although in those few moments I imagined doing all sorts of horrible things to that ’cuda).
The Belizean sun began to feel hot. Very hot.
I checked my leader for nicks and tied on another Puff, and by the time I clambered back to the casting deck, there were those permit. A few casts later I tightened up again, only this time to the real thing. One of the permit charged off the flat, munching on my Puff, while I held on. Being a realist, I thought, Wonder when the leader will pop? Then things got weird.
Eddie suggested I ease up on my drag a bit. Working with an unfamiliar reel (I could barely contain my enthusiasm for testing new gear), I cranked the drag knob and realized I had tightened the drag. So I frantically backed it off—so far that the spool disengaged. I was now standing in the Caribbean, free-spooling a running permit.
Backing flew everywhere, wrapping around the reel handle and the rod butt and forming a snarl of truly magnificent proportions. I grabbed hold and pulled line out of the center of the bird’s nest, throwing line at the fish, while also trying to hide my bumbling from Eddie (this was his grand slam too, after all). As quickly as the snarl appeared, it fell apart. I popped the spool back where it belonged, put the drag on a reasonable setting and started cranking (since that day, I have never attempted to adjust a drag while fighting a fish).
Twenty uneventful minutes later, Eddie tailed a beautiful 10-pound permit, and I realized what all the hype was about. A gorgeous satiny silver with a lemon-yellow belly, the fish was stunning.
I’d been in the tropics a bit more than 24 hours, and already the fishing had outstripped my wildest expectations. The honeymoon? It was terrific. However, I’m afraid the marriage didn’t last. But I’ll never forget the glow as I held that permit in my hands, then released it back to the Caribbean Sea.
by Jim Butler
Photographs by Brian O'Keefe