From an anglers view, fishing Key West.
Report Date: March 24, 2005
With only ten days until I fly down to Key West for my annual Permit trip with Lenny I cannot help but think back on last years trip and how exciting it was. The memory of the second night of the trip will be with me forever as well as some very valuable lessons.
It was about 5:00 when we eased up to the far edge of the flat. Lenny cut the engine and we began to gather up the gear and get set. The day had been great. We were ?ass deep? in Permit from early morning to late afternoon but one rookie mistake was burnt into my mind, replaying itself over and over like a nervous tick. I knew that there was only one way to erase the mistake and it had to happen in the few hours we had remaining. ?Impossible? I thought to myself, ?I?ve been hunting these bastard fish for five years now, blown the only real chance I had and expect to fix it in the next two hours just because I want to. No way!?
Lenny hopped up on the poling platform, lit a cigarette and methodically scanned the flat from East to West looking for any signs of life. Conditions were perfect: little to no wind at the end of the falling tide as the sun approached the horizon. I grabbed the rod and took my position on the front of the boat, slowly stripping out line as I watched and prayed for a few more shots at redemption. As we eased up higher onto the flat I made a practice cast and carefully stripped the line onto the deck of the boat watching for anything that would jeopardize my presentation, a small tangle or even a kink in the leader could shut down another opportunity and I wasn?t going to let that happen. The flat sprang to life almost immediately and my adrenaline started to flow. The idle conversation and joking ended quickly as we both got dialed in on our target. For Lenny and I, Permit fishing isn?t a game, it?s who we are and what we do. We both take it very seriously and that is why my mistake earlier in the day so desperately needed to be redeemed and forgotten.
The first Permit came into range quickly and I fired off a cast carefully, trying to lead the fish by no more than two feet. Since the water was only about knee high where the fish were feeding, the margin for error was very slim. The fly has only about one or two seconds between when it hit the water and when it was on the bottom and once it gets to the bottom there is no chance that the fish will see it. ?Too short,? said Lenny, ?pick up and throw again.? The second cast literally hit the Permit in the head and in the blink of an eye it was gone. Not too far ahead of us was a tailing fish that looked to be about twenty pounds based on the size of its tail. Just before I could cast at the fish, it disappeared without a trace. No tail, no wake, nothing. We laughed in amazement and frustration that a fish like that could disappear totally in about one foot of water.
Now high up on the flat, we continued to move slowly east to west toward the next fish. Misjudging the distance, I casted before I should have and came up way too short. ?Strip it in and cast again.? With the fly line in the air the Permit suddenly moved right to left almost as though it was spooked. Lenny shouted ?five feet in front of it,? indicating that I needed to lead the fish more than usual because it was moving pretty fast and was actually ahead of the wake to begin with. Without asking questions I adjusted my cast and fired, the fly landed and immediately the fish turned on it. With a few strips I was hooked up. At this point we hadn?t seen anything that would guarantee that this was actually a Permit, I was shaking all over and just about soiled myself. Although I was almost certain that it couldn?t be anything else, there was still a possibility that it could be a jack or possibly even a snapper. With adrenaline now rushing through my body, I fought the relatively small fish. Before I knew it, Lenny was bent over with his hand in the water repeating in a nervous voice ?I don?t have it yet, I don?t have it yet? trying to make sure that I didn?t do anything at that point to jeopardize what was essentially a caught fish. As he stood up he pulled the Permit out of the water and moved away from the edge of the boat. Screaming and laughing we exchanged compliments and quickly took pictures. In moments, the Permit was back in the water swimming away no worse for wear. Years of practice had finally paid off. The next morning we caught one that was three times as big, but that experience is as clear as in my memory as if it was five minutes ago.
Every day that I am on the water I learn something important, but on that night I learned probably my most important lesson. Fishing with someone whom you know and understand and who knows and understands you is the only way to be truly successful in this sport. It may sound strange, but this is a team sport. As in any team sport the success or failure depends largely on the chemistry of the team. Football teams don?t change quarterbacks every game because it would never work. It took me years to understand how Lenny gauges distance, to accept his corrections and instructions without hesitation or question and to know that when he says a fish is one cast away it is usually totally out of range . Things like this may sound trivial but it can be the difference between never seeing a fish and catching one. If you want to be a really good flats fisherman, find a guide that you like and get to know him better than you know your family members. It will pay off in more ways than one.
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