Back from stalking Permit on the salt water flats of Belize

Bow hunting and fly fishing the salt water flats for Permit have many similarities.  Finding, understanding, and fooling the quarry; then stalking, taking the shot, and enjoying the experiences and the comradeship that such adventures create. For me it was also a much needed break from the snow, cold and rough living conditions on the ranch and the chance to catch what I consider to be the “Holy Grail of Fly Fishing.”

Finding the Permit was as much a challenge as fooling them with the perfect cast, fly and presentation. Fortunately, the keen eyes and expansive knowledge of the Garbutt brothers (our guides) put me into Permit each day. Seeing a tailing permit sends a rush of adrenaline through my system; my legs start shaking, my eye sight narrows, and my heart rate increases. Just over a fish, it is the same rush I get when I get a bull elk to respond to my call, or as my stalk closes in on a bedded mulie buck. Its the rush we all strive for in the outdoors no matter what your game is.

Once tails or busy water is observed the stalk is on; get the sun to our backs no sudden movements, stay low, watch for the tails. When the tails are up, that means the fishes eyes are down, time to take the shot. And that is exactly what it is. One shot, one cast and it had better be perfect. No time for false casting, you get maybe one and you need to get the rod to load up with that one cast, then the with 15 foot leader and heavy fly your timing must be absolutely perfect. Performing these fine motor functions under the influence of adrenaline is no easy feat.  As the Permit are feeding in the shallow flats, their field of view is very small, the fly must land in this field of view often times less than a 10 inch square. This 10 inch square is often more than 60 feet away, that is a long cast for me with a fly rod and to hit this magic spot is as much luck as skill for me.

As hard as it is to get the perfect shot on a Permit, the fly and presentation needs to be perfect as well.  The Permit are very wary as they leave their deep water haunts and move into the shallow flats to feed. Then too, they are very intelligent as far as fish go. I like to say that I think I should be able to outsmart any fish that swims, right? My melon sized brain matched up to the fishes little pea sized brain, I should win every time. Well, I have come to understand that a fishes little pea sized brain is 100% devoted to survival while my big old melon has maybe a pea sized portion in it devoted to catching fish. When it the case of Permit, it is clear to me that their brain functions at a higher level than that little pea area in my big old melon.  But that is why when you do make the perfect cast, the fly lands close enough for the Permit to see but not so close that is spooks, you have a nice little crab imitaiton on the end of your line, the presention is teasing and keeping the permits attention, he follow the fly, but as I am striping in the line the action is getting closer and closer to the boat, will the Permit see me, spook or just figue out that the crab she is chasing is a fake? Yes, useully they turn away and take off for the deep again. But, it is possible that I can fool one from time to time.

The “Eat” when it happens, if it happens is a time when just like bow hunting, it is the moment of truth. Can I keep my composure? Will I stay in control and set the hook quickly and firmly? If I can do this can I get the loose line out and on the reel without breaking the Permit off?  This is where mental toughness comes in a big way. You need mental toughness to sneak across flat after flat hoping for a sign of a permit. Many Permit fishermen may pursue this elusive fish for years and never get a decent shot at one. Mentally get the cast or shot in at the right time, quickly and accurately. Not many second chances on Permit. One of the guys that I was fishing with had logged almost 30 days of exclusivly pursing Permit with a fly and had never had an “eat” in all this time.  Yes, the “Eat”, as I like to call it. This is where everything can go right or wrong. One permit we had eat but the fly went into the fishes crushers, where they kill the crabs they catch, and the crushers bent the hook to where the hook couldn’t set in the mouth. Always something that can go wrong, I had 6 eats in 3 days. By the way that is incredible for Permit fishing.

The hook set. When you see the mouth open on your fly, and feel the line tighten a little bit on the eat. So much depends on how I can set the hook. A quick and firm strip set is what works, don’t lift the rod like its a little trout. Strip set that fly right into that fat old lip. Then the fight is on. The first run that Permit have is incredible. They are running for the deep water and the fly line simply disappears off the reel, then into the ocean. I just keep hoping that the Permit will slow down before I run out of backing.  Strong and fast are not the only tricks a Permit will pull when the fight has begun. Remember, these fish are uncanny in their intelligence too. A coral head, an old Mangrove root, or other obstacle will almost always draw a fighting Permits attention.  They not only fight hard, they fight flat out dirty too. Rubbing the fly along the bottom trying to pull it out, swimming strait for a coral head and then taking a 90 degree turn on it to wrap the leader and fly line up or shooting underneath an old Mangrove root are just a few of the tricks Permit pulled on me this trip.  Just hooking a permit doesn’t mean you can catch one.

For me I was lucky, I managed to land two permit in 3 days.  A large part of it was luck, but also skill, mental toughness and composure. Not giving up after looking at empty flat after empty flat, staying alert for a little flash, some busy water, a tail breaking the surface in the distance, skill in casting and fighting fish. But even as proud as am to have landed a couple Permit on a fly, the real value to me is always the experience, being in the tropics, spending time with old friends and making new ones, and getting the heck off the ranch and away from all the snow for 3 days.

One Response to “Back from stalking Permit on the salt water flats of Belize”

  1. Stan Wells says:

    Good story line and a fine fishing trip to boot! I can remember when you were a kid in grade school and all you wanted to do was fish, fish, and fish. Well you have mastered the art of fly fishing beyond my wildest dreams! Good for you. I look forward to doing some stream fly fishing this spring/summer with you.