Fishipedia Report: My First Permit

June 27th, 2011| No Comments

Thomas McGuane once wrote that “the definitive permit is a fish from the Keys”. Given that a) he’s about the best fishing writer there is, and b) I’ve never caught one from anywhere else, I’d be inclined to agree.

First PermitNothing better exemplifies the extreme end of angling obsession than permit fishing. Men have relocated families, spent fortunes and lost hair in pursuit of them, sacrificing their own sanity just for a glimpse of that sickle-tail on a glassy flat. Having only caught a handful, I’m not in that league, but I see how they got there.

Cards-on-the-table time. The first couple of times I went permit fishing I didn’t have the stones to pick up the fly rod. Perhaps everything I’d read about the near-impossibility of inducing a take had given me the fear. Perhaps it’s the fact that I only get to fish for them roughly one day out of every 700. Or maybe I just felt that I had to make the most of that $550 plus tip.

More likely it was combination of all of the above that saw me reach past the 10-weight and opt for the spinning rod and live crabs that first time, but I’m glad I did. I know some readers will stop right there, but there are plenty of others who will know what I mean.

In the early days, you just have to establish the connection. You need to see the fish tip up on your bait and actually eat to persuade yourself it’s possible. To begin with, you simply have to catch a permit, by whatever means necessary.

It was 3pm, one breezy day in March 2008, when I finally got one to eat. We were drifting along a flat somewhere near Big Pine Key when three fish materialized 50 feet from the boat. There’s always that split-second, after a day spent scanning the water, where you assume you must have tricked yourself into seeing them. It’s GOT be an apparition. But no, it was happening. The urgency in the guide’s voice left me in no doubt.

I’m told it’s the sound of a live crab’s legs that make difference – the skittering reverberations as the bait makes its way to the sea bed ring the lunch bell in a way no artificial ever could. That would account for the behaviour of the fish on this occasion. At no point could it be suggested they were circumspect in their investigation of the potential meal. It just so happened that the crab plopped in the water nearest the smaller of the three permit and he wasn’t to be denied.

Over he came, up he tipped, the rod tip knocked and two seconds later the braid was tight against the guides and the drag was singing. The line cut through the water as the fish took flight. The next few minutes went a little like this in my head: “Pleasedontcomeoff, pleasedontcomeoff, pleasedontcomeoff…” You know the drill.

First Permit And then it was over. Five, maybe six pounds – a baby by Florida Keys standards – but at that moment I couldn’t imagine a more perfect fish. I don’t know who was more surprised when I slipped the fish back, turned and hugged my guide. That’s what permit fishing does to you though – high fives, group hugs, punching the air, moments of quiet smugness, a grin breaking out on your face months later when you simply recall the moment. As far as permit fishing goes, the madness of the pursuit is baffling enough, how you choose to celebrate success when you finally come by it is purely spontaneous and not worth being ashamed of.

As it happened, just two hours later I found myself hoisting up a 25lb permit for the obligatory trophy shot – a beast of a fish that took half an hour to bring to the boat. It was, by anyone’s standards, an awesome fish. But whenever I think back on that day, it’s all about the first fish. That first permit.

First Permit

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