Permit Heartbreak

By Dave Fason

The hunt for a southern Belizean permit has haunted me for two years. They have taunted and teased me while waving their big black tails in the clear blue waters.  I’ve had countless follows that were quickly ignored after spotting me with their big alien eyes that somehow manage to see everything. I’ve had countless heartbreaking moments thinking through my motions and wondering why they eat the damn fly.  Regardless, I continue to come back to the water for more. My last trip to Belize the chase these fish felt different. I had more practice, a handful of good Bauer crab flies and good fishing karma, or so I thought. 

I called my good friend, Ben, and asked if he was up for an adventure to Belize. The flights were cheap, it was low pressure fishing and pandemic restrictions were lifting. We both received our negative Covid-19 rapid test results and jumped on a plane. We had four days lined up for fishing. Three of days were with our guide Steve and junior guide, Kimani. The last day would be spent with Alex, a Red Bank village local with a passion for exploration and indigenous wildlife. 

Steve is a master of the flats located West of Hopkins. He grew up fishing and exploring the waters and navigated them naturally without the aid of navigation devices.  Kimani is a new junior guide with an obsession for fishing. His sight eyes were incredible.  During the trip we quickly nicknamed him, “Hawkeye.”  Alex is of Mayan decent and grew up in the jungle. The tides were in our favor and Mother Nature lined up four perfect days for fishing. We finalized our schedule for the next four days and readied our gear.

The crowing roosters and jungle birds’ songs woke us up each day before our alarms. We had a short trip the first three mornings to pick up Steve and Kimani to travel to the marina. Each day we loaded the panga, stuffed our faces with burritos and talked about how this was our day to catch permit. Steve pulled us up to his favorite flats and we were greeted by black tails waving in the morning and end the afternoon with groups cruising.  Ben and I had countless shots to catch these fish with follows but each time they refused our flies. The team did an amazing job day after day but to our disappointment we had zero bites until the last morning. Steve slowly crept up to three tailing permit. Ben was up on deck and placed the fly right where it needed to be. One of the fish went right for the fly…this is what happened next:

Kimani: “Two o’clock, fifty feet, three permit tailing.”

Ben: “I see them. Wait to cast?”

Steve: “Let me turn the boat so you can have a better shot.”

Steve: “Start casting. Drop it. Strip, STOP! Striiiiip, STOP! She is on it. Strip slow, SET!” 

Ben: “Got her! Wait she’s off. What the, (insert your own swear word here.)

Steve: “You pulled the rod back and pulled the fly right out the mouth. You had her!”

Dave: “Welcome to your first permit heartbreak. There is plenty of that to go around.” 

The fly shot back at us and the group of permit spooked. This was Ben’s first permit heartbreak. We all looked at each other in disbelief and shortly after had to laugh about it. After a few Belikin beers we journeyed back to the village to prep for the last day. 

Day four we both woke up with weird sunburns and chapped lips. It was a nice change to have a day away from the sun scorching flats and venture to a different jungle fishery. We scheduled a driver to take us to the small village of Red Bank. This area is known for scarlet macaws and other exotic birds. The only fishing that goes on is hand lining for food. I’ve know Alex for two years and he mentioned that I should try fishing in the jungle in the past. He regularly catches machaca, tetras and cichlids. He could not promise we would catch anything but it was an adventure we had to try just to take in the beautiful scenery. We had no idea what to expect and it ended up being a very memorable last day. We hiked though the jungle into the river with wildlife surrounding us. The river was once home to common snook but they were wiped out years ago due to the use of gill nets and overfishing.  We caught a few small machaca’s and tetras.  We didn’t have luck with the cichlids as they were spawning. After hiking further than we planned we navigated our way back to his home. Alex’s family prepared us a delicious traditional Mayan meal. The spread consisted on fresh corn tortillas, chicken soup, casaba, cocoa and other root vegetables. This was a perfect way to end not only a great day but a wonderful trip to Southern Belize. While we did not catch the permit we hoped for, we returned to our homes with countless memories, a deeper understanding of different cultures and the desire to return once more to chase the fish that breaks countless hearts. 

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