As a fly fisherman, the absolute top dog of the flats is the permit. Throughout the years, I had never really known much about them. They are the kind of fish that just shows up unannounced to the party, gets everyone worked up, shakes it’s tail around and then disappears and leaves you wondering what went wrong. Typically, while I’m out fishing for Tarpon or Bonefish is when I get the random shots at Permit. Not really planned, it’s just a “I sometimes see permit out here” type of thing.
As a fly fishing artist, I tend to only paint fish I have caught. Well, except for the Permit. To me, painting permit was more about getting to know the fish. If I paint it often, I would be more familiarized with the fish, and ultimately not blow shots when an opportunity presents itself. They say the biggest enemy to a permit fisherman is himself. If you find yourself over thinking a situation, or putting that fish too high on a pedestal, you will ultimately psych yourself out and blow shot after shot. That hasn’t seemed to be my problem. Whenever I have had permit tailing in front of me, I’ve been able to make perfect casts; it’s what happened after the cast that I never quite knew what would make them eat. I can pretty much read most fish. I understand how to make them bite, just by reading their demeanor. However, I haven’t really had enough permit encounters to even begin to understand them.
It’s because this that I always told myself that I’d catch my first permit by mistake. As an avid fly fisherman, I had told myself I would catch my first permit ever on a fly rod. I’ve had several buddies and guides tell me we can knock it out with conventional tackle first just to get my feet wet, but I always refused. I wanted my very first permit ever to be on a fly rod.
So, I’m at a buddy’s place and we decide to take the skiff out to Flamingo (Everglades National Park) the next morning. We invite another buddy to tag along. I hadn’t fished with these two buddies in about five years. It was a nostalgic trip, originally, it was the three of us who explored the waters of Florida Bay without any knowledge of the area, years prior.
So, feeling nostalgic, we broke out the old bass rigs and picked up some worm hooks and good ol’ artificial lures at our old morning spot and were on our way. We made it into the park and were messing around with the local redfish & seatrout. When we went to take some photos of our early morning catches, I noticed my SD card on my camera was corrupt for some reason. I made a comment along the lines of “Watch, now that the camera isn’t working I’m going to catch a permit or something.” We had some shots at laid up tarpon as well, but no takes. So throughout the morning, we made a few more permit references; more so jokes about catching a permit in the middle of the Everglades. At about lunch time, we decided to make the run over to our favorite lunch spot in Islamorada, The Lorelei. After taking a lunch break, Chris mentions that we should buy some live shrimp and fish around Islamorada for bones or permit. Personally, I didn’t care for that so my response was “If we find fish that are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”
So we poked around a few of my Islamorada spots and didn’t see anything promising. So we made our run way back into the park to another one of my redfish spots. I happened to tell them that I had seen a few lost permit at this spot throughout the years, and they kind of just laughed it off. We found a hole full of some big mangrove snapper so we decided to throw some in the live well, then I looked back and happened to see a big wake. I asked Bernie to pole over towards it to see what it was, but the wake disappeared. Chris is on the bow, I’m hanging out in the cockpit and Bernie is poling. Out of nowhere, Chris says “IT’S A TAILING PERMIT!”. Earlier in the day, Bernie and I had told Chris that if he ever saw a tailing Permit, he’d know it; it’s not something you confuse. You might see a shark or big bonefish and think to yourself “that might be a permit”, but once you see a tailing permit, you know for sure it’s a tailing permit. So I get up and look, cell phone in hand and sure enough it is a permit. So I film it on SnapChat and made a comment along the lines of “When you have a tailing permit in front of the skiff, and all you have is gulp”.
Then, I started to think about the situation. I had a fly rod in the gunnel, rigged up with a permit fly. What are the chances this fish will eat a gulp? Not likely. So I figured our best bet would be for me to grab the fly rod and cast a Merkin in his face. So I tell Chris to hold off and not cast at it, that I would cast a fly at him. So I start to grab the fly rod off the rack and I hear Chris say “Well you better hurry up cause he’s right here” so I looked up, and sure enough, the fish was at my 9 o’clock, at about 15′ from the skiff. I sat there and looked at the fly rod, I would likely spook the fish simply by pulling the rod out of the rack, or dumping enough line out to pitch a cast at it, so I told my self screw it, I grabbed the bass rod, with 5 year old 10lb braided line and plopped a terrible cast at it with the Gulp. The moment that lure hit the water, that permit shot at it like a bat out of hell and set the hook on himself and started to swim off. That’s when we realized how big that fish was. It was well over 40″ and super heavy. I kept cursing myself for not having a fly rod in hand. That was THE fish. Seeing the way that fish was scavenging across that flat, his energy and demeanor told me that fish would have eaten ANYTHING at that moment. It was such a bad cast that plunked in the water and the fish didn’t hesitate. Swam right at it full speed, ate it and took off. But halfway through the battle, the anger within myself turned into joy. Even though I missed the opportunity to possibly land my first permit on fly, a feeling of happiness settled in. After a long fight, Bernie jumped in the water and grabbed the fish. He tried handing it to me but I could barely hold it up. This thing was giant, heavy, and incredible. We snapped a couple photos and Bernie jumped back in the water for revival. Mind you, the water was less than a foot deep, so this beast of a fish had to swim sideways as it was probably at least 20+ inches tall.
[My First Permit, way up in the Everglades]
All in all, I knew my first permit would be by mistake. Snapper fishing with a bass rod, in the middle of the Everglades; and I got to share that moment with the two buddies that I first fished the park with 9 years prior.
The Pinnacle Series: A Study on The Big Three is a series of artworks focused on the grand slam.
A Collection of sketches leading to the final three pieces that are acrylic on stretched canvas. The Pinnacle Series is available for purchase. For Information, email me at Eric@EstradaArt.com
Until next time!