Day 5

The next morning was a  but I found myself on the inside, in Permit country.  There seemed to be a trigger that made the Milkfish feed the day before,either  tide or time.  I figured best to put myself at the same spot,  at the same time.  I would spend the morning looking for Permit where Rob, Kyle and myself had found them.

By now I really wasn’t feeling good, but it was at the point where I knew it wasn’t just fatigue, it was the infamous Farquhar squirts.  I did some tap dancing on the beach waiting for Rob and co to be out of eyeshot, and then it was down to business.  The Surgeons and baitfish seemed to enjoy this new food source.  Feeling a bit better I started walking, chatting away to myself, still looking for that matching pair of sandals.  The tide high meant that I would have to climb up and oveer the fossilized coral mounds, which have the ultimate fly line snagging trees growing out of them.

As I made my way up and over the first I spotted a bone, laying dead still, right in the shallows.  Picture time!

Bone on the right, coral on the left

Bone on the right, coral on the left

I took a few pics with my half working Olympus when two dark shapes started cruising towards me.  Bluefin!  My 10 was on my pack. No time for a crab.  I cast the 10/0 brush fly, which did a great job at scaring them off. They made a big turn and I changed tactics.  I managed to get my 10 weight off my pack, and dropped a semi decent cast ahead of the fish. “thats an eat” I thought. Then they shot off, behind them a monster GT.  “oh god, not now”.  He was moving at pace and I didn’t have time for another rod swap, so i put the crab on his nose a few times.  No love.

Things seemed to be picking up and I eventually got to the bay where we had spotted all the permit on day 1.  I waded out to a similar point, now much deeper, and then shapes developed in the murky water. The massive shoal of bones encircled me as I watched for their golden friends.  And there they were. At the back of the shoal.  Perfect.

Not wanting to spook the bones I tied on a tiny tan clouser and managed to put it on the largest Permits nose.  It sank right on his face.  “open your mouth dammit!”  He just swam straight over it.  Again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.  Hmm. Fly swap.  Fleeing crab.  There are still two around and I manage to get shots at both. Still no love. The little permit are even around now. No love there either! Permit everywhere and I’m in the same dilemma!  You let the fly sink and you’ll catch a bone, you need them to charge, but I just don’t see them charging in such deep water.

Just then the largest fish breaks off and heads around to the next bay over the turtle grass. I always find them easy to identify by where they sit in the water column.  Literally JUST under the surface, but deep enough to create no wake.  At a similar level to a gar.

This time I’m calm and calculated. I run to the shore and hop up onto another coral outcrop.  I can see the fish, tail pulsing calmly from side to side. Hes now on the outer edge of two 5x5m turtle grass patches on this sand flat.  His body language is looking better.  Depth is a problem, and by the time i get within presentation distance I’m just below my chest.  I quickly change to a Henkie Prawn that Ive modified with a red marker to look like the local Mantis shrimp.  The fish is still around, still just off the back. I try to cast without making any waves, not easy in the glassy flat water.  Where is that wind I need?

Yip, it can be too calm.

Yip, it can be too calm.

My first cast is hopeless, behind the fish.  I strip in as fast as possible and cast 15 feet directly ahead of the fish. This is my fish.  As the fly sinks I see a massive commotion.

“Shit! Must have spooked!”

I start stripping in again quickly and then see a shape develop right off my fly, coming in at pace.  Its the Permit. And hes coming in hot. I’m at double hand strip pace and pretty confused about what to do next.  I have no idea if it will take this fast.  I decide to continue. Hes now a sniffs distance off, still chasing.

My fly is 20 feet off.  “take it!!!!”.  His pectorals are out, hes lit up, and then he sees me, practically swimming, and spooks properly this time.  ARGGHHH!!!

Frustrating.  But permit fishing is counted in shots at fish, and that one will do.  There’s something about that fly.

Typical Farquhar Mantis

Typical Farquhar Mantis

My henkie prawn mantis adaption

My henkie prawn mantis adaption

I walk back to my coral outcrop and wait.  All the fish are now gone.  “Keep moving Peter, don’t be late for the Milkfish”.  I make my way over the third coral outcrop, and again at the next bay there are Bonefish.  “one, two, three, four, wait….that’s not a bonefish”.  There is a Permit at the back of the shoal of bones.  His dorsal out the water, milling around not half a rod length from the dry sand. This one is mine.

In a moment that would have been quite funny to have been filmed, I managed to leopard crawl the 30 feet to the fish.  I’m now too close, I could hit him with my rod if I wanted to, and probably should, just to get one back at them.  Hes not big, probably just under a kilo, but hes having one hell of a time.  I’m close enough to watch him for a while as he cruises, picks up some sand, spits it out, and repeats.  My Henkies Prawn (Mantis) is too big.  Hat off. Fleeing crab on.  Come on. Its been working at Poivre.

First cast.  50cm ahead and he doesn’t spook.  Heart in my throat.  He swims right up to it.  But then gets distracted. I strip. Didn’t like that. But he still hasn’t spooked. Fly swap.  Small tan charlie again.  Just ahead again.  I’m well versed in this close quarters game. This is grunter 101.  No interest at all. Fly swap.  Turneffe crab.  he swims right up but seems to be put off by the little baitfish chasing my fly.  Another cast.  Nothing again.  Nothing to lose.  Henkies prawn again.  Nothing. Fly swap.  Spawning shrimp. Nothing.  My heart cant take this anymore.  Then he turns lazily for deeper water.  I cast on his back.nothing.  And then like a bad loser I pick up my line and slap it right on him. Take that! Shit. Wish I hadn’t done that.

Keep moving.  Last bay before the gaps.  I stop for lunch.  As I eat my spicy pasta (great gastro food- NOT) I see two shapes high up in the water column. A ways off.  This is nothing but sand.  White, powdering sand.  I get to a high point. Its far. 150 feet. Its two massive Permit.  Back to it.  Before I head off I take a few snaps. Just in case. Self doubt- a killer.

Two big permit, chilling

Two big permit, chilling

Two big permit, chilling

I manage another 6 shots or so, still nothing. This flat water and slack tide is doing nothing for me. I want the opposite wind, causing that perfect milky fedinng water on the beach, and some swell.  That gets them going….not this. I concede that it is perfect for the Milkfish, and I head off again. Thanks goodness I took those pics.

Through the gaps and off I go to my spot. No one is home. I set up camp on the beach and wait.  An hour or of flip flop hunting later and fins start to develop.  Off I go.

There are two distinct groups of fish now, one of about 15, the other group of about 10. The smaller group is on the flat, the larger just waiting.  Ever inch of me is shaking and nervous with anticipation.  The fish are now hyper sensitive.  Its hot as hell, and calm as hell, I’m getting despondent.

Over the next 20 minutes I take some shots and learn some interesting things. These fish will not swim under my fly line. Under any circumstance. No matter how far you lead them.  They will swim and feed normal right up to it and then turn right at it and continue in the other direction…. Hmmm…. Strange.  They also don’t seem to be grovelling in the sand. They suck in the fluffy stuff just above the brown settled in scum on the sand, and they seem to prefer flat areas. (with no holes). Makes sense I suppose.  I develop my technique, figuring out a line, lengthening my leader, and changing flies to get the perfect depth in the water column (or off the bottom).  Like most flats fish, they want quick access to deep water for them to stick around.

Clouds are now rolling in from the ocean side, coming in over my head. They are dark and thick.  there goes my visibility.  I stop all casting to avoid spooking fish and wait, arms crossed.  Then it starts raiining.  Not now. Please not now.

here comes the rain

here comes the rain

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But it was a blessing in disguise.  If you ever have a Milkfish spot with resident fish and it starts raining- get your ass there. Seriously.

As the rain stopped all hell broke loose. What I think happened is that the rain broke up all the scum in the surface layer, in this spot and others, and the fish knew instinctively that it would be bottom feeding for now. So they didnt mess around.  By now I must have 50 to 60 fish around me, from little 60cm babies all the way up to the mature big ladies, and theyre all working perfectly left to right and back again, 25 feet ahead of me.

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I attempt to predict the feeding line and cast right in it.  I retrieve very very slowly, just keeping tension to detect a strike. I watch these massive fish pass right over, unbelievable sight.  They pass over and turn, and on the way back I feel a tap and lift my rod. IM ON! IM ON!  I almost didn’t believe myself. White water everywhere like a bumpie spook.  The set was pathetic and the hook pulled again.  Now campsite advice had told me to set like I would on a tarpon. But I’m using a tiny hook and fishing light. I’m also standing still on a ghostly quiet flat.  I just couldn’t find the time to pull back properly.

It goes quiet for a few seconds, and restarts.  A few more times I fail to predict the feeding line and a few more times they go straight over with no love. The sky is now black, and with no ripple I can see my fly perfectly – crucial.  Then a big group starts from the left.  In it are the perfect starter size fish, 6 or so kilos.  They are almost side by side, feeding like I may never see Mikfish feeding again.  Two massive fish intercept the group and join in.  I cast 8 feet ahead.  A few feet away and the tempo is increasing by the second.  Inches now, millimetres.

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In the middle of the shoal I see a fish pick up my fly. I set as hard as possible, and they all spook.

Feeding, spooking

IM ON. Again.. Its been minutes. The fish takes off straight to deep water. Half jumping out in its first 5 or 6 feet away.  It continues the most blistering run Ive ever seen.  I’m absolutely shell shocked.

Backing is disappearing at a rate unlike anything Ive seen. I cant have more than 80 meters now. Time to run.  I hydroplaned across the flat to the closes point, passing many more fish on the way, still feeding with gusto.  Its raining heavily again.  Ive got 20 lb leader on. How hard can I pull?  I cant lose this fish.  I cant.  With about 50m left on my reel, and with me now a good few hundred meters away the run starts to slow.  The fish turns at a right angle and runs in that direction. The line whips through the water. Like a knife through butter.

A lemon shark turns in my peripheral. And for the first time ever I’m hoping it takes a nip. Just a little. Just to swing the scales in my favour. The fish is now headed for blue water and it starts to slow rapidly, I’m wondering if its got a bite out of it.  I reel down, fighting chair style, and slowly raise my rod.  I seem to gain a few inches each time, so I continue.  This works and I gain about 50 meters of line. Then all hell breaks loose again. The fish is far far away, and hes just jumped. The line is bowed in the water. Do I bow tarpon style? Please don’t jump again fish.

This time it continues without a hint of being tired, and I continue my run along the flat, trying to get to the point that will give me the best angle. I try to consciously slow the fight down for me to calm down and think. The fish is still way out.  Still strong.  I keep pumping the rod down and slowly lifting. I can gain line now.

I get the fish all the way in until finally, maybe 45 minutes in, the fly line is on my reel. “I You deserve this” I tell myself. This fish is yours.  Then, dishearteningly the fish takes another blistering run, all the way past the starting point. I’m anxious to the point of being sick. no wait, that’s the squirts.

The slog continues and well over an hour later I have the fish on the reel again.  The next phase happens on the last 30 feet of my fly line. Its 30 feet in, 3o feet out. 1o feet in, 10 feet out.  I have never fought a fish this long. And I’m struggling to keep concentration.  The fish takes one final long run, maybe 50 meters into my backing, and this time I’m determined to bring him in. As I turn the fish pump the rod up and down with gusto.
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The fight has moved well away from where it began, and I’m looking around at my next problem. How do I land this thing.  Its now 3 rod lengths away, massive and neon blue. The most amazing looking creature I’ve ever seen.  My fatigue is about to catch up with me as I make a horrid decision.  The fish is still taking 5 or 6 meters here and there, and I’m desperate to land it.  There is deep water 100 meters or so to my left.  Good gradient to pull a fish up.  But I’m looking to end this now. I run backwards up onto the sand and keep going, until the fish is now kicking up sand. Its now writhing viciously, sensing danger.

I take a few steps back, reel down and pull hard enough to the point that I feel the momentum will carry the fish up into water it cant swim in. Dont let him turn” I tell myself.  The fish is now in 30cm of water as I take my last few steps back. I pull using the butt of the rod. The fish is shallow, its now too heavy to pull out onto dry land with just the leader.  Its in a stale mate.  I’m not happy with how its lying. Its quartering towards the deep. I want its head pointing to me. I make one last pull for the turn as all hell breaks loose.  In one instant the fish turns, rolls and flaps in one last desperate attempt. I watch in slow motion as the leader wraps and it bounces out and on my leader. And it parts.  I drop the rod and run, with everything Ive got.  I’m within a dive from the fish as it gains traction and swims off. My worst nightmare had come true. Well over 2 ours into the fight of my life, with the fish of my life.

It was the worst mistake I could have ever made…or a combination of them.  The fight was still far from over, and I should never attempted what I did in the shallow gradient of the flat. I should have fought the fish to near exhaustion in the deep water.  I should have had a guide to land the fish.  I’m absolutely shattered. Destroyed.  Furious with myself.

Its late in the afternoon now, and I sit on the beach as the pick up arrives.  I explain what happened, and everyone says how stoked I should be that I hooked and fought one on the flats. I’m not sure if it helps.