Week two…. I don’t know how to start this one or really how to get it where it needs to go. Might be slow for a minute, but stick with the story. Or don't.
Like a long, drawn out expensive dinner with a girl who would’ve jumped you after half a bottle of cheap pinot and some takeout at your apartment, it’ll get around to the vinegar strokes and the big sticky finish. Promise.
I watched Cabo and a chunk of my pride disappear out the window of an Interjet flight that was an hour late, then two hours late leaving Mexico City. Nobody got worked up, it was Mexico after all, and the trip was just half over. Only thing that came of it was that I had too many ambers and spent a lot of time saying lo siento to the nice lady next to me as I got up to piss again.
My two lurker buddies, and 4 couples were waiting for us in Cancun. Bear and Travis had arrived early that afternoon which I knew meant absolutely nothing but trouble.
Due to our late arrival we
avoided what can only be described as a shit show of legendary proportions at a laid back little joint called Senor Frogs.
The whole gang caravanned out of Cancun a few hours late the next morning. I felt like a million pesos and spent the hours delighting in everyone else’s pain.
After a couple sporting games of piss bomb out the windows of the vans, we hit a store in Tulum for provisions.
Relates: Tulum is lousy with hipsters. I laughed at a white dude with dreads, got concerned when we passed a kid hitchhiking in chuck’s, and when I really started to look around and take it all in we could’ve been in Logan Square, if’n Milwaukee Ave was lined with 100 shops selling the same rugs, hammocks, glass skulls, and trucker hats with the Chichen Itza pyramid or “I love Cancun” on the front.
I’d had to talk all of yoga pants’ friends into staying this far from resort land, promising them nobody’s head would end up in a box. I feigned confidence a lot of times, shit I’d never been to rural Yucatan before. I’d read that it was fine. Worst case scenario I’d die on vacation and not on the metra bus headed to work.
In person the house exceeded the pictures online, and split 11 ways was ridiculously cheap for a week.
It came with three perro's.
Chaquito was the housekeeper's pup. Had some sort of bird dog in him.
Brillo was the old housekeeper's dog. Apparently the guy liked to do a bit of boozin and died of liver cirrhosis.
And then Rocky. We called him Bud. Not sure why. Neighbors dog, pictured here after chewing through its rope to come make eyes at us for table scraps.
It would be a good week. Take a mental snapshot of this chair. You’ll need it later.
I don’t remember anything about that night. Total blank. No rods were unpacked I know that much. I have a picture on my phone that tells me I made margaritas. Mix of booze and jet lag must’ve turned my brain off.
Day one… Sunday…. I didn’t step foot on the beach until around noon. Others had already dragged the kayaks down, and blown up two inflatables. A flamingo and a swan. The swan is important.
We’d heard the beach fishing wasn’t much. Maybe a bonefish here and there, barracuda probably, a few jacks. No tarpon that time of year, and certainly no permit. We had permit guides booked for the next two days and weren’t anticipating much in the way of DIY. There was a lagoon across the street rumored to have tarpon in it, but on trips I’ve learned to downgrade my expectations for walk in fishing. It’s normally overstated, overrated.
So I was pleasantly surprised when a school of bonefish cruised by, just feet from the beach and oblivious to the party.
Not bad ones either. They would tail in the shallow surf, half their bodies wagging out of the wash. It wasn’t classic bonefishing but we were within sight of the house, cold beers, and shade of the palapa. It was good. Even Travis caught some. He never catches anything.
We were walking down the beach, catching little jacks and these catfish looking things for cut bait to use out on the reef when I saw something I’d never seen before, in real life. 30 feet from the sand, in the trough between sandbars. Travis said “It’s a big jack!”
Black fins, black tail. I whispered permit under my breath or maybe said it in my head. Then “That’s a PERMIT!!”
I had a cast in the air as it rode a wave to my right. Easy shot. It would be like bonefish, cast the fly, strip the fly, catch the fish. People say they’re tough to feed, but people say a lot of things. Put the pussy on a pedestal. I’d never bought into that shit. Just a fish, like a steelhead, a bass, a bonefish. Not like a rooster though. Those were hard, different league. Roosters ate flies presented by guys who’d paid for it, not sports. Sports catch plenty of permit. I’m better than that. Day one and I’d have mine.
The fly landed, the fish turned, I stripped long, it followed, just a few rod lengths out, I could see its eyes cross on my fly. I was ready for the open mouth, tight line, burn of the drag, cheers and beers. But the mouth didn’t open, and it turned, continuing on up the beach. Fuck. I casted again, too fast, didn’t lead far enough, he sped up. Then I was running down the beach, flailing like an idiot. Like I was back in Baja. When it was over we talked about how cool it’d been, to see one, a big one, from the beach the first day. How it almost ate that tan gotcha, should’ve eaten it. Why didn’t it? Probably would’ve eaten a crab. Just the wrong fly. There were many more days, more chances to come. Who knew, maybe permit are difficult.
I woke up on day two to the pre-dawn wind snapping and popping the curtains in the room like a topsail. Cool. At the dock our guides Andres and Felipe said mucho viento no es bueno para permit.
Maybe try, maybe bonefeesh today, ok? Ok.
Summarizing what I knew about permit fishing going into this trip is easy. Nothing. Well, I knew discovery channel documentary-type facts about the fish, how it spends most of its time on deeper reef structure, coming onto the flats to feed. What they looked like, saucer shaped, which in my head equated to surprising strength, like a bluegill. Like a bluegill the way I’m like Marshawn Lynch. If we’re standing still, at a distance, and you close one eye, and the sun’s in the other.
None of that applied to actually catching one. Andres knew a lot about permit. His grasp on English isn’t great, but neither is my Spanish. So we met in the middle. First spot we sat down on, he turned the boat into a broadside drift with what was already by 9am, a steady 20mph breeze. We were in thigh deep sand, pocked with coral and grass, far from the mangroves.
I looked back, guessing – “permit aqui?”
Cool. I fluffed the quarter-sized merkin he’d picked out of my box and stripped line.
“What? Ya here. This rod” I showed him I was holding my 10wt.
“No… amigo! See there! Permit!”
I looked out across the bottom, scanned a 100ft in every direction. “I don’t see…OH!” Because it wasn’t on the bottom. Permit lesson #1: They cruise on the surface. I’d heard of nervous water, I assumed it was only on shallow flats where their un-adapted shapes didn’t fit. This one was big, bigger than the fish on the beach the day before, quartering away from us, ticking along, its dorsal and tail cheating out of the emerging chop. Maybe 70 feet? It was far, my eye sight more tailored to trout streams. A workable double haul, I was proud of myself as the line leapt forward. Right on target too, which had been the fish.
“Agh! Amigo! More next time… one meter, ok?”
I wasn’t that mad at myself. Just lead the fish idiot. There would be more shots. Two more that day to be exact, neither as good as the first.
Andres seemed to know the bay like an old friend, familiar with every lee shore and lagoon along the miles of generic looking mangrove shoreline. The wind picked up to 25+ mph by lunch, the sky half full of rain clouds. He’d look up, shake his head, sigh and say “viento” or “nubes” and apologize for another bonefeeshing spot, despite my insistence that we were having fun.
“Es mejor que un dia en la oficina”
Laughing, he said “si….si amigo”
I was pleased to discover that while smaller on average than other places, these bones packed a punch. Three pound singles, like taut chrome footballs, tore into my backing enough times to have me giggling like a schoolgirl.
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After lunch I asked him if he liked to eat Barracuda. “Si amigo, ceviche… muy bueno”
His face lit up when I said I wanted to catch one. So we went bonefishing with a wire leader and a leftover sardina pattern. I’d brought three rods, two newish reels, and an old reel. The old reel was a Redington AL 9/10 that I’d had since I used to snag salmon in the ass in hip waders. Been through a lot with it, although I leave the heavy bastard at home most days. Bombproof, I thought.
Cuda, in my experience, are either on or off. We found two that were off, and a four footer that was on. All turnt up, as Bear likes to say. It hit so hard I almost lost the rod from under my arm, the buzz of the reel melted down to a nasty cough before the sumbitch bound up tighter than Dick’s hatband. The fish paused at that point to laugh at me frantically trying to work it loose, before giving me a glorious, tail-walking middle finger.
“Amigo! What happened?!”
“My reel. Broken.” I was still amazed, turning it over and regarding it like a chunk of space rock.
“Ahh… it was grande cuda no?! En fuego!”
My smartass girlfriend perked up and said “the reel es basura! Maybe mi novio es basura tambien! Tire la basura!”
Yoga pants had been excited about trying for her first bonefish, but with the wind it just wasn’t happening. With an hour left, Andres said he knew a place to blind cast and get “bonefeesh, para ella.” I knew what that meant.
The mud plume was huge, and I had to cast for her, but she had fun learning to strip, and practicing technique for another day.
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Andres got excited. Snapper! Muy bueno amigo, you want? Hell yes we want. It grilled up nicely.
Bear and Travis reported similar results with Felipe. 24 years old, he’d been guiding since 19. No taller than 5’3”. We laughed on the way home to stories about him working his ass off on the pole in that wind. He’d been good too, although his English was worse than Andres. Despite the barriers, through the drawn out process of Spanglish, we were learning. Just needed the wind to lay down a bit.
At the dock we’d asked Felipe “Less viento manana?”
He looked up at the sky, watched a frigate bird glide past us, shrugged, and said “probably more”
Day three I woke up a good half hour before my alarm to the wind blowing the sheets off the bed. Christ. Fuckin way she goes.
That day Bear and I fished with Andres’ father, Victor, while Travis and his girlfriend Chelsea went with Felipe. Chelsea habla espanol, and later I learned that she and Felipe had spent most of the day making fun of Travis in Spanish. Travis never catches anything.
If Andres knew every mangrove and inlet in the bay, it was as if Victor had planted them, positioned them just so, for his use. He told us he used to dive for conch and lobster, but loved to fly fish. One day he got a call from someone with a house guest who wanted to catch a bonefish. He took him out, and they caught fish. Decided it was better and more lucrative than diving, built up a client base, and has been a full time guide now for 20 years. Didn't remember how many permit he's caught in those years, but his last one had been 5 days ago. 6 grand slams. Most days off, he takes his wife snapper fishing. I asked how many snapper is good?
"Sometimes 20, 30, maybe 40" then he smirked "sometimes more, 60"
He didn’t really even let us get our hopes up about permit.
“Probably bonefeesh, cuda, ok?”
He was cool with yoga pants tagging along.
Lots of bonefish, lots of learning about what could be if the dog damn viento would fuck off.
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Just before lunch, we were poling along a mangrove edge, out of the wind and it was hotter than satan's taint. Yoga pants napping, Bear sitting and jiggling his damn leg incessantly, me on the deck thinking about how bad I had to piss. Nobody had said a word in a half hour.
[size=85]permit[/size] [size=85]permit[/size] [size=85]permit[/size]
There was a scramble in the boat like we’d just been attacked by hornets.
“STOP STOP…SLOW please, slowwww please… they are coming, see”
I did see. Three of them, in less than two feet of water, splashing, tailing, heading toward us from 100 feet.
Ready for the shot, I glanced between Victor and the fish, jostling each other closer.
“Ok go… now…. slow….”
I didn’t see the crab fall.
“Good, good… now wait… strip…. slowwww…. stripppp… slowwwww… he sees, it is coming”
And it was, one of the three had broken from the group and was kicking ahead. I couldn’t tell where my fly was but the rising tone of Victor’s voice told me it would happen, soon.
Exactly how I’d dreamt it. Three fish, two big handfuls of permit each, tailing, feeding, going about the same instinctual daily routine since before the Mayans were rolling heads down their pyramid steps, oblivious that four smart mammals had pushed a boat onto their flat.
Those big eyes went cross as it pushed closer. The whole world was me, a fish, and Victor’s words in my head, radioed in from some other dimension.
Then it didn’t happen. Again. I reached up for another strip, it paused, then turned and rejoined the group.
Victor wasn’t phased.
Casually “Ok cast again”
I was damaged goods. If it didn’t happen then how could it ever happen?
The second cast went wide right, the third tangled around the reel. Then they were gone, away from us across the flat.
Permit lesson #2 and 3: People are right, they’re hard to feed. And they never stop moving.
Bear asked Victor “Do permit do that a lot?”
He seemed a little surprised by our frustration, shrugged “Some days, no, some days cast and strip fish sees and chomp!” making an alligator motion with his hand.
“Most days, like that” he said, nodding in the direction the trio had gone.
“They are hard. Challenge. My favorite.”
At the end of the day we pulled up to a spot and Victor said “bonefeesh, maybe permit, wading”
Within minutes a small school of permit had pushed past us into a little lagoon. Bear loaded with a gotcha, me with a little raghead Victor said the schoolies were partial to. He walked with me to intercept them, Bear stayed behind watching for bonefish.
Bear, from behind us - “Hey… got heeeem!!”
On the walk back to the boat, Victor said to me "I think maybe it ate" making the chomping mime again.
"Your feesh, earlier"
"Si, I think maybe it did"
"Si, sometime they teep, it teeped"
"Tipped? They tip?
"How big was it?"
"I think twenty"
I guess I'll break part two into halves. Part 2.5 is the better half.
There will be stuff like this.
And it'll get around to beach chairs, inflatable swans, and tarpon.[/report]