Grand Slam Camp, January 2023. Day 2 & 3
James and I are so pumped with adrenaline after the first day, we spend much of that evening shouting out “PERMIT” while rambling around the house after dinner. There is no hope of an early bedtime so we embrace it and relish the joy of a 4 permit Day 1. No alarm is set to start Day 2. And thus, the day starts slowly. We hit the water by 11am. James wants to see the town flat and I am happy to oblige. The town flat is a favorite not so much for its productivity but for its consistency and visual temptations. Bonefish tail essentially non-stop here. Only taking breaks to cruise the deeper sand holes at the lowest of low tide. Peak high tide can be tricky if the tide is too large, as the fish will be fully submerged and it's very easy to spook them while wading.
Now you may think the fishing is lights out if there are bonefish tailing all the time. But it is mostly an illusion. While some fish are pushing the 8 pound range, most fish are schoolie sized. A healthy 2-4 pounds. And absolute assholes. Just brutal. They will punish any mistake. It is heart wrenching. They hate any splash of the fly. They also hate noticeable false casts. Not a fan of stripped flies either. Best to let the wave current swing it to them. And don't be too aggressive on the hook set, because again, they hate the fly moving so they better have already eaten the fly if you move it. But you also need to be quick on the hookset because of course they will spit it out if you are slow.
All this leads to a tantalizing game of cat and mouse. Fish tailing. Anglers sneaking up wind of them. Laying out a delicate cast. Fish being rude. And repeat. Every now and then things go right and it's the most emotion a small(ish) bonefish will ever make an angler feel.
All this to say, we didn't land any bonefish on fly at the town flat on Day 2. Plenty of baby jacks and grouper tho!
By early afternoon the permit spot from day 1 is calling us and we swim the channel back to shore, load into the car and head south. Once we arrive things have changed, the mid day high tide has pushed the sargasso weed all over and visibility in our special little clearing is down. But we fish hard and fool a few small bonefish and plenty of jacks. The sunset is spectacular so that's something.
Day 3 kicks off with high hopes. We will be fishing with the OG himself, Nick Denbow. Nick has been fishing the Yucatan for years and quite literally wrote the book on the place. He's a joy of a personality and as fishy as they get. Our plan is to hit the beach early and catch the first part of the incoming tide. As soon as the dead low tide turns, fish should be cruising.
And they are. Conditions are ideal, with full sun and the swell manageable. We set up on clear water next to dirty water. The permit pile in. We are blessed with shots and follows for two hours straight! The bonefish are biting. The jacks are ballistic. But the permit are more hesitant. Following but failing to commit.
Casting to a school of bonefish, I hear James and Nick shout and sigh in unison. A permit followed and bit the fly. But it's just a fleeting tease, a bump in the night. No contact is sustained. My personal highlight comes a little later. I spy a tail shape way out, right along the drop off. I rush to deeper water, planning a shot at a cruising jack. But then its a permit! Cruising right below the surface! Game on. Happy fish. I take my shot. The permit turns. It follows. It's coming right at me! Let's go! But no. It turns off. But returns to its cruising path. I am chest deep in the water. Not the fastest wading but I keep pace and get ahead of the fish. More aggressive this time. The fly lands right on ‘em! A spook. But then a swirl!RThe fish pounces! But won't eat! It spooks off. But then back to the same path! I wade fast again.Swimming with my free hand. I get ahead. Make a cast. It spooks. This continues two more times. No bites. I take solace in the fact that I showed the permit the fly many times. No mistaking that the fish knew the fly was there!
The fishing slows and it's time to pivot to the lagoons. The lagoons are a special bonus to fishing day with Nick. We load into Nick’s jon boat, push our way through a small passageway in the mangroves, quite possibly cut centuries before when the Mayans used the connected lagoons for travel, and emerging into a tranquil mangrove edged lagoon. Nick runs the trolling motor for a bit and then poles us along the shoreline. James lands a few cichlids, beautiful fish that love to ambush a fly. The goal is tarpon. James has never caught one before and since he landed his first permit two days earlier it seems only reasonable that his first tarpon should arrive on day 3. The fishing is slow. The cold front has made the tarpon less than happy. They like it hot. Tarpon can breathe air. When it's hot, they have a massive advantage over baitfish who slow down with lower oxygen concentrations in the stagnant water.
We cover promising looking water with no luck. The sun starts to drop, and we get one perfect shot. A 50-60 lb fish rolls at 9 o’clock within casting range as the sun sets. James puts the popper ahead. A big strip. The wake circles away from the fly. We wait for the explosion. But it's not meant to be. James will have to wait for his tarpon dreams.