Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Flip Side

"Excuse me sir, are you traveling alone?" - I stopped in my tracks on the jetway.  Dammit - I thought I'd made it past the random international flight carry-on luggage search.  Then again, after a week of scruff plus due to a razor that didn't make the flight down, and a rod case that looked like it housed RPGs instead of Xi3s, I guess I couldn't blame the Federales.  Not even halfway down the jetway, and the sinking feeling of a great trip ending had already hit home.  

Less than twenty-four hours before, the previous day began by bouncing around on a panga, watching the sun come up over a small, hardly-discussed archipelago, with the throttle of a sixty-horse two-stroke outboard full open.  A day after staying close to base and fishing with my old man, the Mexican guide dream team assembled, and over a few Dos Equis and Sols we decided that the next day we'd chase the sun, make a long run to a remote and seldom fished flat, and try our luck again for the hardest fish to catch on feathers and fur - permit.

 As we sped out of the Gulf and passed the landmark that signifies the beginning of the Caribbean all of us were thinking the same thing.  Our goal was to find permit, but considering the success we'd had earlier in the trip, I'd be lying if I said that any of us really thought we'd catch lightening in a bottle twice in the same couple days.

When we reached out flat-du-jour, Sandflea killed the motor, and swung the Yeti onto the panga's transom.  He unhinged the Stiffy, shoved it into the mud, and began scanning the horizon for telltale black sickle-shaped fins, or the sign of water pushed around by a permit cruising the flat with the incoming tide.  After spotting a couple of fish without being able to get into position to make a cast, we spotted a "v" of nervous water snaking it's way across the flat.  A minute or so later the boat had been expertly positioned, and I launched a long cast that led the fish by just a couple feet.  Two slow strips, and the permit was on the fly - two or three more and he ate.  After a quick but subtle strip-set, the permit made a beeline away from the water that barely hid his back.  Line shot off the deck, and the reel's whining and bitching told the rest of the story.

After a spirited fight, I swept the rod back to the right, and the exhausted permit came alongside the boat.  Lightening had struck twice in the same trip - simple as that.

With the most difficult part of the slam in the bag, it's safe to say that all of us started wondering if we could do it again.  However, on a light colored bottom and partly cloudy skies, slam part B was anything but a sure thing.  But, with the guide dream team assembled, and four pairs of eyes scanning every inch of water for anything and everything alive, we found a few.  

But, I 'effed up the first one.  Decent cast - couple strips - hooked fish - fish runs - goodbye.  It was two hours before we saw another one, and with each minute that went by, my blood pressure ratcheted up a point or two.  Finally we spotted a pair of striped shadows slowly perusing the edge of a flat, and after a couple of blistering runs, part B was in the bag.  


As soon as that bonefish was released, they arrived in droves.  For a bunch of fishing guides that rarely get to fish themselves, this was a-ok by them, and they joined in on the fun as school after school moved past, doing what bonefish do.

After a couple hours of fun, with the sun well past noon, it was time to get back to business.  With a permit and bonefish in the boat already, everyone's mind - and to be honest, especially my own -
 returned to thinking about completing the trifecta

As we killed the motor and the boat settled down off of plane, immediately all of us noticed that the wind had picked up, and the sun was hidden behind clouds.  Fuck.  But, lucky for us, we hit the jackpot again, and found a couple of different pods of rolling fish that were happy, happy happy, and more than willing to eat. After jumping a few, and losing them painfully close to the boat on last-minute head shakes, powerful jumps into the mangroves, or hooks that just didn't seem to hold, a purple toad found a rare soft spot in the tarpon's jaw, and he was ours.  Another slam. Conclusion: I used up a lifetime of fishing karma in one trip.

Originally intended as a tarpon trip, we spent drastically more time chasing permit and bonefish than we did anything else. After being commercially overfished for decades, the local bonefish and permit populations are on the rebound - and these sought after species are slowly, but surely, making a comeback to places that they historically called home.  Now that it's been a couple weeks, it's honestly just kind of funny how things worked out.  
 As water disappears where we live - and in most places in our country - it's a refreshing thought that somewhere else the fish are staging a comeback of their own.

After the Federales were satisfied that my rods and reels posed no imminent security threat, I took my window seat, opened a book, and waited for the plane to take off.  As the plane banked and leveled out heading north, for a few minutes I had an amazing view of every flat I'd fished over the course of the trip.  Some of the best fishing I'd ever traveled for already seemed very far away.  

For those of you who remember Dudewater's beginnings - and our first experience as movie stars - will certainly remember RA Beattie - one of the best filmmakers in the fly fishing industry (and just an all around good dude).  He came to Cleveland looking for jumbo trout in a blizzard, and all we'd had to show for a few days of effort was water you could jump across and a some sporadic action - not really what you'd want to see on the big screen.  I don't remember his exact words, but the gist was more important.  When you travel to fish, more likely than not the fishing isn't at it's best, and sometimes it's just plain tough going.  However, this more common experience makes hitting things just right that much more memorable.  The last day of his trip, and the filming that came along with it, was perfect.

All things considered?  This trip was too. 

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