by Raul Navarrette
Guide at the Belize River Lodge
Edited by Naturalight Productions
I am that voice coaching the one holding the fishing rod, ready to cast at a cruising tarpon or a tailing permit. I am the voice that reassures most anglers when they are in battle with a 100lb sea monster--especially if it is their first experience with such a beautiful creature. I am the voice that instructs when to strip, twitch or stop when a tailing permit looks down at a deceptive crab pattern. The one that says, "You got him!" I am the voice and sound of security.
For the past eleven years, I have been a fly fishing guide for the Belize River Lodge. I have seen many fishermen's dreams come true while guiding their eyes and rods to the prize. During my time as a guide, I have only fished for my own personal enjoyment a few times over the years. Otherwise, my fishing excitement stems from the adrenalin rush of others as they reel in their trophy fish.
If I did not feel my own heart rate quicken when my guests catch fish, I would not have been in this business for so many years. Still, having the freedom to fish every now and then on my time refreshes my passion for fishing and provides me with my own exciting and memorable moments with my beloved bonefish, permit, snook, and tarpon. Usually April through August are the busiest guiding months of the year, but this year, I lucked out and had two days to explore the finer points of fly fishing on my own... and of course discovered all over again why I love my job.
After arriving at work one day, my good friend, Dirk, and I were casually looking out from the Lodge's dock enjoying the beautiful scenery when we realized how perfect the weather was that morning. For some reason, we had no guiding engagements that day, so we decided to hit the water and hunt for some fish. The wind was blowing just enough to put a ripple on the surface of the water making the permit not too skittish, so we loaded up the 23' skiffs with two 10 wt and two 9 wt rods in preparation for a permit catch. We decided that I would start fishing and would switch after the first hook-up. Of course this meant that Dirk might not fish unless I gave up the spot, but all you anglers must know that when fishing for permit, even when making a "perfect presentation," you still may get a refusal.
About three hours before the tide came up to its maximum height, we arrived on the permit flats and began our hunt. We drifted and looked for a half an hour before we spotted our first potential prey. This one fish was a loner and judging by the size of that cycle shaped fin, it was an easy 15 lb beauty. While it was busy feeding and making the water cloudy with its digging, Dirk quietly pushed the boat forward. By the time we were within a 100 feet of the fish, I was getting ready and making sure my line was clear, away from my feet and any possible object that could be in the bottom of the boat (I have to pay attention to detail as a guide you know). Right then, the permit's tail went down as it sensed us moving in and swam down a few feet farther away. Both feeling the intensity and thrill of the hunt, we were not giving up so easily, so we quietly continued on to stalk our fish.
Being a loner, the permit stayed alert about our nearby boat and kept its distance just out of reach of a shot. After another half hour, the permit moved on and we motored off to another flat not even five minutes away. The hunt started all over again. Between this flat and the next three to four that we drifted over, I landed the kind of shots most fishermen stay up at night dreaming about, but I couldn't fool any of the fish into taking a bite. Whichever technique or trick I could think of with my years of sea experience, I tried without success. Not until almost 45 minutes before the tide was completely up, did the fish gods finally smile down on me.
We came up to a pod of at least twelve feeding fish stirring up the sand and flicking their blade-like black tails out of the water. The frenzied fish were so preoccupied that we were able to sneak up within sixty feet of them. Full of anxiety and eagerness, along with Dirk's helpful words, I finally made the cast. The fly landed in front of the pod of fish just about ten inches away from where the first three or four permit were scraping along the bottom with their forked fins jutting out of the water. The fly sank to the bottom and just when I figured that the fish had drifted over the fly, I twitched the decoy a few times and slowly pulled on the fly line. Suddenly the line came to a stop and my mind immediately registered, "You got him!" Dirk shouted, "That's him!" My first instinct was to set the hook hard, but experience told me to make that last strip just a little longer and quicker. When the permit felt the hook and jerked suddenly, the line quickly tightened and we both got the message. Keeping in mind that I was using a 15-pound tippet and that I was not setting the hook on a tarpon, I pulled on the fly line with my stripping hand to set the hook in the permit's mouth.
Seconds later, the sound of the line cutting through the surface of the water and the screaming reel had my heartbeat racing. All I could think to do was keep my rod tip as high as possible while the permit ran off the flat into deeper water. By keeping the rod tip high, I kept the leader up and prayed it would be far enough from the bottom so as not get cut with any sort of coral or plant life. While the fish ran for its life, Dirk kept pushing the boat towards him while telling me to remain calm. I suddenly realized how comforting it is to have that voice encouraging and supporting you through all this excitement.
The permit took me into my backing at least three times. It seemed as though this bionic fish would never get tired. The 10-weight rod bent dangerously and the wind whistled on the line as the fish used its tremendous girth to squirm away. Finally, I could see more of the silvery side of the fish as I reeled some line in; I knew then that I had him and my heart soared in anticipation. When I got him near the boat, Dirk stuck the pole in and tied the boat to it. Sheer elation struck me when I saw Dirk putting the net under the permit to lift it into the boat. What a sweet feeling!!
We both quickly got it out of the net and took out the fly nestled just on the inside corner of the mouth. I picked up the trophy and with a big smile on my face, posed to have my picture taken like a true tourist. I quickly set the fish in the water and watched the beauty kick and gently swim away. As I sat on the bow of the boat and laid on my back, I looked up into the sky and realized, "Boy, I need to do this more often." This is why I love my job.
As a note, Raul was only able to write about the first day of fishing where he got into Permit. His second day, he got into 100+ lb Tarpon, so please lookout for the next part of his story.
Special Thanks to:
The Belize River Lodge