The water’s surface is oily and shiny and silver and orange. The outgoing tide is tepid, with the current passing between your legs being the only indication that you’re wading, because the water is the same temperature as your shaking, nervous body.
“Remember to breathe.”
Vision drifting in and out, eyes straining for focus. Legs are wavering, shrinking into the soft mud and grass. Your heartbeat is growing.The flyline is pulling against your hand; being dragged backward by the current. Sweat drips from your head to the cork grip of the rod.
“Get ready for the shot. Get ready. Concentrate. Look. Focus.”
A spike rises from the surface, flaring, pink, purple and black… then another… then another…
“This is it. Go-Go-Go!”
The silence is broken by the woosh of the fly rod as the line rips from the water’s oily grip and the weighted crab lands with a plop to the side of the school. The spikes straighten and turn…
Strip… Strip… Strip…
Hands are fumbling, slipping, and shaking. There’s no breathing.
The surging tail lifts and stabs into the air. The line tightens…
Despite what some current political candidates believe, I believe man evolved from apes roughly two million years ago, and the major geological event of the day was the formation of the Isthmus of Panama, which rose from the ocean to create the land bridge between North and South America, causing a major climatic shift.
The Gulf Stream began to flow, Europe warmed, the polar ice cap formed, and the lush rainforest of northern Africa began to dry and become a grassland savannah. In order to become more efficient hunters, Homo Sapiens had to adapt to changes in their ecosystem, eventually learning to stand, thus becoming Homo Erectus. This evolutionary change cemented sight as our primary hunting sense.
We stood up in order to see over grass.
Part of what makes permit fishing so hard is that you have to see them first. We should actually call it permit “hunting,” because what we’re really trying to do, above all else, is just spot the jittery, mirrored bastards. Flyfishing for these oddly adapted fish requires us to tap into primal instincts. Success in the world of permit fishing comes from studying the game, and honing the unique skills used to hunt them. Focus, timing, and stealth are all important aspects of the hunt. Nowhere is this more evident then when you choose to hunt permit one-on-one in their own environment.
In my opinion, wading for tailing permit is the pinnacle of the sport. The absence of a boat and guide bring a purity to the challenge, requiring a flyfisherman to embrace his primal core and fool his prey with a bunch of fur and feathers.
A case could be made that two million years of evolution has led to me standing on a flat, looking out over the seagrass on a rising tide. But I must give credit to my quarry, for if we humans were required to catch permit to survive, by wading the flats with a fly rod, I’m pretty sure we would have gone extinct long ago.
Will Benson is a permit, tarpon, bonefish, and redfish guide from Key West, Florida. He was recently voted “least likely to campaign for Sarah Palin.”