Fly Fishing for Permit | Bozeman’s Saltwater Fly Shop – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Fly Fishing for Permit | Bozeman’s Saltwater Fly Shop

Permit fishing is one of our great endeavors here at Fins & Feathers of Bozeman on our time off when we get the chance to head to warmer latitudes in the winter and early spring. Below is a recount of a blessed day back in 2014 at Turneffe Flats Lodge spent with Ian Davis from Yellow Dog Fly Fishing and Flats legend “Dubs”

“In a nutshell, I made two trips to Turneffe Flats Lodge in 2014 in search of Permit and whatever else was swimming within 30’ of the boat. The first trip was planned as the one time a year when my wife and I get away from the kids, work, and house for a week to just chill by ourselves. So, it was already a great trip – in my head – before we started.

The trip started with me getting deathly ill after eating Scallops the night before we left for Belize. I had a wonderful flight on Apathetic Airlines during which I threw up half a dozen times between Dallas and Belize City as the snarky flight attendant did his best to keep me from destroying his sacred toilet in the sky. Upon arrival in Belize City – oh did I mention that we were travelling on the first Saturday of Spring Break? 73000 people went through DFW that day and I had the pleasure of standing in line with most of them, trying not to hurl on their shoes. Anyway, we had the pleasure of standing in line going through Belize Customs with 500 other fat, white people on vacation for about an hour and a half. My wife’s luggage didn’t make it. So, the trip started off shaky, even with the good mojo going on in my head.

Dubs the Permit Guide

Things settled over the week and I had a great time fishing with one of the best human beings and fishing guides that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. “Dubs” is his name and Permit is his game. When the wind is blowing and the clouds are out, all the other guides seek refuge on a Bonefish flat, but if you like…”Dubs” will pole it out all day long and never complain. I like meeting fishing guides that work harder than other…there are few of them around these days. It’s the willingness to work hard, never give up, and we are in it together that makes a day with “Dubs” so unique (he also gets a lot of fish).

The week flew by with more than one minor to major moment of angling “fubarmanship” on my part. A hooked Eagle Ray, two broken rods, and 4 legitimate Permit eats and misses are kind of the highlights from the angling perspective. I have not drank booze since June 13, 1990…I came close on the final night of this trip. I could taste the whiskey burn in my nose as we motored across the lagoon at the end of the final day. I thought to myself, in that moment, of all the things I’ve been through in the last 24 years…12 inches of fly line, poorly stripped 4 times over 48 hours of fishing had brought me closer to the bottle than a divorce, job uncertainty, kid problems, broken hearts, tragic losses, and on and on. By the time I reached the lodge, reason had returned and a hug from my wife made the frustration temporarily bearable.

To make a long story a little less long, I was invited to join a group back to Turneffe Flats just a few weeks later as they had a last-minute cancellation. My wife said yes, my employees said yes, and Apathetic Airlines had some great last-minute fares.

Hosted Trip

This was the first “Hosted Trip” that I have ever been a part of rather than the ringleader. As a last-minute add-on, I had resigned myself to just go with the flow and be grateful to be spending another week of my life in Belize. I hoped for redemption, the opportunity to fish with “Dubs” one more day of my life, and for general harmony in the world. I cared more about the first two than the third, but it was on the radar.

As it turned out, this was a group of some very skilled anglers that were about as easy going as one could imagine. Fishing sucked that week with clouds, wind, and so on – for the most part – and yet everyone had a great time and an even better attitude.

My redemption came on day two of the trip while fishing with “Dubs” and Ian Davis from Yellow Dog.

The Fish

The story of the fish? The day was pretty much over, the winds had picked up to 20-30 mph…maybe 15…it was “enough.” We had just finished drifting a flat and resigned to head back when I asked Dubs if he thought he could work the “Permit Bar” in this wind and with this glare. In typical Dubsisim…he says, “I don’t know, I can try,” and off we went for one last look that day.

The wind was coming at us and the sun was at our right, melding a nasty combination of chop and glare that gave me little hope as Dubs climbed up his platform. In my mind, I thought to myself that there is always tomorrow. As Dubs starts to Pole on the leeward side of the bar, we all focused on the water ahead, looking for a tail, a push – anything to get just one more shot at a Permit. After a few minutes of listening to him sigh and grunt, he says, “I see a push, very far away…like maybe 500 feet, maybe a mile…a long way away.”

For the record, I can actually see fish and pushes very well, but all I saw was whitecaps and glare – I knew that I couldn’t cast 500 feet or a mile.

He sees the push again and then he sees tails slicing through the chop, he tells me that “they are maybe 300 feet, maybe 500 feet in line with that point of land two mile away.” Ian chimes in with an “Oh Yeah, there they are” while I stare at mile after mile of shiny waves and nothingness going up and down across the horizon.

I finally see the push, I see the tails.

They are moving fast, left to right, across the sun, and with the wind in our face. I lose them, they are now 100 feet, 80 feet, 60 feet, I don’t see them, Dubs and Ian are trying to get me to them. Ian finally says, “Right there, by the Yellow leaf,” I think to myself, we’re in the ocean, what yellow leaf? I see the leaf, I see the tail, it’s 30 feet away.

I punched the best cast of my life 12” in front of that fish, into the glare, into the wind, and everything stopped. It was that moment I had hoped for – it was true – and I was there. It was only a moment, as it passed as soon as it began.

I felt the grab, I don’t know how else to describe a Permit Grab. When it happens, there is no doubt what just happened. I kept the rod low, moved it front to back, left to right as I stripped set, hard. The fish was gone and the feeling of rejection, denial, and humiliation reeled over me for a moment. It passed quickly.

By now, Dubs was yelling at me for using my rod tip to set the hook and I was defending myself saying that, Yes I moved my rod tip, but I also jammed that hook hard with the strip. He calms down and says Ok, nice try.

Then I see Ian, in my peripheral vision, stammering and stuttering with his mouth half agape and eyes bulged out. My rod was nearly pulled from my hand as that Permit rips 150’ of backing and line off my Hatch 9+ in 10 seconds.

My heart was pumping; it was a moment of exhilaration that will be with me until the end of days. I literally started to cry as the fish crossed the shallow bar and headed to the deep back on the leeward side. Rod high, arms high, I was just hanging on at that point and life was finally good once again I knew I would be fine if the fish came off, I had done what I had hoped to do and was there when I did it. The fish to hand, the fight, the pic…these are the icing and I can take it or leave it (I prefer the icing myself, but I won’t admit it to most).

The Aftermath

When it was all said and done, I collapsed on the bow of the boat and let the emotions wash right on through me. I cried more; it’s just what I do when I’m really happy and appreciative of a moment. That 20 minutes or so was full of moments that make all those other moments seem so much less relevant. The fish was 20-25 pounds, my best Permit, my second Permit, and the most remarkable fish in my angling life, I think.

It was a moment when a little bit of skill, a little bit of luck, some great guidance, and a cooperative fish all came together for just a moment and the world was truly grand.”

To learn more about the fly fishing opportunities at Turneffe Flats Lodge in Belize, email Grey York at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing. Stop by our Bozeman fly shop or email me for help with putting a selection of flies or gear together to help make your trip more successful.