MIAMI -- This likely will be the last of the Permit Diaries--otherwise known as the Hundred Years War, permit edition--for several months.
Having just wrapped up yet another almost-there-but-ultimately-unsuccessful permit-on-fly campaign over three days last week in Key West, I am hanging up my 9- and 10-weights until the spring--or until somebody calls me up all of a sudden and insists that the flats are really going off, so get down here right away.
I'm starting to fear that Moses' biblical foray into the desert all those years ago will have taken less time than my quest to master the "rock star" of game fish by sight-fishing with a fly rod.
But small bits of encouragement emerge from each permit encounter to keep me (and a lot of other certifiably unbalanced anglers) coming back to the flats whenever possible.
Amid feeble tides and chilly winds and waters on a recent Saturday, I actually got a small permit to eat my fly. But, of course, I didn't catch it. Matter of fact, I never even saw it. Here's what happened:
I was standing in the bow of captain Mike Gorton's 23-foot, super-stealthy flats skiff as he poled the back country near Bahia Honda when he pointed out a permit at my 9 o-clock position.
"It's a little one, maybe eight to 10 pounds," Gorton said.
I looked and looked but could not see the fish because the low angle of the sun created a glare on the surface.
"Now he's at your 8:30," Gorton said.
I still couldn't see anything in the glare, but started false-casting anyway.
"More to the right," Gorton directed, helpfully.
I blind-casted the crab fly about 30 feet -- "blind' being the operative word.
"Long, slow strips," Gorton said.
Still unseeing, I did as he advised--and felt an unmistakable tap! on the line.
I probably should have strip-struck the fish, but instead, I just stood there like a statue. I guess I was expecting it to just eat the fly and run off like the only other permit I ever hooked. Instead, it spat the fly before my brain could reengage.
I saw none of this, but the reason I know the permit took a chomp on the fly was that, when I stripped it back into the boat, one of its little plastic claws was bitten off.
"If that were a bigger fish, he probably would have stayed on," Gorton said.
I wasn't sure whether to be disappointed because I failed to catch it or relieved because I would really like for my first permit on fly rod to be a big pig.
In any case, I never hooked anything else in three days of fishing, except for a pesky houndfish like the one that injured the kayaker a few weeks ago.
I don't know if we should have let it go, but we did.
Incidentally, during the week before I arrived in Key West (when the weather was mild, water temperatures warm and tides strong), guides and anglers were mopping up the flats with permit.
Several guides have been telling me for years that all I need is one dumb, happy fish.
What I really would like to have is a whole fleet of them; thank you very much.