In Argentina, where we were surprised by life and our passion, the fly fishing, there is a delightful menu; we count with some of the most sportive species existing in freshwater, varieties of salmonid, landlocked trout and anadromous fish. In addition, the north slam, dorado, pacú and pira pita fishes, all of them in a huge diversity of environments that present different fishing forms and situations which defy us to learn new techniques and to improve in a continuous way.
Light, subtle equipment, to search for the hardest fish to catch, the slippery, the quiet waters or small fish; heavy equipment, to tempt and defeat the great waters or weight targets.
Almost always, we must choose, and we hardly will be able to explore all the existing possibilities but, each one of them enables us to acquire different skills and abilities which prepare us for the attempt. But, the breaking point is that day when the equipment, the technique, the fly choice or any other external element cease to be the priority focus; it happens when we feel part of the chosen environment, when nature seems to reveal to us some of its mysteries of belonging: that day we feel the connection with the fish sought.
And then, fishing changes its meaning. It is no longer a competition with others, with the fish or with ourselves but, it becomes now rather a game. We know that our rival is not aware of this; it was not its pick, but nevertheless we start to enjoy its wisdom, its strengths and the difficulties that they create. So, ever since that moment the word “failure” disappears from our dictionary because in this game there are neither winners nor losers, there are just challenges and learning.
In that road, the feelings seem to indicate that we found the greatest satisfaction when we stop chasing the title or tagline of “fisherman” to focus on “feeling”, “doing” and “being part of”. Because a title always entails responsibilities which bring unnecessary pressures; the fisherman MUST fish, and in order to become a “great fisherman” he MUST, in addition, gain recognition. Instead, interacting with nature during a game only demands from us to be respectful with the ecosystem and then, it will depend on each one of us to make each and every instant to be magic and in doing so to reach the greatest enjoyment.
The fish of my dreams
After many years of travelling the road of fly fishing, almost accidentally, I found a kind of fishing that maximizes this vision of our passion which, for its intrinsic characteristics, demands that we stop being “fisherman”, and which in order to accepting us among its dedicated practitioners it calls for enjoying from the process as if it were the result itself as, the attempt is the objective and the catch the exception.
This description does not mean that I am grading the fishing for Permit; it is not a value judgment; it is not better or worse than any other else; I am simply stating that it is different.
The permit is a fish that dwells in deep waters and searches for shallow waters to feed itself, when conditions allow so.
When we talk about conditions, we refer to a sum of variables, such as temperature and transparency of the water, amplitude and state of the tide, influence of climatic variables –especially wind and atmospheric pressure- , presence of food, time of the year and fishing pressure.
The features of the area will determine certain habits that for us will mean types of different situations –type of bottom, depth range, current, presence of predators and type of food.
Its main diet is based on seafood, crustaceans and shells. The patterns used are imitations of crustaceans, different types of shrimp and crab.
Chasing this fish resembles to a hunting: first we must find it, then we must approach it and make the decision of making the shoot and executing it. We call all this process “situation or chance”, and this is the first quantifiable parameter; the quantity of chances will shape our fishing day.
Being able to find this fish depends, most of the times, on the knowing how and expertise of the guide. In general, many of the guides know in which places this fish feeds; nevertheless, being there at the right moment is not an easy task.
Depending on the place and conditions, different signals are looked for which may show up its presence –nervous water, tails, fins, flashes, muds or simply the silhouette of a fish. A long period in the water focusing on observation is needed to start perceiving each one of these forms of detection.
In this part of the process, we have to bring calm and concentration in order to being able to identify the fish as fast as possible, a task not always easy. It is the moment of checking and making sure that everything is all right to make the shoot –the line ordered in the skiff, the feet necessary outside the rod, the fly in good condition- all this without losing sight of our target.
Approximating depends on the guide; whether we are on one skiff or both, whether we are wading. The approximating technique is complex, it relies on the swimming speed of the fish and its attitude, the direction and velocity of the wind and the current, and the location of the sun.
The ideal scenery is having the sun at our back or in a position which allows us to keep visual contact with the fish, also the wind blowing from behind us or above the shoulder opposite to the arm holding the rod is of great help to make the cast, but, if the tailwind is too intense, the guide will not be able to manage or stop the skiff opportunely. We rarely head directly to the fish; the guide imagines and looks for a meeting point having into account all these variables, although many times the fish changes its direction and the conditions turn more complex.
The third step is to make the decision of making the shoot, which includes two critical aspects: the place where to make the presentation of the fly and in what moment.
During our first steps, the meeting point is decided by our fear for scaring it away, which provokes that the shot’s presented too far away and the deceit is never perceived by the fish. The variables that we start to consider in order to make this decision depend on the previous experiences and are related to evaluate them –velocity of swimming and attitude of the fish, depth, current strength, velocity of the wind, quantity of fish and type of fly chosen-. The presentation could be between 1 ft. to 10 ft. but, most of the situations are worked out between 1 ft. and 4 ft.
The moment of the execution is highly important because doing it in the proper distance range allows us to be accurate as well as to have control over the line and to see the fish clearly, in order to understand its body language.
The fishing distance range of a permit can be between 30 ft. and 80 ft. but, most of the attempts with good chances are between 40 ft. and 60 ft., it being 50 ft. my favorite range. In these short distances, we can be accurate, we can be in contact with the fly very quickly, we can make an effective recast, we can check where to show our fly, we can perceive the first reaction of the fish and, if possible, we can interact with it, trying to stimulate it so that it eats our deceit.
In both decisions we must lose the fear for spooking it away; we must come closer enough and show the fly close to the fish, assuming that we might lose the opportunity but, otherwise, we will never have it.
It is important to get used to evaluate the shoot according to the first reaction of the fish and not to the place or way of the presentation. Many times, shoots that we consider to be “perfect” do not cause any reaction, and they demand a quick recast; whereas others which we consider as “bad” raise a possibility of having a bite.
Selection of the fly and the stripping
As we described previously, most of the flies used imitate shrimp and crab, although catches or bites are achieved by using imitations of small fish, in general by accident.
In the habitats where these fishes live and feed, both are present, and maybe it would help to know what is their diet made of, in what percentages and situations they eat one, the other, or both. But it is a collecting fish and, in my experience, it is very opportunist.
I think that our main objective is to make the fish see the fly without scaring it away, and keep the fly within its visual range long enough to tempt it.
Our fly must look similar enough to its food, taking into account the form, the size and color; we have to put it within its visual range, with the proper volume and weight, and it must “behave as” after the fish has seen it.
It is very difficult, almost impossible, to describe successful or proper presentation/movement, as the variables that intervene are many and they are related among them; the answers are given by the orders or recommendations of the guide first, and then by the expertise accumulated.
The most common errors are:
- To cast too far away, for fear of scaring it away.
- Not to allow the fly to deepen up to the “food zone”, by moving it in advance.
- Making sudden moves that generate “drag” and scary the fish away.
- Making long and quick movements that take the fly away from its visual field.
I insist on the concept, our priority is to make the fish see the fly and have the fly at the fish range the longer possible, just opposite to what we do when fishing a hunter fish, which we stimulate with an escaping prey.
In order to fulfill this objective, I use stripping flies, shrimp, for very dynamic situations, because many crabs tend to twist or drag when we recast quickly or on the occasion of strong current.
I use crabs that are quite heavy to fish upon the bottom or very close to it, when there is no chance of hooking or in bottoms semi deep.
I use lighter crabs for them to deepen slowly when I want them to be found going down, in shallow waters or with rock, coral or weed bottoms.
I insist, this is a generalization, which must be validated with the guide or with fishermen having a high expertise in that place, until the moment when we acquire our own experience and have the belief of exploring our paths.
The bite and the setting of the hook
The situations that demand stripping by using shrimp are those of a higher efficiency percentage in the hooking up, because many times we feel the tension of the bite and react timely or it gets stuck during the movement.
In most of the other situations, setting the hook must be done by means of visual stimulation; the permit gets close, inhales a certain volume of water in order to suck out the possible food, it filters, breaks the shells with its strong crushers located in the throat, swallows, and it exhales everything else. Should the fly be free, it would probably always end in its stomach, but the tension caused by the line makes that, if we do not stuck while it is in its mouth, it be expelled during the exhalation. All this occurs in a fraction of a second.
We can also may be lucky that it turns or gets stuck during any movement, but our goal is to do it ourselves, in order to increase our efficiency.
When the permit inhales, it contorts and, the times when the food is down in the water column, it raises its tail. These are signals that tell us to act; we must keep the rod in the direction of the fly and must make a long and slow pull; if we feel tension, we must continue the same movement by exerting an increasing pressure and must release it when our sensitivity tells us that the hook might have entered, and we run the risk of break off.
When the fish swims front and towards us, sometimes we can see that it opens its mouth, because we see its pink lips. That is also the right time to attempt the setting of the hook, an open mouth is a signal that it is inhaling.
The real difficulty
When we fish other species, there are also days when they are nervous, or they are not eating, or they are not in the habitual fishing zones, only that we cannot know what exactly is going on. Because blind fishing is “about imagination”, where our intuition and knowledge give us the answers; with the fish at sight we face reality and it can be a little more frustrating.
After going a long way, we start to understand that the permit is far from being a fish that “does not eat” or a very hard one to fool; I believe that not many quantities of this fish are caught for a sum or reasons.
Except for exceptional days or situations, they are not found in great quantities; an average fishing day usually gives us between 4 and 8 chances.
Sometimes, it is hard for us to see them clearly, which does not allow us to be timely or accurate.
Many times the environmental conditions make it hard to get the necessary accuracy; generally, the speed of the action, the influence of the wind or simply our nerves.
In front of right shoots, we make a mistake in the managing of the fly.
When we achieve bites, many times they come unnoticed.
I hope that this synthetic description allows you to understand the characteristics of the fly fishing for permit in flats, and the sensations which it arouses.
The mystic of this fish nourishes on the pressure that is generated in us by that image, of unattainable. When we understand that it is just one more fish that requires certain adjustments in the technique and mainly, a change in our attitude, we begin to feel that it is at the reach of your hand.