Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This Ocean Is Wild.

There I was, perched a top ragged piece of dead coral, scanning the water and the horizon for any sign of movement. The higher position granting me mere feet of visibility, I squinted in the bright sun looking for something, anything. Perhaps a shadow, a tail, or the disturbance of a small bait ball being corralled from below, desperately fighting for their lives. Nothing now, hours have passed, and still I wait. The blue over white clouser fumbles in and out of my fingers in one hand and a sandy death grip clutches a piece of cork in the other.

Wishing, Watching, Waiting.

I step down from my gargoyle position careful to position my feet on level ground. Living coral once consumed the seascape below my feet but years of development and runoff leached all life from the precious organism. The shards left behind fit perfectly into every nook and cranny in my wading shoes. Perfectly rubbing and slicing against pruned skin. Trench foot and sharp coral do not go well together but I brush it off. I am in fishing mode and nothing gets in my way. I begin to blind cast off the coral and into the deep blue abyss hoping for a jack, a needlefish, or maybe even a ravenous barracuda waiting to explode. Nothing once again. My first afternoon out fishing the coast of the British Virgin Islands, thus far is proving to be difficult. Extra difficult on my poor feet.

Rainy & Windy.

The Bluegill of BVI.
Schoolmaster Snapper.

Frustrated, I reel in the intermediate line about to give in and begin the treacherous walk back to the shallows. I glance back to my brother heading down to the beach and realize, he is coming to join me. Might as well take a few more casts. My head whips back around and it happens. Something catches my eye a hundred yards at my ten o'clock. The mental image of the scene frozen in time, taking milliseconds to register in my mind. I know exactly what it is, despite never seeing one face to face before. I've seen enough of this fish posterized in videos, magazines, and angler photos for years. It's go time.

The Hoist.

Fun Barracuda.

I begin a calculated bee line to the fish's position never taking my gaze away from the image ingrained in my mind. Without looking down, I attempt to switch to a crab imitation in stride while still trying to fixate on the goal on the horizon line. Suddenly, my line becomes taunt and my fixation is cut as my eyes follow my slack line yards behind me, beneath the waves, and onto the problem. Immediately I curse my poor-ass decision not to buy floating fly line and rely on an intermediate line. The waves wrap the line around, under, and over the coral. I begin screaming expletives that would make the father in a Christmas Story proud when finally all comes loose. I lose my cool and begin a brisk jog to the destination at the expense of my feet and ankles. The coral takes care of them, but still I push on.

Steep Cliffs, Coral Flats, & Deep Drop Offs.

The Scene of an Epic Duel.

Island Life.

Two Hours on a Flat, Zero Bonefish Spotted.

At this moment in time, I was not to be bothered, my mind was warped by buck fever and the frustration of the hunt. My brother catching up from behind casually asks a question to which I struggle to find the words to answer. What comes out of my mouth resembles a scene from the movie, Jaws. A young woman in shock at what she sees in front of her barely got out the words, S, Sh, SHh, SHARK!!! My mind, body, and soul also in a state of chaos tries letting out the words, P, PP, PPp, before finally rolling off in all their sanctity, PERMITTTTT!!!!! As I utter the words, the massive bluish black sickle of the permits tail once again breaks free of the water in between the leisurely waves. In my mind I hear the shaking of the tail almost beckoning us in for the challenge, laying down the gauntlet. Mortal kombat.

It's Time.

Fishing a Drop Off.

One of Many Yellow Tail Snapper.


The battle lines are drawn. In one corner, a permit of the Virgin Islands that has been hounded by a myriad of challenges his whole life and has survived. In the other corner, a noob, first time saltwater fly fisherman with a sinking line, and a hand tied crab pattern that was the first thing he felt in his box. Advantage: Permit. I lay out the first cast without false casting about fifteen feet in front of the permit in the direction its moving, stripping twice, then pausing. The permit disappears. I Spooked him. He reappears a considerable distance away and we give chase. The situation repeats itself two more times. The permit wants nothing to do with a crab imitation but seems to love picking things off the coral. Sea urchins perhaps. After an extended period without seeing our new acquaintance my brother begins to lose patience.

Matt- "Mark, we told the girls we be back two hours ago. All their stuff is in our car, & they can't get in the house. We need to get going."

Mark- "Then GO."

Strip, Strip, Strip...


My brother, having lived and fished on the island for five months has seen exactly two permit while fishing, having a shot at only one of them. Here I was, my third day in the BVI, and I was locked in combat with a permit. How could he walk away from this? My brother, realizing my intentions gives me more time. After awhile, I too cave into my brother's repeated demands to pack it in. We begin walking back to the car, the pains of my feet finally sinking in. I decide to take one last look back in the vicinity of my last cast. In between waves, the sickle once again emerges seemingly calling us back out for another go around. This time, I choose a different pattern, a much lighter crab pattern that I was pretty proud of.

Please Don't Jump Into My Face.

Some Find Them Annoying, I Find Them To Be Pure Fun.

I wait for the permit to cruise directly in front of us before laying out the cast. The permit turns and casually stalks in closer to my fly. I pause, frozen, as a wave encapsulates the permit, diminishing the afternoon glare, and revealing my adversary for the first time. It is HUGE. The massive alien eye peers through the wave reaching deep into the very chasm of my diseased soul. For the first time, the permit lays his eyes on his pursuer and for a brief moment time stands still. I stand on the precipice of one of the many pinnacles of fly fishing but it is not to be. Just as soon as the moment arrives, the permit refuses, and disappears into the depths of the ocean.

The Permit Wins.

Second Needlefish of the Career.

When I arrived on the islands, one of my goals was to SEE a permit. I met that goal and took it one step further. I battled with a very large permit across the coral coastline of the British Virgin Islands for a half an hour. This was one of the highlights of the entire trip. Yeah it would have been tits to actually catch a permit but this more than quenched my appetite. I was beyond content with this experience. Even if I had somehow been a lucky son of a bitch and actually hooked this fish, there was no way I was going to land it amidst a field of sharp coral heads. I would have been schooled.

Fly fishing in saltwater is an entirely different animal. Your regular east coast trout stream is entirely predictable. The trout are usually in the same exact spots day in and day out and will usually fall for the same old patterns. Saltwater with the various landscapes, tides, and openness for a beginner is entirely unpredictable. Once mastered, for a seasoned vet, I am sure it can be predictable but more or less things are left up to chance. If you put the time in, you will be rewarded. The thing is, time can be hard to come for all except the those that live the dream. I will be back to the British Virgin Islands in the summer for an extended stay. No work. No worries. No restraints. That permit is going down.


Matt said...

we'll get one, without a doubt.

Adam said...

Thats why you need me to come down there...to show you what a permit looks like up close...hahaha

Wade Rivers said...

Fan-flippin-tastic! You guys sure know how to spend the winter jammin' in tropical style.

I'm really enjoying this whole freaking series. Makes me want to lively up myself and bury my feet in some warm sand right about now.

Yes mon. No permit, no cry.

Mark said...

Thanks Wade!

I am afraid Marley will be consoling me for quite some time.