12 March 2008

Permit Success on a Cloudy Day

While visiting Akumal recently, I made a side trip to Punta Allen. As a fishing guide in Alaska, I love to spend part of my winter each year, stalking the flats of Ascension Bay in search of permit. My friend and fellow fishing guide, Guy Fullhart operates the Ascension Bay Bonefish Club in Punta Allen. Although Guy could not join me this week, I was able to share part of my time at the lodge with Guy’s partner, Dale DePreist and 4 fellow flyfishers from Ketchikan, Alaska plus one more experienced angler from the Keys.

The conditions in Ascension Bay were difficult this week. The wind had been up, blowing hard from the East making the bay choppy. Dale had landed a large permit, over 20 pounds, a few days before I arrived and Seth Conrow from Alaska had hooked one that got away. Bonefish were providing the staple action. As the odd man out, I had a boat to myself and felt fortunate to have the Caamal Brothers as my guides. Francisco, Benito and Manuel Caamal along with their brother-in-law William have over 70 years of guiding experience between them. They are legendary in these parts for putting their clients on permit.

The first day I had Benito and Manuel as my guides. We made the run across the bay and spent the entire day searching for permit. After several hours on the bow of the boat without seeing a fish, I was thinking, with sore feet and tired eyes, that I should have elected to go wading for bonefish. Bonefish are much more common and can often be found in schools in the many mangrove lagoons. Wading for bones gives the angler many more chances to cast during the day and plenty of hook-ups with these “hot rod” fish. Having caught oodles of bonefish over the years, I was really interested in pursuing the permit, known locally as Palometa, which are nototriously the most difficult specie to land in this region. Part of the difficulty lies in the finicky attitude of the permit towards the artificial crabs that flyfishermen try to offer.

Shortly after lunch, Benito spotted some “nervous water”, a subtle V-shape wake coming towards us against the waves. It appeared to be a large permit and I made a cast as he approached within range. The nervous water disappeared as soon as my fly hit the water, we never did see the fish. We ended up seeing two permit late in the day, at very close range that sensed the boat and fled before I could make a cast. It was difficult day of fishing, but still better that shoveling snow. Back at the lodge, the reports from other anglers were not much better. Seth got a few shots at good sized permit, but no hook ups. Some of the anglers landed a few bonefish to keep the skunk off the boat.

On day two, the wind was coming from the North and many clouds obscured the sun. I fished with Francisco and William and elected to wade for bones and maybe look for a permit later. I expressed my desire to stay relatively close to home due to the strong wind. I was not up for another day of standing on the bow, peering into the waves or having a bone-jarring ride home at the end of the day. After a short run in the boat William took me wading along the shore. Visibility was difficult and the wind botched the few shots I had at the scattered bonefish we encountered. We moved to a protected lagoon and found one nice bone tailing in shallow water. I managed to hook up after a series of terrible casts. He ate the fly about 8 feet from my rod tip and proceeded to run around several mangroves bushes. Fortunately Francisco and William were able to help get me untangled and boat the nice fish.

After lunch we ran farther up the bay to Francisco’s “Secret Place", looking for both bonefish and permit. We had just given up and got back in the boat when Francisco whispered excitedly to William, "PALOMETA - COMING". Sure enough a tail and fin both exposed just 50 feet away and coming. I slid back into the water while William stripped some line from my reel and handed me the rod. With the wind blowing hard I over-led the fish and landed the fly ten feet upwind. "Cast Again - More to the Right" William said. The next cast was perfect (must have had my eyes closed). Just 3 feet from his nose, let it sink and just started a slow strip when he swam up AND ATE IT!!

YeHaw! I was hooked up on a nice permit, in just two days of fishing. He went deep into the backing and fought well. Francisco was constantly reminding me, "Not too much pressure". He told me he was praying that I would not lose that fish. Hell, I didn't want to lose it either. The permit gods were smiling on me and William was able to tail the fish after many times that it came close. Lots of smiles and handshakes after that, some photos too! This is my biggest permit to date (Francisco estimated 12 pounds).

There were a few more hours until quitting time, but the clouds were thickening and the wind was strong, so we called it a day. It was a very good day, at least for me. The other guys had some (much) difficulty, in fact only one other bonefish was caught by the other 3 boats, not to mention the terrible boat ride home from the south side of the bay.

Day 3 was cold, almost too cold to wade. Francisco and William were bundled up in warm clothes. We did wade for a while, and the guys gave me several good shots at bonefish. I managed to hook 6; well six of them ate, but I only hooked and landed 4. One was on a big ugly fly that I had dropped under the bow of the boat for a snook, and a nice bonefish gobbled it up. We all laughed about that one. We waded the "Secret Place" one more time, but the cold North wind and clouds would not produce a permit for me a second time.

Dale and John have gone home to the Keys, the Ketchikan boys are back home looking for steelhead, and I have returned to the comforts of Nicte Ha and Akumal. My daughter will arrive soon with her boyfriend and are looking forward to experiencing the laid back style of Punta Allen after touring some of the Riviera Maya highlights.

For those visitors looking for a sightseeing or flyfishing experience in Ascension Bay or Boca Paila Lagoon, please contact my friends Guy and Sarah Fullhart at . The road to Punta Allen is very good now, with just minor delays for construction.

Tight Lines,
Ed Toribio

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