Buffaloed: Fly Fishing for Permit

Imagine, if you will, riding bareback across a sea of grass hunting for herds of migrating buffalo. The wind is light, the sun bright, your horse young and well-fed. You walk and canter hundreds of miles over three days, sometimes riding just to cool off. You eat well, sleep well, attend carefully to your horse and your gear, and find it easy to get up each morning before sunrise and start again.
After three days, in the later afternoon, you take aim at an animal, and you miss. That night after a long starlight ride home, aching and sore, you give your horse a thankful pat and crawl to bed. You begin dreaming of the hunt again before you are even asleep.
That’s as good a description of the past three days permit fishing as I can summon after five hours of sleep. Jonathan Ain, who organizes the March Merkin permit tournament in Key West, had a handful of shots over three days — there just weren’t many fish around and my guess is that the herds were fat from grazing and hunkered down out of sight. The fish we did find were spooking at 70-foot casts, or not eating flies. (We were covered up by bonefish — pronghorns of the flats — from sunup to sundown, but couldn’t muster enthusiasm for more than a few slappy casts.) Finally, we had a permit eat the fly eagerly yesterday, but he came unbuttoned. Even David Dalu, who joined us for day three, couldn’t make the fish eat … though he did prove that 12-foot casts are the hardest ones to make.

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