Picking Your Tribe

August 28, 2023 By: Greg Thomas

I know a woman who caught five permit the first day she fly-fished the salt. Another asked me what to do in Belize and returned to Montana, just days later, packing photos of herself with a 40-pounder. But those stories aren’t the norm.

I’ve watched a man purse his lips, shake his head and say, “Uh, permit! Don’t get me started. Fished them for years and never landed one. Dozens and dozens of days, scads of decent shots, lots of interested fish. Nothing but goose eggs.”

Two years ago I joined seven excellent anglers in Belize and watched them put up a blank for the week. Always something—a fly line catching a cleat, a guide’s pole nicking the boat, a pelican’s shadow or a shark’s untimely appearance. Those boys can take solace, however: at least they hooked three. Unfortunately, they learned how incompatible coral heads and monofilament can be.

Fishing the salty environs and focussing on permit is a commitment to time and frustrations. That choice also demonstrates you understand the connectivity between challenge and reward, the power of keeping faith, and stars eventually aligning. Saying, I do, also means long days on a boat, possibly heaving on the tide, shins and arches aching, all while scanning the water for those dark tails and dorsals, or a subtle, almost imperceptible silvery flash. That’s when the game gets rugged, when you must find composure, slow down time and make a pinpoint cast. Anything but, and your permit is gone.

You can want a permit too badly, just like a hunter who can’t shake the buck fever. Success is about expectation management and realizing that landing a permit is not a matter of life or death. Take your time. Win or fail, you walk away from the water having gone through something that demands your best. Spending that time on the reefs with sharks and loggerheads, the frigates, ‘cudas and bonitos, and those warm fall, winter and spring breezes . . .  you become part of a tribe that speaks a certain language.

Back home at the cocktail parties, when someone says their round of golf was “epic,” you can simply say, I can tell you what’s epic. They know that success in golf can be incremental and steady. You trying to crush every ball off the tee is a problem. If you wanted to improve that score you’d take a few lessons, play smarter, quit John-Dalying your way into the sand trap. Clean it up and you’re shooting par.

Catching a permit is a whole other story. You can tie flies, change flies, overline rods, make that perfect cast. No matter those preparations, you can’t control where a permit swims. They are never there, then there for a second, only to turn on a dime and vanish. Greens and cups go nowhere.

These people won’t understand or agree. You’re the black sheep. They’ll say, “Fish a week to catch one or none?” No worries, this is your best opportunity to say, “Hey, I fish. Got a problem with that?”

Or maybe you feel like me. After nine holes I’ve never wanted to play more. Cold brews sound better. In contrast, there’s been no day on the permit grounds, no matter how hot and windy it may have been, when I’ve reeled in at the end and thought, Glad I don’t have to cast again.