Key West is one of my favorite places in the world. Lynn and I went on our first vacations together to Key West, and we vowed to return every year. We seem to make it back there only every three or four years, usually with her dad Maury and her brother and sister-in-law Mike and Christina. We try and go late in October for what is called Fantasy Fest. Fantasy Fest is a week-long celebration of debauchery when Duvall Street fills with professionals, mostly in there 40's, 50's and 60's, become alter-ego's of themselves and dress for a pre-determined theme. Nudity is encouraged, though rarely appreciated. Fantasy Fest is the single best week of people watching I have ever experienced.
The second time we visited Key West, Lynn surprised me with an all-day guided trip with Capt. Drew Delschmidt. I had never fished the saltwater flats before and spent ten hours standing on the bow of Drew's skiff. I cast twice in those ten hours and still consider the trip to be one of the most exceptional fishing experiences of my life. I was hooked. And I wanted to catch a bonefish, a tarpon, and a permit, In that order. Since I fished with Drew last, I had managed to catch a tarpon on the fly in the Glades and had become obsessed with the permit. As soon as I found out we were headed back to Key West I booked Drew. This time for two days!
I had arranged to meet Drew at a Bobalu's on Big Coppitt at 8:00 am. I set two alarms for fear of oversleeping, but alarm clocks not needed on Key West. There is a multitude of roosters beginning their endless cackles even before the first signs of light.
It was great to see Drew again! After a short drive to the boat launch, we were quickly jetting across the aqua ocean channels until he slowed the boat off plane and into the flats. Drew had asked me what I wanted to fish for, and of course, my priority was the permit. I took my place on the bow tower as Drew mounted his perch and began to push us through the flat. I was much more confident this go around. The last time we fished, I hadn't thrown a double haul in a few years, but now I spent most of my weekends bombing huge articulated flies to trout and smallmouth. It proved to be a false sense of security.
The first few hours were much like the last time me and Drew fished. Time flies when you're fishing with Drew. He is a beautiful teacher, storyteller and all around great guy. Around noon, Drew stopped mid-sentence and shouted "There! Two o'clock! 120 feet! Do you see them?"
I did not. I pointed my rod tip toward the two o'clock position until Drew said "Yes! There! Now 75 feet. Load up!" I could feel my muscles tighten and my pulse rise as I began my false cast. "Now 60 feet!" he said.
"I got 'em!" I replied.
"Fire away!" Drew ordered. And I did. I completely missed my mark by the better part of a meter. The four permits quickly scurried away with my first strip. "Don't worry," Drew said, "We'll get the next one." All my confidence evaporated in one cast.
I did cast to five more permits throughout the day, putting two cast inches off the fishes nose on two occasions, to no avail. I was disappointed but glad I had another day to try and catch a permit.
Drew and I set out a bit earlier on day two, and we started on Cudjoe Key near his house. We also started with tarpon has our target species. As we approached the cove, I could see these huge fish rolling ahead of us. I have caught tarpon before, but nothing in the range of these fish that were better than a meter long! I cast to a couple, but the fish were very skittish for the second day as well. In the late morning, we went back to the flats looking for Permit, but the flats were barren. Drew worked his ass off again, but the result was the same. I spooked the only two permit we found. I was thoroughly frustrated!
I asked Drew what a good day of Permit fishing looked like? How many would be considered a good day?
"ONE." He replied.
I returned to our house on Key West humbled and frustrated. And more determined to catch a Permit than ever! I'll be back Drew! And this time, more practiced and ready to perform.
We left Key West a few days later and headed Cheeca Lodge on Islamorada for a night on the beach. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and we will be returning there soon.
1. Use your rod. Drew fishes and provide Scott Merdian Rods. Beautiful, American made high-quality rods. I fish a Sage Ignitor. Super fast action. I struggled to get the line speed I was used to with the slower action rod and wasn't able to put the fly where I wanted every time.
2. Practice. Get a barstool, put an empty beer can on it and practice knocking the can off the stool from 60 to 80 feet away in a 15 MPH wind. If you can hit the can 8 out of ten times, you are probably ready.
3. Relax Your Strip. I have thrown size 22 dry midges to trout in gin-clear water with 15 foot leader with an 8/0 tippet. That is a walk in the park compared to the measures one must take to not spook a Permit. Not just on the presentation, but also the strip.