Not a breath of air disturbs the seascape. A glassy grey blur masks the horizon ahead. Our skiff motors through an intricate maze of channels leading to the Key West lakes. The captain navigates our way past mangrove islands and waterway markers in the pale morning first light. Velvety tropical air massages our cheeks as we are swiftly propelled toward the islands known as the Marquesas.
On the eastern approach to Boca Grande Channel, Deon suddenly throttles down the Silver King to idle speed. Nervous ripples of water are shaking the surface of the basin ahead of us. “There!” Vern points out the black spike dorsal fins bobbing in and out of the sea. “Floaters, must be at least twenty, maybe more.” This is a school of Great Pompano nearly in casting range.
“Let’s see if they are hungry,” I hope out loud as I pull out my nine weight Sage from the gunwale rod tube. I tie on a floating crab pattern called “Crabby Patty” and quietly strip fly line onto the bow deck. We are about a hundred feet or so from the point of the school.
“Cast when ready,” Deon commands in a whispering plea. Indeed, one must be quiet and make long casts when approaching Permit in calm waters. I double-haul twice feeding line toward the target. The line loads the rod and I shoot a loop softly landing the unweighted “Crabby Patty” ten feet in front of the swirling nervous waters. The current sweeps the fly toward the Permit fins in a dead drift. I carefully shake the rod tip as I feed line out hoping to make the fly wiggle.
Suddenly the fly disappears and the fly line feels heavy. “Fish on!” I strip tight to the Permit as it powers away, zipping line through my line hand and off the bow deck. I feel line around my bare feet and quickly dance a two-step to clear. The high pitched whirring of the Tibor reel drag pierces the early morning air amid whoops and yahoos from Deon and Peter. Yellow backing continues to peel through the Sage rod guides cleanly as the fish runs toward Boca Grande Channel.
Deon fires up the Yamaha, and the skiff idles toward the channel in the direction of the fleeing Permit. “Thanks man, I was hoping we’d chase, there’s a lot of line out there!” Gradually, I am able to reel in line, feeling the weight of the fish pulsing into the graphite rod.
Twenty minutes of working this big fish pass slowly. It is a lot of work reeling down and pulling up and now the Permit has begun another run toward some lobster trap buoys. I carefully palm the reel to add a bit more drag pressure. I am trying to slow down this fish, but I also fear a break-off from too much pressure.
We are in about 10 feet of water on the edge of a transition flat. We see some bright silver flashes near a red buoy. “That’s your fish trying to tangle us up,” Deon warns, “…try to pressure him left!” I follow his lead and watch my line ease a bit left of the buoy, while reeling down to bring us closer. A silver platter flash nearly blinds me as the fish struggles on the surface a boat length away. I am thinking out loud “I have him now,” and I feel some give in the line. The fish stays on the surface, revealing his gorgeous silver, black and yellow flanks.
The leader knot reaches my rod tip and I kneel on the bow. “Want some help up there?” Deon offers. “Absolutely!” I am reaching for the leader with my right hand, bending the rod backwards with my left hand and leaning over the water with my stomach pressing on the edge of the skiff. The Permit slides across the surface just a few feet from my grasp. As I reach out to grab the tail, I see a dark shadow out of the corner of my eye. “Shark!” Deon yells as he reaches for my hand to pull it away from the fish. Alerted by the commotion, the Permit splashes away from the skiff and the shark, and we all sigh in relief. “Whoa! That Black Tip almost had your hand and that fish for breakfast!”
I thank Deon and notice that I am still connected to the Permit that is now twenty feet away from us in about five feet of water. I try to raise the fish to the surface, then skate the writhing silver slab back to the skiff. “Any sign of the shark?” I ask as I marvel at the length and girth of this Great Pompano. “Nope, but that was close so let’s get this one in now!” Deon takes a turn kneeling next to me, reaching for the leader as I pull back on the rod and pull the leader next to the skiff. I can feel the throbbing fish vibration through the fluorocarbon leader. The Permit glides across the surface into the waiting grasp of our guide. Vern tails the Permit and exclaims “Yes! Great job, this one is a trophy.”
The fish is lifted from the water and into my hands. I manage to balance my rod across my neck and shoulder, holding the Permit with my right hand around the tail and my left hand under the head. “Feels like forty pounds plus!” The size of the fish is matched by the smile on my face. In less than ten seconds the Permit is eased back into the water, reviving itself in my helping hands.
Thank God, we use barbless hooks and the Permit is easily released unharmed. The vigor of the fish swimming away convinces us that this trachinotus falcatus is not immediately in danger of a shark bite caused by our angling. Hopefully, it will survive today’s encounter with us. We gradually idle the motor away from the transition flat toward the Marquesas Atoll. We are caught in the moment of total recall. Deon, Peter and I thanking the fish gods for our good fortune.