Story written by TPC guest, John Chinuntdet and photographs provided by Tonya Crowe-Chinuntdet
Alonzo, our head guide, whispered, “John, make a cast at 9 o’clock. There is a big school of permit 45 feet away moving off the flat.” I saw black dorsal and tail fins waving over the deep grassy flat and thought, “There must be at least 100 permit in that school.” As the white/tan crab fly dropped from the pinched fingers on my right hand, I instinctively made a false cast and then dropped the fly in front of the school. As the crab sank, I started a slow retrieve when the line came taut and THEN I HOOKED UP!!!! After fighting the beautiful shimmering permit to the boat, I told my bride, Tonya, that might have been the only “easy” permit that I had ever caught.Through a little luck, Tonya and I had been “invited” to join a great group of folks (including a couple of true fly fishing legends) for the week at the Palometa Club. After meeting Tonya, both of the fly fishing legends told me during the week how my wife appeared to be a “catch well beyond my apparent skills and ability.” I told them I was lucky enough to successfully land the catch of my life 20 years ago this year. After pulling off that magic trick, how hard could it be to catch more permit on the fly???Earlier in the week around Waco Bay, our guides, Charlie and Julio, had spotted a permit following a stingray. After sliding out of the panga and wading into position, I made a long hurried cast right on the back of the ray. Before the crab fly could sink to the bottom, the permit had eaten my fly. After setting the hook, the permit made my Tibor Riptide reel sing as it ripped off fly line. I whooped like a little kid on Christmas morning as I fought the permit. Around 7 minutes into the fight as my “permit” swam by the boat, I heard Charlie mutter from the poling platform, “It is a jack crevelle… The jack ate your crab before the permit could get it.” Well, after some indiscriminate cursing in English, Spanish and Thai, that aggressive jack fed a couple of Punta Allen families that night. Tonya kept reminding me that, for 7 long minutes that morning, we all thought I had won the permit lottery.The next day arrived with dark clouds and strong winds which made for tough sight fishing conditions. In the afternoon, our head guide, Jorge, found a school of 15 nurse sharks frolicking on an Ascension Bay flat. Translation: there were 2 big curvy female girl nurse sharks followed gleefully by 13 teenage-sized boy nurse sharks. Well, this writhing blob of sharks had an entourage of 4 hungry jack crevelles. Being opportunistic fishing folks, Tonya and I picked off all 4 of those jacks one by one as Jorge polled us around that flat for over an hour. I will remember the spectacular image of that 15 lb jack flying out of the water straight toward the boat with its mouth wide open to engulf my black and purple Gary Merriman toad fly. Again, those jacks, along with several nice mutton snappers that Tonya added to the catch, made several Punta Allen families very happy.The most memorable day of our trip dawned gloomy and cloudy, but soon the sun burned away all of the clouds. Sight fishing conditions turned perfect. Early in the morning, our guides, Carlos and Aaron, took us to a flat near Jack Channel. They had found several permit earlier in the week in the area. Right away, we found three permit that squirted around us before we could get into position. We then found a single permit pushing “nervous water” into the wind. After slipping into the water, Aaron pulled me into perfect position where I put the crab fly 5 feet in front of the quickly moving permit. Well, that permit promptly disappeared while I made a long slow strip. Carlos told us later he watched the permit spook even though the fly landed way out in front of the permit. There are times when I really hate permit.
Only 15 minutes later, Carlos spotted another permit 400 yards away “pushing water” toward us. Aaron and I moved into position directly upwind of the fish. As the permit moved toward us, it decided to change direction and swam to our left at a 45 degree angle around 50 feet away. Aaron told me, “Try it!” I made a false cast trying to recall all of the insightful casting advice Lefty had given me. I measured the casting distance and deftly dropped the crab fly right on the permit’s brain (as in the small spot right behind its eyes)!!! The water exploded as the permit spooked across the Mexican border headed to Belize. I laughed loudly and slapped Aaron’s shoulder in deep disgust with my poor cast.
I started stripping in line to go back to the boat WHEN the line came tight and started screaming off the reel. “WHAT THE ____????” Aaron and I couldn’t believe it. The permit must have spooked when I “brained” it, but then circled back to see what had scared it. And there, the permit found my little crab sitting on the bottom looking delicious and vulnerable… After a long delicate fight because I was unsure of the hookset, I brought my 5th gorgeous permit to the boat. As I said above, it is always better to be lucky…Knowing that the fishing gods had told us that the odds were in our favor, we decided to see if we could feed all of our Punta Allen friends. With Carlos’ knowledge of Ascension Bay, we moved to a deep grassy point where Tonya quickly landed 4 nice barracudas on tube lures. Tonya then caught several snappers and jacks on her favorite tube jigs. Then, around 3:15 pm, we moved to an oceanside flat looking for lemon, blacktip and bull sharks. In a scene straight from the “Madfin Shark” television show, we used two of the cudas as chum and soon had at least 9 lemon sharks all around us tracking the scent of the fresh cuda blood in the water. As the sharks swam in “S” patterns toward our boat, we pitched cut barracuda chunks to the sharks. We landed 2 of the sharks (and of course, hooked and lost the biggest shark). The lemons weighed around 50 lbs and 75 lbs each. Carlos and Aaron were ecstatic. When we returned that evening to the Palometa Club beachfront, the other guides cheered when they saw the sharks. They told us those 2 lemon sharks would make 300 fish empanadas (sp) and feed about 50 people in the Punta Allen village. And then we told them we had caught another permit on the fly. WHAT A DAY!!!Thank you to Lefty, Jeffrey, Bill, Bradford, Bruce, Mark, Rick, Rusty, Rusty, and Scotty for the great stories, comraderie and memories. Thank you to all of the guides, staff and Dick and Kaye Cameron for their advice and hospitality. Thank you to David Leake at Tailwaters for putting the trip together. Lastly, thank you to my wife for joining me on my third Palometa Club trip and tolerating my fishing addiction for over two decades. It is always better to be lucky…