Stay tuned for the full report from our February 17-24 week, but the following was just too good not to post right away…
My longtime friend and Patagonia rep, Mike Thompson, just spent a week at the Club with us. He is actually on his way home tomorrow and sent me the following account from his daily journal. It is an interesting walk down memory lane as well as an emotional account of this week’s victories. Mike’s fine writing skills have come as close as is possible to verbalizing the thoughts and emotions that enter a permit angler’s mind through the course of the day on the water. He does a fine job of shedding light onto why permit junkies get their kicks. Thanks for sharing, Mikey. Safe travels home tomorrow and congratulations! I’ll solicit next season’s deposit in a few days.
By: Mike Thompson – Patagonia Clothing Company
According to Wikipedia, Punta Allen is the largest village in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere; it sits at the southern end of the Boca Paila peninsula which is about 50 KM south of Tulum. Quintana Roo is the Mexican state and Tulum is the municipality in which it is located. I first visited there in 1981, and at the time it was primarily known for its spiny lobster fishing. I am now somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico at 37,000 ft. flying there for the 4th time.
That first trip, October 1981, came about after Whole Earth had completed a very good selling season and an annual clearance sale that had yielded up enough cash to inspire Jack Jones to offer up to all employees a trip to Mexico in celebration. Home base for the group was a little compound of rooms called Capitan Lafitte. My friend, Wayne Wentworth and I split rental on a vw bug and took the rough road south of Tulum to place that we had heard held the exotic Bonefish. Once I figured out the Spanish name for bonefish, we were in business. At that time there were, thankfully, no formal fishing operations based that far down the peninsula. There were plenty of local lobster fishermen, however, and we were able to find one that would take us out in his panga to fish for the macabi. We went all over the bay, had fish pointed out (I never saw them myself), and in desperation fished over a lobster cleaning station that always had bonefish; not for us. Anyway we went fishing and learned that we had a lot to learn. Total cost, not including beer and lunch was 25.00. Prices have gone up since then.
Trip two was in November, 1986. The reason this time was to catch a bonefish on my 40th birthday. An excuse for debauchery was cobbled together that became known as the Patagonia Scorpio Birthday party. It was pretty telling to identify the Scorpios that worked for Patagonia: BK, Jill Barber, YC and others. I borrowed an inflatable pontoon boat and checked it as luggage; those were the days when that didn’t cost extra. The plan was to drive down the peninsula again and fish the land cut that Wayne and I had crossed on that first trip. Jim Adams had said that by paddling or kicking through the mangrove lined channels we would eventually end up on a flat that should hold fish. The road at that time of year was part sandy rut and part overflowing pot holes. Yvon and I half drove and half floated our rented car down to the embarkation point. The two of us saddled up on the one man kick boat and on faith in Jim’s report paddled into the heart of darkness. We got there, and I caught my bonefish. BK, YC and I came back a couple of days later and fished with a guide out of Boca Paila lodge. I can’t remember if we caught fish, but we definitely saw permit winding through the mangroves.
I met la sirena (the mermaid) on the next trip. Bill Klyn remembers that trip as well. Patagonia had expanded the fly-fishing horizon of the company from fresh water to include salt water tropical. Naturally a boondoggle was hatched and a few designers, product developers, ff market talents and somehow myself were off to Punta Allen again. Mexico was the choice because we could on the cheap test out ideas for our new flats wading boots. The original marl walker eventually came from this trip. By now I could see a bonefish in the water as well as have a reasonable expectation of being able to put a fly within proximity of a bonefish’s mouth. This trip I got to cast to, but not catch some enormous Snook. I also remember, distinctly, having a southern stingray brush its wing over the top of my foot. Another great trip, but as always it left me wanting more.
Fast forward to February 17, 2012 and again I have found a way back. This time to the Palometa Club, which is becoming famous for connecting the fly fisherman to one of the most elusive of all the quarries, the Permit. In the six years that they have been in operation they have landed over 500 of these trophies. I hope to finally catch one myself. I will keep this running and update you as events and time allow.
It is now Tuesday night and I have just finished logging on to my e mail, etc. via an internet café/gift store across from where I am based. All electricity down here is through generators for the small community during set hours of the day and shut off at night. Our lodge has a generator that kicks in when the town is on black out. As of last night, however, the generator here has experienced problems, so communication, and more importantly air conditioning goes off around 11:00 p.m. I had hoped to send a brief update of what was going on with my travels, but have been sidetracked by the normal distractions at a fishing lodge, now add to that electricity loss
Our group arrived in Punta Allen from the Cancun airport in the early evening on Friday. The trip was different from every other one before it as evidenced by the incredible growth in the little towns that have now become bigger sprawling ones. Playa del Carmen is unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t seen it in the past twenty years. It now sports a Sam’s Club to name the most obvious and incongruous addition. Talum, which I remember as only the Mayan ruins at the beach front now has a supermarket and lots of traffic. It used to be the spot where the highway ended and the dirt two track road to Punta Allen kicked off. The 57 k journey was pretty smooth at first, but finally turned into the bumpy one and a half hour trip that it had always been. There were a few mega rich houses that had been built where once there had been a thriving copra enterprise. Copra was the main export, besides lobsters that kept the economy sustainable on the peninsula.
We were greeted by the owners of the Palometa Club , Dick and Kay …as well as David Leake the owner of Tailwater Fly Fishing Co. and the host of our group. Margaritas were at hand and the day’s long travels by air and land were mostly forgotten. We quickly got our room assignments and gear was assembled and made ready for the next day, the first of six devoted to pursuit, in my case, of the Permit fish. Palometa is Spanish for Permit, and this lodge has developed a reputation for catching, what most salt water fly anglers consider to be the most challenging of all the species. Last week the group at the lodge landed only one Permit, so that should give some idea of the task at hand. Permit are not the only quarry here; Bonefish, Snook and Tarpon round out the menu. David Coleman and I decided early on that we were going to target Permit exclusively, so we have been a team all week long.
At this point there are two more fishing days before we head back home. David and I have each caught two fish. On Tuesday we were skunked, but there were three fish landed Tuesday, two of which were large. It rained last night and the wind seems to be blowing pretty steady this morning, so I don’t know what the day will bring. Wind is a challenge, as is cloud cover. I am hoping for the best today.
All week long, as I have sat waiting my turn on the casting bow, I have worked through a mix of feelings that include boredom, enthrallment at the beauty of place, impatience for my turn to fish, anxiety about how I will perform when it is my turn, existential musings about the meaning of it all in the big picture. Fortunately, there have been quick jerks back into the reality of the moment as a guide screams, “ hay una escuela a las dose”. Translation, there is a school of permit coming directly at the bow of the boat. All worries, past, and future are lost in a mad scramble that is the present. Get set, get the fly where it needs to be, in spite of the wind coming from the wrong direction, the sun creeping behind a cloud, and you can’t see the fish that the guide is pointing at sixty feet away and crossing from left to right. Life couldn’t be more complicated, simple or exciting than in those few seconds of panic. Find the fish, cast to it in spite of all obstacles, and be satisfied that an effort was made, even if no fish took the hint.
Today I caught a fish of a lifetime. It weighed 22 ¾ lbs. and took almost thirty minutes to land. I am in awe of my good fortune. I will never forget today.
It is Thursday and our last day on the water. Everyone is a bit sore from five days of fighting for balance on a wind and wave jostled panga. Twenty Permit have been caught this week, which is near a record for the lodge. The staff is looking forward to a short day off before the next group arrives. They will have fewer mouths to feed and boats to send out, so things should be a bit slower for a period. The set of six boat guides have Friday to recover as well as rotation over next week of three boats out a day. This will give some of them time to work their other job as lobster fisherman for the cooperativa. I am guessing that the rest of us share a feeling this morning of anticipation for the final chance to get what we came for; fatigue from fishing hard and long; a bit of sadness that it is almost over; readiness to wrap this up and get home. I fish with Mark Harbaugh today.
Oh what a day! Wind gusted to 30 knots all morning. Clouds covered every flat and we actually broke out our rain gear a couple of times. No one caught a Permit and only a few even saw one to aim a cast at in the wind tunnel that was Ascension Bay. No problema, however, as we finished so strong yesterday that this was just a closing salvo. We are gathered for dinner and final wrap up before heading back to Cancun tomorrow and our flights home. This has been a very compatible group, and I would say that all enjoyed being here. I would hope to come back again some day.