One Memorable Permit Catch

A septuagenarian fly angler finally gets his permit.

This was too good of an email not to publish on the web. Tom Pitcher, a former airline pilot recounts his first permit on fly. It just took him 79 years to get there. We'll let him tell the story in full. -Ed.


Late one Sunday I got a telephone call from my friend, Ralph Simmons. Here's how the short conversation went:

“Let's go fishing,” he said. “When?” I asked. "Tuesday,” he replied. "Done," I answered.

I could not believe it. It was late April and we had just gone fishing in February, and we're not talking about a local trip to your home waters. After checking my calendar and finding nothing as important as bonefishing, I agreed. Simmons said he would call Victor in Punta Allen, Mexico to see if he was available. He was available all but one day ... we were going!

Let me explain who these people are before I get ahead of myself. Ralph is a retired Delta Air Lines pilot. He lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and loves to fish for bonefish. We have fished together for 15 years. We have fished The Bahamas, Belize, Los Roques, Venezuela, Xcalak, Mexico, and the Texas Coast. But most of the time it's Ascension Bay, Mexico, like we have fshed for seven of the last eight years.

Captain Victor Barrera has been our guide for eight years. He was the Mayor of Punta Allen at one time, but now his main occupation is commercial lobster fishing. He has a small house he rents (two bed rooms, two baths and kitchen). It is called the Macabi March (Macabi is Spanish for bonefish) and it's on the main drag. When he is not busy with the lobsters, he guides. He knows the waters of Ascension Bay as well as anyone in Punta Allen and he is one hell of a nice guy.

We flew into Cancun on Tuesday, rented a car and spent the night at the Marriott Courtyard. We drove to Playa del Carmen and stopped at a supermarket and bought groceries, beer and wine. We stopped in Tulum for lunch and then drove on to Punta Allen. If you have never driven the road from Tulum to Punta Allen you probably won’t appreciate what I’m going to say. It only took us one hour and forty-five minutes to drive the 31 miles. The road was in the best shape I had ever seen it! It usually takes two to three hours to drive it. The road is a mess, full of potholes and huge puddles, but it is always worth the drive.

Victor met us at Macabi March. He helped us unload the car and helped us set up our gear for the next day. We both fish 3 rods: 8-weight for bonefish, 9-weight for permit, and 10-weight for tarpon and snook.

Victor picked us up in the morning at eight and we soon met Marko, the other guide. We both caught five bonefish in the morning and after lunch we went after tarpon. We found a few, and I made a few casts, but they didn’t like what I was trying to feed them. I’m not particularly good at casting the 10-weight with a big fly. It doesn’t seem to want to go were I want it to go, or as far as I want it to go. I think from now on I will use a 9-weight as my tarpon rod. The tarpon that I’ve seen in Ascension Bay are not that big and I can handle a 9 a lot better. We stopped at four casts.

The second day was almost the same except we fished for bonefish all day. We saw one permit, but could not get close enough to cast before he was history.

The third day was what this writing is all about. Victor could not guide for us because his daughter was flying into Cancun, and he and his wife had to pick her up. So Marko was the captain and Juan was the other guide. Juan is only 21, but has been guiding since he was 15.

We started out fishing for bonefish. It was my turn to be up. Before we spotted any bonefish I heard both guides talking to each other very fast in Spanish. They had spotted a permit tailing about 100 yards away. Juan was pulling my 9-weight out and I brought in my line on my 8-weight as fast as I could. Marko started poling toward the fish.

Juan was briefing me: “Put the fly about six feet in front of him. Let it settle and then strip long and slow.”

I made a practice cast away from the fish and then I got set. Marko was poling as fast as he could, but we never got any closer. The fish kept going in the same direction at the same speed we were going. I was about to give up when Marko yelled for Juan and me to sit. He jumped down from the platform, started the engine and took off at full power in the direction of the fish, but gave it a wide berth. We pulled in about 200 yards in front of the permit.

Juan and I got out of the boat. We waded about 20 feet and stopped. The permit kept coming toward us. Juan told me to make a 60-foot cast in front of the fish and let it settle. The permit kept coming.

When I thought he was getting close to my fly, I started stripping the line. Wham! The rod bent and the reel started singing. I had hooked my first permit. It went out about 150 yards on its first run. I kept saying to myself. Take your time. Don’t lose it.

Everyone was as excited as I was. Marko secured the boat and was in the water beside me. Both guides were coaching me. In a little over 40 minutes, I got the fish about 10 feet from me and Juan went out and grabbed him by the tail. There was a lot of back slaps, nice jobs, pictures taken, and then I let him go.

We estimated it weighed between 20 and 25 pounds.

Victor came home that evening. He was proud of my catch, but was a little disappointed that he had not been our guide. He had been my guide when I caught bonefish, tarpon and snook, and I could tell he wished he could have been there for the permit.

And that's my story. After so many years of trying, now you know how a 79-year-old retired airline pilot finally got lucky, and landed a permit he never thought he would.

Three Happy Guys

--Tom Pitcher