Tequila: There have been songs written about it, bars named after it and dances invented accidentally because of it. Yes, tequila is the libation we love to hate, and chances are you have a tequila story of your own. It transforms shy wall flowers into confident party animals, and when consumed by the already self-assured, look out! It can be refreshingly smooth or it can be ridiculously harsh, but no matter the quality, remember, tequila is the friend of all fly-fishermen. When everything that can go wrong goes wrong on the flats, your buddy tequila is always there to comfort you. On the other hand, what toasts better than a round of chilled tequila shots for moments that call for triumphant celebration? In my opinion — nothing.
That was my answer prior to meeting Bobby Settles in Punta Allen, Mexico. While this region of the Yucatán Peninsula is rich in Maya history and culturally unique, the main draw nervously swims in pristine waters of Espiritu Santo and Ascension Bay. Of course, I’m referring to permit, arguably the most difficult saltwater fish to dupe into eating a fly.
Just before walking to the panga for my first day of permit fishing out of Grand Slam Lodge, I heard a female staff member shriek. Storming out of the palapa with a broom in hand, tears rolling down her face and sand kicking up from behind her awkward run, I finally heard what she was screaming. “Escorpion! Escorpion! Escorpion!” I could only assume that was Spanish for scorpion. One of the guides raced inside, and within minutes he came out grinning ear to ear, gingerly holding the still wiggling arachnid like he was going to keep it as a pet. He cut the stinger off, which confused me — I didn’t understand why he didn’t just smash the little sucker and be done with it. Curiosity got the better of me so I asked Settles what he was going to do with it. He looked at me like I should know the answer, and just before walking away, he answered, “Put it in tequila.” I laughed thinking he was joking and went about my day — permitless by the way. As it turns out, Settles was not joking; he was simply carrying on a tradition that started many years ago during his time as general manager at the famed Casa Blanca Lodge just across the bay.
He tells it this way: “An old man by the name of Elias Vivas had some scorpions and some marijuana soaking in a bottle of tequila when I first arrived at Punta Pajaros 27 years ago. He said that he would apply the elixir to his achy arthritis-ridden joints. That bottle sat there for years, and I would always ask clients to join me for a scorpion. Of course they would always decline (which was OK by me). Those things looked pretty disgusting floating around in that old bottle. However, one night an elderly gentleman came in on the tail end of a conversation [during which] I actually had two of the tequila-soaked scorpions sitting on shot glasses. He automatically assumed that everyone was eating them. So — he slammed one down and then looked at me. What else could I do but follow suit and throw one back myself? I told the staff to make sure to keep an eye on him like a canary in a mine to make sure he was OK. I had no idea what eating a scorpion would do to a person’s system. Lo and behold, all went well and, wouldn’t you know it, the next day he caught a permit. That’s how the tradition started.”
Place shot glasses in the freezer and allow them to frost. Rim the glasses with a lime wedge and cover with salt and chili powder. Pour in the tequila.Drop a scorpion in each glass and garnish with a lime wedge. Hold your nose, close your eyes, consume and, most importantly — enjoy.
Serves 5 Thirsty Permit Fishermen:
- 5 chilled oversized shot glasses rimmed with chili powder and salt
- 71⁄2 ounces of your favorite tequila
- 5 lime wedges
- 5 tequila-pickled scorpions (stingers removed)
- 1 large audience with cameras rolling
I don’t know about you, but I for one have never been much of a bug eater, so I think that I’ll be sticking to more traditional good-luck rituals. Permit have indeed made me lose my mind on many occasions — so who knows, perhaps the next time I’m in the Yucatán and am in desperate need of a supersize dose of luck, I’ll choke down one of these crunchy shots with the hope that it will be accepted as a due paid to put me and keep me in the good graces of the permit gods. Desperate times often call for desperate measures. Until I reach that point, I’m sticking to ice-cold cervezas.