This past month, I backpacked from Nicaragua down to Panama with my 9 wt in hand. Fishing wasn’t the sole purpose of my adventure, but I don’t know how to go anywhere without my fly rod. After weeks of people pestering me about what was in the big metal cylinder on my pack, it finally paid off. It no longer had to be a makeshift bat, but rather the tool I would use to catch the fish of a lifetime.
We were in Bocas del Toro, Panama to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The Bocas are a set of islands off the Caribbean coast of Panama near Costa Rica. Approximately 36 hours into the New Year, one of the most monumental moments of my fishing career came to life.
We were driving down the beach on our way to go “surfing” when I screamed to my friend to slam on the brakes. A school of twenty or more permit had their backs out of the water in the surf feeding in the incoming tide. They were hungry, they were happy and so was I. I grabbed my fly rod from the tailgate of the truck and began tying on a crab pattern. I could barely get the line through the eye of the hook my hands were trembling so bad. As a Florida girl, I have spent countless hours of frustration over the elusive Permit. For those who have been blessed with the unlucky fortune of being on the water with me when I am presented with a Permit, I feel sorry for you. They are my favorite species in the world and my biggest weakness. They continue to mess with my emotions more than any fish in the sea and they generally lead to full-blown spaz attacks consisting of fly line wrapped around my ankles and a hook in my ear. I couldn’t breathe, my body was convulsing, and I blacked out with adrenaline. For well over an hour, I presented an assortment of flies to the Permit. They ignored everything.
For a while, the fish went back into deeper water and disappeared from eyes view. My heart broke but was shortly lifted when they charged back onto the shallow water reef within three feet of my feet. How could I not freak out! It was a fly fisher’s paradise!
Finally, a permit grabbed my fly. I threw my rod tip into the air, nervous my 16lb tippet would fray in the shallow, rocky bottom. 10 minutes later the permit was successfully released and I was rolling around on the beach like a happy puppy with tears rolling down my face. We are all constantly growing within the sport of fishing. Each day brings new challenges, new waters, and new species in which we must understand and overcome. Catching my first DIY permit will forever represent another step in my journey to become a more independent angler, and will be a day I never forget.
Heather Harkavy is a fly angler out of Florida and an ambassador of Fish For Change! Be sure to check out the rest of her adventures, @heatherharkavy on Instagram!