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					     Permit Me to Boast
     According to Simon Penn, Broome’s permit fishery is as hot as its weather.




     I never expected to catch a permit. Ordinary flyfishers just      chased and ate – seems anything will eat a crab – then ran
     don’t do that sort of thing. Catching permit is reserved for      and jumped beautifully, but by the time I had it to hand the
     the doyens of the sport, those who dedicate their lives to        permit were long gone.
     travelling the world seeking out such quarry; fishermen
     who cast a fly vast distances, deliver it imperceptibly, then     My arrival at the same stretch of sand a week later coincided
     twitch it with the dexterity to fool such hallowed prey. To see   with the bottom of the tide. The fishing was decidedly quieter
     a real, live permit in the water after many years of reading      and in several hours I managed just a few small queenfish.
     about these almost mythical creatures is surreal. To be so        Then the permit showed up. A small school of perhaps a
     presumptuous as to cast a fly at it and entertain thoughts of     dozen fish hugged the shoreline, again milling, mooning
     it deigning to bite are preposterous.                             and rolling on the surface as they moved in the opposite
                                                                       direction this time, heading into the broad creek mouth from
     The presence of permit around Broome in the northern              the ocean as the tide rose. With adrenaline coursing, heart
     Kimberley region of Western Australia has been known              palpitating and fingers fumbling I knotted a length of 15 lb
     for some time. Catching them on flies is also nothing new.        fluorocarbon to the end of the 20 lb tippet, taking the leader
     Skipper and guide Dan O’Sullivan perhaps first brought the        out to a good 12 feet, and attached a shrimp fly.
     fishery to prominence with regular captures at Eco Beach
     in Roebuck Bay and north of Broome on the Dampier                 I kept low and well ahead of the fish. But long casts with the
42   Peninsula. More recently local flyfishers such as Troy Sinclair   lengthy leader and weighty fly on an 8 weight rod proved
     and Paul Haddy have put in plenty of work finding fish to the     testy and after only a few casts an inexplicably intricate tailing
     point where they can be reliably located. Non-flyfishers also     loop knot formed in the tippet. With one eye on the fish, I
     tell of incidental captures of ‘pumpkinheads’ while soaking       cut off the knotted section of line and hastily tied on another
     baits or even spearfishing. Apparently they taste delicious.      15 lb section. Haste and knot-tying never make the best of
                                                                       bed-fellows and with some trepidation I resumed casting.
     My own odyssey started on foot along the broad, white, sandy
     beaches of the creek mouths north of town where others            I drew on everything I had read about fishing for permit. Put
     had found permit and, more encouragingly, caught them.            the fly out in front of the moving school. Far enough away
     My arrival coincided with the first of a run-out spring tide as   not to spook them but close enough that they can see it
     the water began moving out of the wide creek. Occupied for        descend. Let it reach the bottom. Now don’t move it. DON’T
     hours catching the small giant herring, queenfish, blue nose      MOVE IT. Resist that itch to strip.
     salmon, trevally, long tom and whiting that flitted about the
     shoreline, I was startled to look up and be confronted by a       Nothing.
     big, dark mass moving along slowly out from shore.
                                                                       A short, sharp strip to catch their attention. Nothing. Wait.
     Surely not. There had to be hundreds of permit in the school      Wait longer. Another short, sharp strip. Nothing. And so on
     as it drifted slowly along parallel to shore. The fish were in    and so on, until the school has progressed past the fly. Then
     a few metres depth but were up on top, sharp fins poking          a sprint up the beach to get back in front of the fish, and
     through the surface of the water and broad flanks flashing        repeat the process.
     in the sunlight as they rolled about. While the school was
     definitely heading somewhere, the fish seemed in no hurry,        Casting at such hallowed quarry, I certainly harboured some
     milling and circling as the great mass moved downstream           hope of catching one. But deep down inside I really wasn’t
     with the tide. The fish were out of casting range but I tracked   expecting success. Far greater anglers than I have been
     them from shore, determined to be ready to let fly the            driven to distraction by the fickleness of these fish. Just to
     moment they moved within range. But when a metre-long             have seen and cast at permit had been a thrill and at this
     queenfish swims by within spitting distance of the sand,          stage I could have happily admitted defeat at the hands of
     what can you do? Will power wilted in the midday sun and I        a worthy foe. So when I felt a solid take you could have
     lobbed a Merkin in front of the queenie and stripped fast. It     knocked me down with a feather.
Striking back to set the hook, the line went limp. The leader            The fish made an initial dash back to the school after feeling
had broken at that iffy knot. Desperate not to lose the steadily         the point of the hook. When the expected sanctuary of the
departing school I tied another fly straight to the end of the           school failed to materialise, the fish made off on a run that
section of leader and managed a few more casts before the fish           was certainly strong, but neither long nor lightning fast,
moved into deeper water, and out of reach. I figured I’d blown           putting the flyline onto the reel but pulling up just short
my chance, but again just getting a hook-up had seemed an                of reaching the backing. From there the fish was worked
achievement, as short-lived as it had been. I could have died            gradually toward shore between shortening runs. With the
happy just knowing I’d tempted one of these fish to strike.              initial hook-up unseen in water more the colour of whisky
                                                                         than the clichéd gin, I had lingering doubts as to whether the
As I trudged back along the same stretch of beach, another               fish was indeed the dreamed-of permit. Undoubtedly many
brown smudge made its way toward me a mere half-cast from                an angler has called ‘permit’ only to be embarrassed by the
the sand, those tell-tale fins waving like flags in the air and          trevally, queenfish or emperor on the end of his line. But as
leaving no doubt as to the identity of the fish. Again the same          those unmistakable dark edges outlining the big v-tail and
routine of casting in front of the school, letting the fly sink to the   proud dorsal fin materialised out of the murky water, there
bottom and sit there, giving it a short, sharp strip as the fish         was no doubt it really was the prized permit. From there it
moved past, repeating the routine until the fly was clear of the         was a matter of being patient as the fish settled into a routine
school, then running ahead and doing it all again. If getting one        of bullocking to and fro just out from the shore before tiring
hook-up on a permit in a session had seemed a momentous                  enough to be dragged onto the sand. It was a modest fish
achievement, a second solid strike left me flabbergasted. And            of just over 60 cm to open my account, but the feeling was
this time the leader held and the fish stayed stuck.                     a mixture of elation and relief.




                                                                                                                                            43
     A DIFFERENT STORY

     Three or so months after that landmark first fish my personal
     permit tally stands at six – admittedly a meagre conversion
     rate given the hundreds of casts I’ve subsequently made
     to hundreds of fish. These are quite different conditions to
     those romanticised in much of the literature, where ultra-
     spooky permit feed over shallow flats, anglers cast to
     individual fish and watch them scrutinise the stationary fly
     before either snatching it up, or more usually turning up their
     nose. The fish I’ve chased are not feeding but are moving
     between locations mid-tide. Where and when they feed is
     still a mystery, but is most likely at the bottom of the tide,
     when they are outside the creeks and offshore or along the
     beaches. On one level their behaviour is predictable and
     seems based around their habit of moving into the creeks
     as the tide rises and then moving back out into the ocean
     as the tide falls.

     On other levels their behaviour varies markedly. At times
     the fish will move through in a huge school of hundreds of
     fish, proudly up on the surface. At other times only a handful
     of fish will make an appearance, coming through in dribs
     and drabs, hugging the bottom, a barely discernible brown
     smudge or the occasional flash as a broad flank catches the
     sun giving them away. The speed at which they move seems
44   linked to tidal movement. On the bigger tides of 8 metres or
     more it can take a good sprint along the beach to get ahead
     of the fish and into casting position while on neap tides with
     only a couple of metres of movement a slow walk can keep
     an angler alongside a school.

     Perhaps most amazingly, they’re very, very difficult to spook.
     I’ve walked and run alongside schools of fish for hundreds
     of metres, raining down cast after cast on their backs from
     close range, and never managed to spook them. At worst
     they might move a little further off shore and sit a little deeper
     in the water.

     With a boat the fish can be followed for longer and into much
     deeper water than wading will allow but the presence of the
     boat does make the fish a little more liable to spook.

     If patience is a virtue, then only the virtuous need apply for
     permit fishing. With roughly six hours between the bottom and
     the top of the tide, the fish can make their way through at any
     time within that window, which can mean a long wait staring
     at water. Once the fish arrive it’s then a matter of persevering
     with cast after cast and trying every retrieve variation.



     LEFT: Permit are the drug of many fly fishers. Their colouration,
     habits and mythical staus means anyone who catches one spends at
     least some time staring, and a lot of time smiling.

     OPPOSITE: Del’s Merkin Crab – the quintessential permit lolly.
                                                                       frustration when nothing was working, a Merkin stripped flat
                                                                       out has even resulted in a hook-up. Incredibly, several fish
                                                                       peeled away from the side of a moving school to chase the
                                                                       fast-fleeing crab imitation. One hit, then another, and a solid
                                                                       hook-up before the fly dropped out mid-run.

                                                                       A 9wt rod is about right to handle the weighty flies and
                                                                       any wind that may spring up. A floating flyline with an
                                                                       intermediate tip helps get the fly down to the bottom even
                                                                       in a couple of metres of water, while the floating running line
                                                                       is easier to shoot when wading and is less likely to sink and
     Plenty of small queenfish and the odd trevally or barracuda       tangle around feet.
     attend the permit schools and, more than happy to snatch
     flies, these too will test your patience. The euphoria felt as    PERMIT PUZZLE
     the line pulls tight quickly turns to disappointment when the
     lack of weight on the other end quickly betrays that it is not    Very little seems known about the biology of permit in
     the hoped-for permit.0 The queenfish are a scourge not just       Australia and there has been some interesting discussion of
     because of the time taken to get them in and release them,        late as to the true identity of the fish being caught here, and
     but because their rough teeth badly chafe the fine tippets        even the possibility of there being more than one species
     used when hunting permit, meaning the fly usually has to be       of permit in Australian waters. The Broome fish seem to
     re-tied – all immensely frustrating to perform as you watch       closely resemble those found around Cape York, with a
     the permit swim steadily out of range.                            more bulbous nose and shorter dorsal fin than the American
                                                                       fish, and perhaps also different to those caught in places like
     WEAPON OF CHOICE                                                  Exmouth and the Great Barrier Reef.
                                                                       The Broome fish also often display the same degeneration
     A 1/0 weighted epoxy shrimp pattern fly has accounted             of the dorsal fins and gill plates as observed in Cape York
     for most of my fish. The fly is roughly based on those            fish, be it from wear and tear or some biological factor.
     developed by Geoff Skinner and Rob Laspina. It’s an
46   epoxy shrimp tied hook point-up and with dumbbell eyes            There are certainly many elements of permit fishing I’m
     tied Clouser-style near the hook eye. More recently I’ve          yet to experience – pursuing feeding, tailing fish in skinny
     turned to that quintessential permit fly – the Merkin crab        water – and that trophy-sized specimen so far eludes me.
     – and have now taken a couple of fish on a 1/0 version.           But having accomplished the inconceivable and actually
     A brief dalliance with size 2 Squimp flies in a couple of         caught permit, I see no reason why I can’t go on to join the
     natural colours drew follows but no touches as yet.               pantheon of greats like the late, great Del Brown. Six fish
                                                                       down, 498 to go.
     Interestingly, all of my fish to date have come on a retrieved
     fly. While the short, sharp strip interspersed with long pauses
     has accounted for most fish, a long, slow draw that drags
     the fly along the bottom has also been successful. In a fit of    ABOVE: Epoxy shrimps have proven effective in the Broome fishery.

				
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