Post one of our recent trip to Cayo Largo in the Caribbean.
Fly fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit is challenging. Catching all three species in one day, the vaunted “Grand Slam” is even more difficult. When opportunity arises to chase a slam it creates an exciting intensity to fly fishing like no other I have experienced. On our trip my wife Shauna and I had one of the most memorable and exciting fishing days our lives.
Our day started on the shallow flats, bonefish cruising amidst turtle grass on the outgoing tide. The island of Cayo Largo is literally teaming with quality bonefish and the skilled guides have no trouble placing anglers on the right flats. Amauri poled the boat into position numerous times, Shauna and I hooked and landed a few bonefish, in an hour or so the tide has shifted and the fish largely left the flat.
Amauri suggests we have an excellent tide for permit. We are up for it! Cayo Largo is famous for Permit that cruise along with rays picking up small fish, shrimp and crabs that are disturbed by the ray either turning up sand when on the move or while feeding itself. I am up first and have some excellent shots a fish. The idea is to cast the fly near the ray so that the permit thinks the imitation is real and makes a quick decision to eat before he figures out the boat and angler are near by. Permit are extremely cautious and I am pretty convinced the have a human sized brain stuffed into their flat shaped head. I even have a shot at a permit working near two rays. “Double rays” are still not enough for me and I am unable to get the fish to eat. I offer the bow to Shauna she declines, Amauri and I both insist. Amauri later explains he had a vision of Shauna holding a permit on the bow furthering the mystery and unexplainable about the permit. She makes a great cast on her first chance. The fish swims straight to the fly and inhales it. Shauna sets the hook perfectly and gives the fish a couple more hard sideways rod sets until Amauri says, “ok you got him.” Then it’s off the races, the fish runs across the bow and takes at least 100 yards of her gel spun backing. I look down at her reel and it’s screaming line, Amauri is calm and confident unlike his guests who are freaking out and wondering if the permit is going empty the reel before we move the boat. No need, the fish eventually slows, gives way and Shauna gains and loses line for 15 minutes eventually bringing the fish near the boat. Amidst fear panic and excitement Amauri carefully tails the tired permit. Photos are shot, fish unhooked and confessions about the 12lbs flourflex tippet are made. Guides demand anglers use 20lbs tippet when targeting permit, oh well. Celebratory hugs kisses and handshakes are made. I am back on the bow for another 45 minutes of looking and casting practice. We head for a beach side lunch complete with Iquana’s and Jutia.
Once the permit is caught, Cayo Largo guides are on a mission. The Grand Slam is attainable with a tarpon for Shauna and we know we have all afternoon. “We have plenty of time Shauna, I have many spots” Amauri assures. Shauna suggests the permit is enough and she’s happy, but all three of us know the tarpon must be caught and the exciting pressure begins to build.
Into the windless shallow mangroves we go. Twenty to forty pound tarpon weave in and out of casting range. They remind a bit of bears in heavy brush, large creatures making zero commotion, wake or sound in a foot of water. Shauna’s gets a cast close enough to the first small school of tarpon, the largest fish attacks the fly and the battle is on. We are in close quarters now, small mangroves behind and massive bushes with deep undercuts in front. Amauri suggests calmly, “don’t let the fish go into the mangroves.” Easy to say but more difficult to do when you are stripping as fast as you can while melting in the mid day sun with mosquitoes pummeling your back, feet and face. All the while thinking to yourself this is the coolest fishing day ever I just need to get this bloody fish to the boat. The tarpon makes a break for the mangroves, Shauna corals him back towards the boat then another run and jump. Ok things are looking good, he’s close, then a final jump and the hook is tossed back to the boat and the fish swims away like nothing ever happened. “That was a big expletive fish” bigger than the typical baby amidst schools for this spot, “damn that was it, I could have, should have” she’s bummed about losing the fish and ready for the next one at the same time.
Regroup, more bug juice, new fly and let’s find another fish. Poling down the mangrove edge another small school is in range, several hurried, casts later the fly gets into position, the fish eats and it’s the perfect 15-pounder. The tarpon jumps and makes a small run. Shauna is in control of this fish and she strips him to the boat, leader inches from the rod tip, Amauri and I contemplate our reach for the leader and yank to the boat, one final leap from the baby tarpon and again the fish is off. Bleep, Bleep and more Bleep! We discuss tactics, I suggest a straight piece of 60lbs fluro isn’t going to break on a 20lbs tarpon just strip the fish in from the second he eats it. Amauri agrees but indicates he is hesitant to suggest that to a female angler. Not to worry I say Shauna can cope. He says ok, “next time just strip the fish to the boat”.
More casts in the general area and no luck finding an eater. We move to another area, meanwhile the grand slam clock is ticking. Amauri remains calm. Shauna is still pissed about the last fish that got off at the boat. The fish that would have completed her grand slam and given her the best fishing day of her life, at the same time relieved her of the self imposed slam pressure. It was seriously exciting to watch.
Our next mangrove back bay presents a similar situation. A pod of baby tarpon cruising in ambush formation becomes visible. Shauna gets a good cast to them and one of the fish blows the fly up! Without hesitation Shauna sets the hook, begins stripping and once the leader gets close to the rod tip hoists the still confused tarpon into the boat. Yes into the boat! Now the 15lbs tarpon is flopping wildly on the bottom of the boat, attempting to break all the rods and coat the boat with feces, blood and muck. It was awesome! We are all laughing and getting out of the way at the same time. Amauri gains control of the fish for a quick photo and the Slam is completed. Shauna is thrilled, soaked in sweat tarpon goo, sunscreen and bug juice. Mission accomplished!
Throughout the day the radio chatter let us know that Joan McCreery was having a great day as well. I can’t speak in detail about how it all came together but the order of events were different. Joan caught her permit first, tarpon next and her last fish was a bonefish. She to was satisfied with just the permit and tried to decline the slam attempt. Guide and boat partner encouraged her to go for the Grand Slam and she did it! Joan, we would love to hear about your day in depth and congratulate you on your Grand Slam.