First Steelhead AND Permit … In The SAME WEEK! – John Repoza

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I Still Can’t Believe I Caught My First Steelhead and Permit in the Same Week.

December was an amazing fishing month for me. It started with a trip to upstate New York to fish for steelhead. I have a great friend who has been trying to get me up there for a couple of years and it finally all came together. Living in Charlestown Rhode Island I usually hunt for a different quarry-one with stripes that lives in the salt water- but I have wanted to steelhead fish for years. 

The trip started on Friday with a 3 ½ hour drive to Albany NY to pick up my friend Brian. Then we headed for Rochester, which was another 4 hour drive. Our fishing destination was some small tributaries off lake Ontario. This is Brian’s home waters – he has been fishing these rivers for over 20 years. We arrived  at 1am to what would be our home base for the weekend: a rustic apartment above a tackle store which seemed perfect  to me and I was like a kid in a candy store. The accommodations were simple: 3 bedrooms with bunk beds, a shared living area, TV and the all important coffee maker. We set the alarm for 5:30, although I have never needed an alarm clock to wake me when I am getting up to fish. 


The first day we fished in downtown Rochester – not the most beautiful setting but the river made up for it. We fished below a dam and it was like standing under the shower with the cold water on high. This is only the second time I have done this type of fishing so I had I lot to learn. I  was amazed at how small the flies were that Brian had tied for fish that could reach up to 20 pounds. The other things I had to get the hang of were how exact you had to be with the amount of weight you put on, and how to use tippets of only 6-8 pounds for such big fish. Nymphing is not something I have done much of, so it wasn’t until Saturday that I finally got a feel for “the bounce” that Brian kept trying to explain to me. Once I developed the feeling for the bounce, the next piece of the puzzle was detecting a bite, which was so subtle I missed the first few fish. When I finally felt a good strike I got so excited that I forgot about the size of the fly and tippet and snapped everything off. My fly line came shooting back at me and slapped me right in the face. 

Brian, on the other hand, was an old pro who showed me the ropes and landed several fish in short order including the biggest brown trout I have ever seen. We decided to take a lunch break and while we sat on the back of my car eating we reviewed the morning. I felt like it was only a matter of time before I would land my first steelhead. We returned to the river after lunch and I started working some pools Brian had done well in. On my third cast upstream about halfway through the drift I felt a slight hesitation in my line and swept the rod to the right as Brian had shown me. Nothing had prepared me for what came next. These fish  go crazy when hooked and totally unpredictable. The fish made a mad run downstream, almost ripping the rod out of my hand while trying to spool me. At some point he decided the best plan of action was to come straight for me. I thought I had lost him but Brian kept  saying ,“he’s still on, keep reeling.” I finally got tight to him again and we battled for several more minutes. We were both tired at that point and he finally came to the net with that tiny fly hanging out of the side of his mouth. I rested him and thanked him for playing this game I love and sent him on his way.


Now For Something Completely Different

I returned home on Sunday night to pack for the next part of the week. I was heading to Florida on Thursday to fish with another good friend. I have been doing this for the last couple of years and it’s always a great time. My friend Dave moved to Florida 4 years ago and he has spent plenty of time on the water doing his homework. 

I have been trying to meet Mr. Permit for a long time but the weather gods haven’t been kind and I am not well versed in sight fishing. I have found Mr. P to be a tough customer. He can drive you to drink or at least to use some very colorful language on the front of the boat. The few previous shots I have had for him where iffy at best. You are trying to calculate distance, wind, and current and anticipate which way this ghost of the flats will turn all in the span of a few seconds, which leaves very little room for error.

With all of this running through my mind, I boarded my 7am flight to Ft. Lauderdale.  I arrived at 10:30 and my buddy drove up to the curb the second I walked through the door, always a good start to any trip. We headed to his house to grab lunch, and to hook up the flats boat. We were on the water by noon this always amazes me. It was a warm sunny day and it felt great to be hot after a weekend dressed in 4 layers of clothes standing in a freezing river. 

Dave and I had the same goal in mind for this trip – to get me my first Permit. We also had realistic expectations since he has never boated one in December. Fortunately, South Florida was experiencing record heat, and water temperatures were rising, a good sign for this time of year.  Dave fishes for permit a lot, and is one of the most generous people I know. He rigged up a live crab, I got up on the casting platform, and the search was on. Searching being the key word because if you don’t see the fish before he sees you, you probably won’t have a shot at him. So we started looking and looking and doing more looking. What are you looking for? Something that doesn’t quite look right. It’s like playing that kids game, finding what doesn’t belong in this picture? After a while, your eyes are starting to play tricks on you and soon everything looks like a fish. We spent 4 hours looking, but all we saw was a couple of maybes and a lot of sharks.

We staked up the boat. It was time for lunch and to give our eyes a much needed rest. While we were finishing our sandwiches, Dave remarked that we were running out of light and would have to call it soon. I said, “Dave all I need is a little light, a decent cast and willing fish.” It was then that Dave uttered the words I’ll always remember, “Fortune favors the brave.” and we headed back to the cut where we thought we had seen something earlier. I resumed my post on the casting platform on the bow of the boat. As Dave poled us across the channel onto the flat where we had started the afternoon, I noticed something out of the corner of my right eye. I didn’t have time to think; all I could do was react and send a cast sailing in front of whatever it was I thought I saw moving.

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What followed was like a dream, forever logged in my memory for the rest of my life. It was a Permit and he was feeding. I got lucky, my crab landed in his line of vision and he lit up on it like a Christmas tree engulfing my offering. I set the hook and Mr. P headed for Cuba at mach speed sizzling off 100 yards of line in the blink of an eye.  I started yelling, “Dave I’m going to be in trouble soon!”, as I watched my line disappear at an alarming rate. Dave jumped down from the casting platform, started the engine, and the chase was on. We finally caught up to him as he hit the deep water, at which point he decided to turn sideways and use his body type to his advantage. Then he hit the shallows and took several more knuckle-cracking runs before I was able to get him alongside the boat where Dave grabbed him by the tail and hauled him in. I had finally caught my first permit. It took several minutes for this to sink in. We got some great shots of him before this warrior was revived and released. We rode back to the ramp as the sun was setting and Dave turned to me and said, “That’s your Christmas miracle.” I can’t thank all my friends enough for sharing this game we all love called fishing.

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– John Repoza





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