It was like a dream, a scene so unthinkable and so unimaginable that for a moment I dared not believe it was even happening. I had stalked a single tailing permit from maybe 70 yards away, the large black tail making the smooth shallow water shimmer. My eyes and brain had no other focus than this large solitary permit which was now 40 yards away. I tiptoed over the coral flat with calculated steps, stripping line from the reel, eyes still on the fish. At twenty yards away I decide I can make the cast. I hunch down lower as I gather myself to take the shot of a lifetime when I notice another tailing fish to the left, and another one to the right, and another, and another. I lift my head and look around – I am totally surrounded by dozens of tailing permit in knee deep water and they’re thrashing and splashing as they feed in a frenzy.
I have to take a second to re-evaluate, there are fish only ten yards away now and they’re getting closer. I pick a fish that seems as big as the others and an easier shot than most and pitch the crab pattern four feet from its nose. One long strip and I’m tight on to a fish, my heart bounces through my chest and I stand up with the rod high to keep the leader away from the coral. The water erupts as the hooked fish spooks maybe fifty others, the leader slashes through the meniscus as the fish realises it’s hooked and takes off in a blur of electric blue. Wait, electric blue, what? I had been so focused on my target I hadn’t seen the shoal of Thick Lipped Trevally enter the stage, this one must have eaten the fly from the mouth of the Permit. I’m rarely unhappy to hook a fish, I was definitely unhappy to hook this one.
The coral flats of Poivre are known to provide some of the best Permit fishing in the Indian Ocean, maybe some of the best on the planet. It’s unclear why just so many Permit choose to feed here but this small island on the east side of the Amirantes chain has something that Permit like. The flats here are different to those on St Josephs, with far more hard coral possibly providing a more suitable habitat for the crustaceans that big Permit like to feed on.
Three islands make up the Poivre atoll and actually one of these – Isle De Sud – is larger in land mass than Poivre island. The main island has a small settlement that houses a handful of caretakers and conservationists who watch over the precious ecosystem and maintain the unpaved grass aeroplane runway. The ruined buildings on Poivre hint at a more grandiose past and are oddly juxtapositioned alongside the more modern habitable homes. Rumours are abound that there may be a plan to restore some of these buildings to provide a base for a small number of tourists on the island.
I released the Thick Lipped Trevally and then caught another from the same shoal. They really ought to be called Thick Trevally, they’re an incredibly obliging fish but certainly not what you’re hoping from a shoal of feeding Permit. I also happened upon a large shoal of small Bonefish which is unusual for Poivre, this atoll has a reputation for large solitary bones but I picked off two fish under three pounds from the same shoal.
The flats were filling up nicely with water at around 2pm, the tide pushing through and bringing with it more Permit. A few followed the fly, a few spooked, many did that thing that Permit do – precisely nothing. If the Atlantic Salmon is the fish of a thousand casts then Permit are the fish of ten thousand follicles, you could tear your hair out at their disregard of the most perfect presentation of any fly. I made a lot of shots and didn’t even feel close to hooking a fish.
On a slow trudge back to the boat I found a shoal of four permit in a slightly deeper channel on a barren coral flat. I watched them for a few minutes as they made laps of a small area, almost like a brown trout patrolling his beat. At no point did they feed or even look like feeding but I decided to pitch a fifteen yard cast to the lead fish which was significantly larger than the other three. It was a terrible cast which I over shot by a yard and the large permit became very unsettled, along with two of its comrades. They didn’t flee though, and I noticed that the fourth fish had been unaffected by the commotion. I made a snap cast and dropped the fly beautifully four feet in front of its nose.
I let the fly drop to the level of the fish and gave a long slow strip. The reaction blew me away as his fins bristled and he charged the fly after a few inches of the first strip then sucked it straight in. The line went tight, I strip struck and my first Permit bolted across the flat with incredible power, but then, disaster! The drag on my reel disengaged totally and the spool span freely, pouring line out before jamming itself up and I was now tasked with fighting my first Permit amongst sharp coral while untangling ten yards of line. I’m not often frantic while I fish but this really was desperate, and the possibilty of losing my first Permit because of a kit malfunction seemed very likely. After fighting with my own fly line for thirty seconds I managed to wind it all back on to the reel which still had no drag system. Fighting a Permit is terrifying but fighting one on a click and pawl reel is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. After five minutes of nerve shredding runs, powerful surges and countless leader plinks on the coral I had tail gripped my first Permit!
The pictures are awful, but after a prolonged fight I really wanted to get the fish back as quickly as possible. In hindsight maybe I could have taken an extra few seconds to savour the moment. It was only after I watched the large black tail slide away towards the reef that I gave myself the opportunity to celebrate the occasion, they probably heard my “come on!” back on Desroches! I sat for a minute on an area of exposed flat coral contemplating the events of the previous ten minutes, giggling hysterically at the ineptitudes of the process in comparison to the countless perfect but fruitless casts I had made throughout the day. If you showed a non angler a video of that one cast and hook up they would wonder what the fuss was all about with Permit fishing, the deference and confidence of the take was so out of character for a fish the refuses so often.
Of course that is exactly what the fuss is about with Permit, the sheer surprise that one of them actually ate. I’ve always said I wouldn’t get caught up in Permit fever but that was before I fished on Poivre, and since I now have the enviable record of one day fishing, one eat, one fish landed I just want more and more!
Perfect angling it certainly was not but that afternoon will stay with me my entire life. Poivre Permit Perfection.