(Let's pretend, for the sake of rhyme and nostalgia, that ego is pronounced with a "short e" in this particular instance)
Greetings, from the other side of another stellar saltwater adventure. There's really nothing like leaving the northwest US at the end of a long winter for palm trees and beach-clad islands. Setting here in rainy, gray Boise, Idaho, it's becoming hard not to feel a strange whirring of mixed emotions... pleased to be home and mellow, sad to have had another destination vacation come to an end...grateful to sleep in my own ridiculously comfortable bed, annoyed and blue with the gloomy weather and lack of local tarpon/permit flats. Such is life.
Funny how, for me at least, this mixed bag of diverging emotions kind of naturally brings on a grateful longing for the next adventure and steers me into a kind of reminiscent state....replaying the highs and lows of my recent travel experience.
Belize...well...it never disappoints. And although I've grown quite familiar with the country's southern reaches and its fishy inhabitants, we decided to try something a little different. Different is good. Different is also uncomfortable. I don't know the area. I don't know the guides. I don't know the tourists. I don't know the expectations.
San Pedro Town hadn't really been on my radar as of late..."too touristy...too busy." But then again, adventuring isn't about the familiar, is it? It was time to check my ego and see something I hadn't yet seen...to go somewhere I wasn't familiar with which can be scary in terms of fishing. I mean, we're paying all this money for travel and accommodations and guides...wouldn't it be nice to know what we're getting? Well, sometimes yes. But in fishing, as in life, it's often good to check your ego, to allow the universe to bring it all together...to trust the process...to ease into that which you are not so well versed.
It kind of leaves you feeling vulnerable, but it's amazing what can happen in that state...in allowing to trust and be vulnerable. I'd argue that a lot of folks in the fishing world could probably heed this little nugget of discovery. How often do we head out to the same water, down the same road, with the same flies, and hit the same run? We know it...it's a warm familiar blanket. We feel a bit of control over things (which are actually uncontrollable ergo much of our control is simply the illusion of control).
There's always going to be the longing and the need for your favorite spot. Like a pair of your favorite well-worn sweats, it's a safe and comfortable place to fall back on. But I might urge you to often leave your ego behind in lieu of less familiar things. Discovery of new things should be at the core of what we do. Great things are often just outside your comfort zone.
The ego of the fisher-person is a funny thing. In fact, in all honesty, I've been working through my own web of ego for the last few earthly revolutions. On the last day of my fishing adventure, my amazing wife in tow, I had one of the best/hardest days on the water in a long time.
We left early in search of roaming tarpon...and hit paydirt. The experience of a thrashing sabalo (as the Spanish speaking world calls them) is unmatched. The rush and battle is unlike anything else. As the sun started creeping higher over the mangroves, the crabbing bonefish were plentiful and easy to spot. Before 9:30 we'd boated a tarpon and handfuls of feisty bones.
We figured, well, there's only one thing left to do. So we set out for the turtle grass bottomed shallows in search of the ghost of the flats....them black-tailed devils...the fly-despising permit.
I've been blessed with good fish karma in the past and feel unbelievably fortunate to have landed a handful of permit in past trips. This time, things felt different... never before did I have a real, honest to God chance at a singe-day grand slam.
If you've ever fished for permit, well, you know that you sometimes might as well just call it staring at water with your rod (and fly) in your hand. Sometimes, there's not much action at all...for long, long periods. I've actually seen people refuse to return to fish for permit for this reason. But that's why they're so coveted. They just don't like to eat flies...and I love them for it...the way they get under your skin...the way you wait and wait and wait for an eternity and then finally see a single or a school and everything rides on this flurry of a moment. Sometimes (often times lol) we mess it up. And when we don't mess it up, a freaking porpoise comes in or a bird shadow crosses the school and everything scatters...or the freaking thing swims over, goes face-down on your fly, and decides in that moment that it wanted an olive crab and you were using brown so it just simply turns its nose up and swims the other way. It's heartbreaking....like you've truly tried to do everything in your power the right way, gone above and beyond, but your girlfriend is still leaving you. Pit-of-your-stomach kind of stuff. And there's nothing you can do about it.
It's happened to me more times than I care to remember...that pit-of-your-stomach thing. It's part of the game. Try asking your guide what went wrong and the reply is, repeatedly throughout the trip, "Dat's juss permit, mon." But in that hang-your-head moment, it's time to check the ego. Let go of the illusion of control. Do what you can do. Nothing more is required.
Let's bring the scene back to the flats of north Belize... One tarpon and many bones accounted for. On the hunt for flats ghosts. The sun is high, hot, but we've got a breeze so that's good. The tide is going out and the favorite permit flats will soon be vacated by most. From what I can surmise in just one trip, central and south Belize seem to hold a better population of permit but there are still plenty around the north. After an hour or better, guide Mario finally sees a good school of 15-ish small/medium sized fish. They're working slowly in a large, clockwise circle. We wait quietly for fifteen minutes or so as they circle back and give us a shot from the bow of the panga. After a couple of timid casts placed too far out in front, I finally get the shrimp pattern just a few feet ahead of the school and start the presentation. The line starts to come tight and I go for the strip-set but the hook didn't get any flesh. Damn...but they're not spooked...they continue working in their large circle.
Mario is thinking they might be a little wary of the boat now so he tells me to wade in. Under his instruction I maneuver belly-deep to a grassy patch of sea until I can spot them coming in for a second pass. Mario calls out from the boat and helps me lay a cast right out in front of the school again. I start the presentation and, again, the line comes tight....strip set....and connection! WE ARE STOKED!!! Everyone is joyous and relieved all at once. The fish makes a good run away, slows, and turns for another run. Hooting and hollering.
Then, the wariness sets in as the fish makes a familiar head-shake-motion and turns to come toward me. Our "worst fear" is revealed when it's realized that it wasn't one of the many permit that grabbed the fly but an over-eager and unseen bonefish. Don't get me wrong, bones are nothing to scoff at. But with the permit school thus disappearing just like the tide and the time, well, high hopes for the coveted slam started trickling out the window. Such an interesting juxtaposition of joy and heartache. Here again...time to check my ego.
I had a brilliant day. I spent it with brilliant people in a brilliant setting doing something I love more than most other things I can think of. I had a chance at something personally great and came up a little short. I felt control for so much of the day. I felt as if destiny was on with us. Then, I was reminded of the illusion. That the universe is much greater a power than I.
In fishing, as in many other endeavors, many of us build up an ego. We get familiar, get learned in the art, become well versed in our favorite spots. We compare accomplishments and sizes and numbers...adding feathers to our hat. We create expectations where there should be none. Ego is such a safe place for us to dwell. Maybe, many times, we are fishing for the wrong reasons.
Funny to me... how often fishing often resembles life.