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Coming August 26th – SCOF 52 Ascofalypse Now

Doing Villain Shit in Graceland

As I stood in the bar at Blackfly Lodge, I saw a salon style hanging of 20-plus pound permit hung in every corner of the building. From floor to cupola there was the Golden Bear’s Yeti cup, and many other elites that I dare not mention. Golfer Darren Clarke had pictures with four permit from one day, and six for his entire trip. Surely I was due for a permit having fished for 25 years of my life. In Montana, a guide named Cezanne once chided me, “You are too young to catch a permit,” when I indicated that this feat was my dream. Well, I had grown as an angler since then. So the duality of my spirit that felt I had grace on my side urged me to believe in myself. What did a golfer like Darren Clarke have that I did not have as an angler? A lot, actually.

That feeling you get when you think you lost a large sum of money on a bonefish adventure, only to find that you do in fact have the stones to go, even though your father- in- law is rejecting his new lungs, it is your son’s fifth birthday, and your dad will be transitioning into a home health situation to combat the effects of his Alzheimer’s disease; yes, that feeling is akin to feeling as though your wife may want to get a divorce because she hates your guts and this is revealed with every passing glare made available to you in the halls of my home. One hall is more accurate to the story. To say we have halls plural sounds pretentious as shit. But so does spending copious amounts of coin on you and your father’s bonefish memories during a recession.  

It was going to be the story of my father and I doing one last fishing adventure together in the Bahamian island chain where our love for saltwater fly fishing began. For those who have little taste for expensive bonefish trips, I don’t blame you. When my mom found out that I took so much from the money left to me by my grandfather for a bonefish trip, she quickly exclaimed, “You don’t have the money to take a cushy-cushy bonefish trip!” Maybe I don’t, but it seems like some people just don’t understand why other people pay so dearly for memories, and others fight tooth and nail for survival. This isn’t about the carbon expenditure to pursue bonefish, or the catch and release ridiculousness of trying so hard to feed a self-absorbed permit only to put it back after. We all pay fealty to the rules of conservation because, after all, some future schmo will catch this same fish again for their own taste of a permit memory. In this way, tourist endeavors are of paramount importance to the survival of the species we so love to target in transient ways.  

My father was hospitalized after he caught covid.  It was during his week-long convalescence that I realized he was too frail to make the trip to Abaco. For a while I said screw it altogether, but I couldn’t get the memory investment back, so I started trying my friends wealthy enough to buy it at a discount. Then when that failed, I tried giving it away. This latter effort was the way. My good friend the Dauphin of Mississippi was able to go, and he even had enough scratch for a plane flight, so that cinched it. We would rendezvous on Abaco island at the preeminent lodge in Abaco— Blackfly. 

On the way to the airport my mother called minutes before getting on the plane and told me that my father-in-law was dying, since his kidneys were shutting down. My wife was not speaking to me during this time because she was so royally pissed that I decided to go on my trip anyway. Gecko the photographer was with me, and we were about to board a private plane with our great benefactor, Squire Cobb. If not for Squire, we would not have been given the opportunity to fish at Blackfly because we were not members of this elite bonefish and permit club.  

The Dauphin had never cast at bonefish before, and I had never seen a black-tailed devil before, otherwise known as a permit. Squire was responsible for my bonefish initiation a decade ago, and I had always dreamed of pursuing this fish again. Hurricane Dorian had in many ways set the stage for our adventure in that the lodge I used to frequent many years ago had been razed and the people had been devastated by the force of 185 mph winds. Abaco was a new island to me, and this place when we arrived was like no full service lodge I had ever been to. The warmth of the owners was special, and I had never seen so many permit photographs as I saw in the foyer of the lodge.  

As we arrived they made us so comfortable that the whole time I was thinking I did not deserve this trip to fly fishing Graceland. I am reminded of Unforgiven when Clint Eastwood’s character said “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Gecko suggested before we got on the plane that for a 25-year-old who had not made it financially and a 30-something who was performing a bad Hunter S Thompson imitation that we are actually  the villains in this story.  

In the center of our bonefish adventure was a constant reminder of how Dorian had affected this place. In the middle of the expanse of the mangroves was a gargantuan 70-foot yacht that during the storm had washed into the mangrove jungle with the storm surges. As it turned out, there was an Australian couple who had been stuck on this ship for over three years since the surge. I considered my three-day fishing trip to be a lot different than these people’s trip for the extreme duration of their adventure. They had a dinghy they used to resupply in Marsh Harbor. I tried in my mind to savor every moment of this experience, because in a blink it would be over. I did not have the luxury of being stuck here. After all, my father-in- law was leaving this world.

From day one I tried to catch a permit. The first ray we found flapping its wings with a permit enthroned atop the ray as a remora for crabs kicked up, and this  filled my body and shaking limbs with adrenaline, and I overpowered my cast, flinging the tip of the rod off the midsection and at the fish.  I knew I might only get one more chance. When I did see another, it went better. Probably in my mind only, because I put it right on the fish. He even tailed up and looked hard at the fly. Then this experience was over. It took 10 minutes before the fish was off his feed and spooked off. To me in the permit game that was an eternity and 10 minutes of action I never thought I would be blessed enough to get. So as I considered my villainy, I also felt that this was just God’s grace. The sun shines on a dog’s ass every once in a while and on this day I was that blessed mongrel.  

The next day, I went with Gecko and guide Trevor and we had a proper session. I thought about my family often as I enjoyed all the amenities of a first rate lodge. That does not exonerate my villainy or the choices I made to get here, but as the grayed out ghost of my father’s voice reminded me: “you only go ‘round once, so make it count.” Gecko got the only shot at a permit on day two, and he false casted over the fish and it saw the fly line and totally bugged out. Because we did not have all the time in the world as the Australian mariners had, stuck in the mangrove jungle, we settled in for some bonefish action. Everybody who knows grace understands that it is about as common as a solar flare in a photograph. Bonefishing is like that in many ways because these ghosts of the flats are a “now you see ‘em, and now you don’t” presence. We caught a good number of average sized bones, but we mostly fished for the pinnacle of fly fishing— permit. For these fish they must have smelled the villain on me, because I never saw another one after Gecko blew his fish. As a matter of generosity, I allowed the Dauphin and Gecko to fish together on the last day. I played golf at the Abaco Club, and embraced my inherent villainy. It was an incredible adventure, and I was on the right side of history in my mind only because the duality of life makes us all villains, but we take hero shots, too. That is the secret. 

The last day while playing golf with one of the Blackfly owners, he told a story that resonated with me. After telling me about his spiritual journey to become a joint owner of the lodge, he explained that one day a car washer boy came up to him and said, “God told me to ask you if you know the difference between a level and a dimension?” He said that he did not, and the boy said, “You can’t go to another dimension till you let go of the weight in your heart.” When I heard this I was ready to get home and see my father-in-law. He died hours after my return. It is my hope that he found a dimension called Grace-land.