"Seven or eight," he answered. "And we cast to 'em every day. Toughest fish there is."
"How many have been caught on flies?"
"Two," he said, scratching his beard. "Oh, they'll take a fly if it looks good to 'em. Like my ol' daddy used to say, 'It's not the arrow, it's the Injun behind it.' " He grinned at his ol' daddy's wisdom. "You be sure to keep one if you get it. They're sweet as pompano."
"Oh, don't worry," Fred assured him. "He's dead. On the spot. I'm going to cover my body with his blood and do the whole voodoo thing over him and call it Arbona's Revenge." I suppose it was the reference to Indians and arrows that had conjured up that grisly image, but you could see the state Fred was approaching. One could only hope that extremism in the pursuit of permit was no vice.
The next day I caught an octopus, a sea cat, as they call them in Belize. I caught it on a fly. True, I was not actually trying to catch the octopus, but that's part of the mystique of fishing. You never know. Something revolting might happen at any moment.
I was fishing by myself, lagging half a mile behind Kent, Fred and Bennett. We were all wading, but they were out of earshot because of the wind. It was the end of the day. Bennett and I had spent most of the afternoon snorkling for conchs, which would be used in that night's seviche—seafood marinated in lime juice, onions, jalape�o peppers and salt—and I was thinking about a cold rum and tonic. Then, ahead of me, I saw the unmistakable—an open pair of pruning shears bobbing above the surface of the flats. I had stumbled upon a tailing permit.
I had only one fly with me, an imitation snapping shrimp. I cast it into the crosswind. It was not really such a bad cast as to be life-threatening, but it was a very poor cast. My shrimp whistled forward and snapped me on the ear. It deflected onward, blown far to the left of its target. I was checking my ear for puncture wounds when, for reasons that surpass understanding, the permit's scythelike tail began heading toward my fly. I stripped in nervously and felt a tug.
Naturally, I struck. The barb sank in, the rod bent, but nothing moved. I was hung up on the bottom. The permit, meanwhile, was mudding about no more than 20 feet away. I waded over to dislodge my snapping shrimp—quietly, quietly—and could see the fly stuck into a large red rock about three feet below the surface. I tugged, but the fly wouldn't budge. Keeping my eyes on the permit, I slid my hand down the leader, grabbed the fly in my fingers and gave a twist. No dice. As I reached for a better grip, my fingers brushed against the rock.
It was soft. And slimy.
Then the rock changed colors. It went from red to beige.