Swapping his usual solo, on-foot exploration for a guided skiff at the Palometa Club in Ascension Bay, Peter Coetzee had to get to grips with his mind before he could get to grips with big, fly-spitting Atlantic permit in Mexico.
Chapter 1: Chaos
It took me about two years to learn to meditate successfully. I was absolutely horrible at it. Eventually I learned to recognise the thoughts in my mind. When I did so, I was absolutely shocked at the amount of noise rattling around in the old processor of mine. Laminated cupboards, an embarrassing moment from childhood, the hexagonal lattice of graphene, you name it. In time you learn to acknowledge each of these, and with it, eventually the ability to clear the noise.
Of every thing I’ve ever learned to do in my life, nothing has come close to the power of this. I’m engineering-minded, so sometimes I’ll find the most bizarre solutions to problems I didn’t even know I had swirling around in my mind, taking up previous processor power. That feeling of overwhelming anxiety you have in static moments is often just this – too much going on in your head.
By now you’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this. But, standing on the bow of a 23-foot panga being poled around Ascension Bay hoping for a miracle, presents yourself with an absolute assault on your brain.
That first shot of the day is generally not a problem, you’ve overcome yesterday’s demons, you’ve cleared your head, calmed the noise and a big cast at a big fish results in a charge and follow.
But forget the zen of solo pursuit, calls coming off the bow are diametrically opposed to your experience and your instincts, and you quickly realise you have an excess of stimulus and a deficit of confidence.
“Long strips, bump, bump, loooonng. Stop it. He ate!”
You set on the guide’s command, but nothing. You watch that giant permit you’ve been dreaming of your entire life kick away uninterested. Was it the fly? Was it the strip? Did it hear me? Was it hull slap? Could I have really not felt the eat even though I was fully in contact with the fly?
You look around at your guide and ask what you did wrong. He shrugs, knowing you followed his command. The pressure builds, and after a few of these moments, everything in you is making that casting arm quiver. You’re now in a war with yourself.
Ideas flood into your head. How do I engineer a fly to not be spat? How do I change that strip? I replay every moment in my head 50 times looking for a hint. There was music playing, was that reverberating through the water? But you have to find that calm, you have to get back to a place where every fish is the first fish, where no guide exists, nobody else exists, you have to get back to monk mode.
“I’m becoming my absolute worst nightmare”
My first few days I let it all get to me. I’m on holiday, so I don’t use any of my little brain tricks to clear it out. And then I realise I have to. I’m becoming my absolute worst nightmare; my mind is just questions and no answers. The theme of what’s going on inside? Doubt.
On foot, solo, I’ve been able to blame myself – blame my lack of distance for lack of shots, blame the weather, blame that wave, blame that bonefish that stole the fly from in front of that fish. Now I’m presented with what was to be the most prolific big permit fishery for Atlantic permit, I’m spoon-fed multiple shots every day, and the only common denominator in not bringing that big fish home is me.
Chapter 2: The false hypothesis
Permit fishing this way is the least intuitive experiment you will ever run. Yesterday they only ate on the pause, today they’ll refuse whatever stops. The fish from today won’t be in this bay tomorrow, they are an agonising reminder that every assumption is incorrect.
Read the rest of Pete’s story in The Mission Issue 42 below – gratis como siempre.