(Photo: Christine_Kohler/Getty)

A Foolhardy Quest for the Holy Grail of Fly-Fishing


Chasing the elusive permit fish is an exhausting endeavor for the most seasoned anglers. So why would a total newbie even try? That was the question facing Paddy O’Connell, who was invited to fish for permit at the spectacular Blue Horizon lodge in Belize with a legendary guide. Paddy had always embraced adventure, but like a lot of outdoor athletes, he hated being terrible at new sports in front of other people…which meant that this trip would be a radical—and likely painful—learning experience, no matter what.

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.

Michael Roberts: From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast.
One of the great perks of working for Outside or other media outlets in the adventure and travel space is supposed to be the junkets. All kinds of companies, from tour operators to gear makers to fitness brands, invite writers and producers and editors on trips as a way to show off their wares. The idea being that they can hopefully convince us that the stuff they make or the place they want tourists to visit is awesome. And then we cover it in our magazines and videos and podcasts.
Media companies have all sorts of protocols about junkets, but a general rule is that journalists can't promise coverage. We're not being bought off; we're being given a chance to check something out for ourselves, and then share what we honestly think.
I'm Michael Roberts, and in my many years at Outside I've gotten some extraordinary invitations. I was once given a chance to go heli-skiing for a week in British Columbia, which I couldn't do because I was getting married. Did I bring up the possibility of postponing the wedding with my fiance? No comment.
But no invitation I've ever heard about beats the one that producer Paddy O'Connell received early this year. In January, Orvis, the fly fishing and sports apparel company, reached out to him with this question: If we sent you two bags of fly fishing gear and said grab your passport, would you be willing to go to the airport having no idea where you were headed?
Lucky for Paddy, he was already married, so he said yeah, absolutely. But here’s the catch: he didn't know squat about fishing.
Paddy: Ah, Jesus Christ. God, how many more ways is it possible to fuck this up?
Michael: Many, many ways, actually.
Paddy: Man, I feel like I'm getting my ass kicked.
Michael: Naturally, there's a good story in all this. It's about chasing one of the world's most elusive fish in a tropical paradise. But really, it's about what we learn when we take that chance to push our limits and try something new.
We start with Paddy in the car on the way to the airport, when his wife, Carly, reads him the email announcing where he's going.
Carly: Your Orvis trip destination is in your inbox. You'll be embarking tomorrow too Blue Horizon Lodge in Belize.
Paddy: I'm going to Belize?
Carly: Yes.
Paddy: Yes!
NARRATION: So this is my surprise adventure: saltwater flats fly fishing. I'd be under the tutelage of legendary Belizean fly-fishing guide Lincoln Westby. And when I say legend, I mean it. Lincoln's parents were lighthouse keepers and he was born on the open ocean while his folks tried to get to the hospital on the mainland of Belize. Seriously.
Lincoln is 81 years old, has been guiding since 1971, and he founded Blue Horizon Lodge in 1997 inside the protected waters of the South Water Key Marine Reserve, in an area called “Permit Alley” because of the abundance of permit fish.
Paddy: Permit fishing. What's a permit?
Carly: It's a fish.
Paddy: Are we pronouncing this incorrectly? How do you spell it?
Carly: Permit.
Paddy: like P-E-R-M-I-T.
Carly: Yeah.
Paddy: Permé Fish. Is it Permé Fish? Am I an idiot? Am I supposed to know what that is?
Paddy: If you also don't know what the hell a permit is, let me help. The permit is a tall, thin, silvery-blue game fish of the western Atlantic Ocean that kind of looks like a serving platter with a giant eyeball, elongated dorsal fin, and deeply forked tail. Adults feed on crabs, shrimp, and smaller fish. And they can weigh anywhere between 6 to 40 pounds.
Carly: According to this, it says, permit are definitely one of the most difficult fish to catch.
Paddy: Oh my god.
Carly: They get moody and sulky and will sometimes just flat out refuse to cooperate.
Paddy: Oh, an emotional fish. Mm-hmm.
I am nervous that I'm going to greatly disappoint this guide. I'm grossly under prepared for this.
Paddy: My anxiety was elevated when I learned that Lincoln had earned the nickname "the permit master." He's said to have helped anglers hook 6,000 permit and land 2,000 of them.
Me? I've only fly fished for trout in the narrow rivers that snake through the Colorado valley I call home about 5 times in my life. And while it is true that I love an adventure, I do not love being terrible at new things in front of people I don't know. I hate it, because it scares me.
Paddy: So basically I'm flying to Belize for. Hardcore fly fishing beginner, beat down.
Carly: You're gonna have a great time. Yeah. I mean, you’re gonna have a great time. Are you going to catch a fish? Well, you're definitely going to fish.
Paddy: Afterall, it's called fishing not catching, right?
Anyway, here we go.
Flight attendant: Ladies. Gentlemen, we'd like to be the first to welcome you to Belize City. The local time is 1228.
Paddy: Getting to Blue Horizon Lodge required flights on several planes.
Then, after landing in Placencia, a beach town at the southern tip of the tiny Placencia Peninsula.
I meet other anglers who will join me on the boat ride to the lodge: Nick and Rianna, and Brian and Margot. Nick and Rianna fly fish saltwater flats every chance they can near their home in Corpus Christi. And Brian, Nick's childhood best friend, has been fly fishing for a handful of years now. Margot is a beginner just like me. But I still feel like the trip's only novice.
We all try our best to get to know one another on the 25 foot boat.
Paddy (field tape): Holy cow!
Paddy: But it's a bumpy ride.
Paddy (field tape): All good.
Paddy: After 16.5 sea miles we arrive at Blue Horizon, which is located on Northeast Key, within the reserve.
Travel: Welcome to Blue Horizon what's your name?
Hi, I'm Paddy.
Travel: Paddy. Nice to meet you.
Paddy: Nice to meet you.
Paddy: Isa, the Lodge's manager, shows me to my room, which is about ten feet from palm tree-lined sand and the prettiest turquoise water I've ever seen. Nick, Rianna, Brian, and Margot rig rods and get to fishing. And I do what any non-fly fishing human would do. I immediately pull on my trunks and a snorkel.
Paddy: I saw so many flipping fish. Translucent ones, blue ones, ones with like silver streaks and all on 'em. Big ones, small ones, medium sized ones. Ones that looked like footballs, ones that looked like pancakes, ones that looked crazy.
I saw a little crab hanging out on a rock, like trying to pretend it was a rock. Hi there, little crab. I see you little crab man. I don't know if I'm gonna catch any fish, but I'm gonna swim with them.
Paddy: In case you can't tell, I am ecstatic. But only because at this point I am unaware that the next three days will bring me the closest I've been to sports-induced tears since tee ball in 1988 when I was 4.
It starts raining that night and continues pounding through morning.
At breakfast, I drink coffee with my fellow fisher people, and meet the legend himself, Lincoln Westby.
Lincoln: Lincoln.
Paddy: Lincoln. Hi Paddy. Yeah. Very nice to meet you. Yeah, I'm very excited about this.
Lincoln: Okay. Okay
Paddy: Once the weather finally breaks around noon, we head out on a skiff to the flats that surround Blue Horizon.
When we get to the first flat, which is essentially where the sea floor rises toward the surface making a sandy pancake covered in inches or a few feet of water, Lincoln kills the motor. And Damon, Lincoln's young apprentice and first year guide, uses an 18 foot push pole to maneuver us silently.
It doesn't take long for Lincoln and Damon to put me onto some permit.
Damon: Permit like 400 feet. We up on the corner
Paddy: Damon poles the skiff to within 50 feet of the permit. The fish are tailing: lifting their forked back fins above the surface like a waving paper fan rising from the shallows. They do this when they're digging for crabs and shrimp on the flat.
Damon tells me to cast toward 11 o'clock. For a moment, I have this vision that I will have the ultimate beginner's luck and land a monster on my first cast. So I swing the rod back, lurch it forward and... well...
Damon: Um, you don't, you haven't cast a fly rod before?
Paddy: Not really. No.
Damon: Not really. No. Okay.
Paddy: I really don't know what I'm doing here.
Damon: I'm gonna show you.
Paddy: All right. Thank you.
Paddy: It's a miracle the fly even hit water. I am desperately embarrassed. But both Lincoln and Damon are incredibly gracious and patient with me. And thank God.
Lincoln: I go from here. 10 o'clock. Yeah. Back to two o'clock.
Damon: Keep the same rhythm. Don't change rhythm.
Lincoln: Try to get it straight all the time.
Damon: Don't let go of the line until you get in tight. Then we let go and shoot.
Lincoln: I've got my elbow wide. Yeah, right. Okay. Forward back weight. Forward.
Damon: Pull it, pull it. Don't go, but don't go far back. Yeah. You pull it and then you just stop.
Paddy: have you had a lot of criers ever before Lincoln?
Lincoln: Wait until it is loaded. Yeah. And you feel a little weight. Then you go forward.
Paddy: hold the rod tight. Hold the line tight. Hold the line tight.
Damon: 1, 2, 1, 2.
Lincoln: I'm using the water to load the rod. Hold the line right there. All right. Right there. Hold the, catch the fly. Bring it, the fly, until you get the fly.
Paddy: Don't try too hard. Don't think too much. Just remember everything. Go by feel, but also don't forget.
Paddy (narration): Even if you follow all the instructions, you have to deal with a multitude of other obstacles. Like the wind that rips across your body and twirls your back cast like a corkscrew sending your fly on a high speed collision course with your hamstring.
Paddy: It is hitting the shit outta my leg.
Paddy (Narration): And then there's the rain.
Paddy: Beautiful weather you have here in Belize.
Paddy (Narration): Then there's the unreasonable distance needed just to get the fishies' attention.
Paddy: There's absolutely no way I can get this thing over there.
Paddy (Narration): And the fact that when they're not tailing, permit seem invisible.
Paddy: See them? No, I gotta tell you, Damon, all I see is water. I feel like I don't have the right eyeballs for this sport.
Paddy (Narration): Even the wildlife seems to be mocking me.
Paddy: You hear that bird laughing at me? Yeah. He's like, how many times are you gonna hit yourself with that fly, dummy?
Paddy: But the hardest part of all? Listening to the nagging voice in my head that tells me I suck
Paddy: Well, no wonder sailors swear as much as they do. They're probably fishers too. Jesus fucking Christ. This is hard
Paddy (Narration): Oh wait, there's more. Say you actually spot the elusive permit, and say you even make a good cast. Well, according to Isa, Blue Horizon's manager, you've only just begun.
Isa: Everything needs to be perfect to catch it, Make that fly. Move the correct way, or mimic what it resembles. Yeah. And if they're not hungry, they just give you a tail even the best casters out there. We have people that are for 18, 20 years still looking for one.
Paddy: Really?
Isa: Yep.
Paddy: Lincoln calls permit "the ghost of the flats." He believes that as much as fishers study them, the fish study us. When I ask him what he means, he tells me that permit know to listen for waves lapping the boat, they can hear the crunch of feet wading the flats and the sound of your fly, a masquerading crab or shrimp, hitting the surface. They can even see the flash of the fly line in the sun.
Lincoln even once let go a perfect 60 foot cast and had a permit coming up on his fly, until a hiding second permit zapped in for the rescue.
Lincoln: All of a sudden, the other one came up. He went straight over to the fish that was up there and bumped him and actually watched him bump that other fish until he turned around and they boated him, swim up at that flat.
Paddy: So he is like, he was like, Hey, we gotta get outta here.
Lincoln: That's time to go. Seriously. I have witnessed that. It's unbelievable that a fish can get that smart. Yeah. But they do.
Paddy: In your opinion, is it the smartest fish in the ocean?
Lincoln: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Paddy: Now, let's say you actually get a permit to fall for your fly. Well, that's really only the start of your challenge. Damon tells me that permit don't have teeth and therefore don't bite. Instead, the fish suck in their prey and have what Damon calls crushers in the back of their mouths for pulverizing their grub.
Damon: If he get, gets it in the crusher before you set him, then it's gonna be too late.
The hook is gonna go sideways or the fly is gonna crush. Or he's already spit it out before you set.
So that's why you want to strip back instead of lifting up Yeah. On the tip. You strip the line back to set it. Yeah. If you lift, If you lift up the fish is gonna feel the, the line on its mouth and it's just gonna spit it out.
Paddy: I tell Damon that trying to catch a permit seems like the most maddening of activities. Like it's crazy. And, he agrees with me. As he explains it, catching a permit is 75% dependent on the angler doing everything exactly right.
Damon: 75% of permit fishing is on you as the angler.
Paddy: Yeah.
Damon: Right? And the other 25. It's on him.
Paddy: But if I have a hundred percent luck?
Damon: Then you're probably gonna get one too.
Paddy: Maybe you're thinking that the two greatest liars in the world are meteorologists and fishers. But this isn't just Blue Horizon folks inflating the extreme challenge of catching a permit. As I would come to find out, this is a well known fact in the fly fishing world.
Tom Bie: You started on the double black diamonds. I mean, you, you, you, I mean you did, you went permit fishing. You know, saltwater fly fishing in general is much more difficult than, than trout fishing.
And then you picked one of the hardest fish there are to catch.
Paddy: This is Tom Bie, the owner, publisher, and editor of The Drake Fly Fishing Magazine.
Tom: But you know what, just like in skiing, you know, you may have that one of those days where you're just absolutely feeling it. You go out there, all the conditions are just right and you just nail it.
You may make your cast, to what you think is bonefish, and you may land a 20 pound permit and it happens all the time.
Paddy (Narration): As it turns out, I would get my chance to tangle with the smartest, most elusive, most difficult fish to catch in the ocean.
Paddy: God, it was right there. God.
That just made me feel awesome and it broke my heart all at the same time. Is that just fishing? Yeah, that's, yeah, that's fishing. Oh, great.
Paddy (Narration): More fishy hearthrob and heartbreak, after this.
Paddy: My first two days fly fishing at Blue Horizon Lodge in Belize are spent going through painful if not hilarious moments of instruction, like when apprentice guide Damon stands behind me, takes my hand in his, and assists my movements. Think a fly fishing remake of the pottery scene from the movie Ghost.
Damon: Forward, stop forward.
Paddy: Oh, Damon I just need you behind me the whole time. That's it. And then I'll be great. You and me are gonna be dance partners here.
Paddy (Narration): There is a moment when the elusive permit is so close I can bop it on the head with my flip flop, like so close you can hear its tail splash.
Damon: Drop your rod kit strip. You see the permits right down there.
Paddy: But when you're a beginner like me, casting a fly rod is like playing darts with cooked spaghetti. I blow that shot too, in case you're wondering. But I get hilariously and heartbreakingly close to landing a bonefish a handful of times.
Paddy: Oh! Oh, They're, they're right there man. Oh god. Oh. Ah, Damn it!
God. Lincoln, how have you done this for 50 years, man?
Paddy (Narration): In my defense, there are only 200 of them about 6 feet away from me.
There are also many, many, many moments when, after hours silently polling the skiff around the flats looking for the minute signs of permit, I get over excited and screw things up in seconds.
Lincoln: See him?
Paddy: Uh, yeah.
Damon: You gotta turn your body too. Don't right up. Pick it up on.
Paddy: Oh fuck God.
Damon: Slow down.
Paddy: Ah, fucking a man.
Lincoln: Yo, you got to keep going.
Paddy: No, I'm all tangled up.
Paddy (Narration): I am referring to my fly line and my emotions there.
Here's the thing: I fancy myself a pretty capable athlete. I was a Division I lacrosse player in college, I skied for the first time at 22, made ski patrol at 24, spent my 20s and early 30s boating frothing rivers, and running mileage typically reserved for car rides. I'm no billy badass, not even close. I just like tough shit, because difficult outdoor pursuits and big physical-mental challenges are a part of who I am.
But I also hate, with a capital H, not being good at something new right away.
But when it comes to fly fishing for permit on saltwater flats, according to Tom Bie from The Drake, getting your ass kicked is kinda the whole point.
Tom: You're, you're obviously choosing the hardest way to do this to begin with, and you're targeting the hardest fish there are to catch on a fly.
Paddy: Yeah.
Tom: That's all part of the equation. You know, it's all part of what makes it feel so good afterward.
Even when you do everything that you wanted to do, put that cast right where you wanted to do, and they will just follow that thing all the way into you and just almost look at you and then swim away.
Tom: On days when you just, when you can't get anything, you put the fly right in front of 'em and they don't eat, they don't break the stride.
They just keep swimming the same direction, same speed. Then you just feel like, what am I even doing out here?
It's one of the oldest jokes in the book, you know how the fly comes up and just, oh, I was looking for a black and red feather. This is black and orange feather.
The frustrating part is the next day it might be the other way around.
Paddy: Right. Yeah.
Tom: It can be a win just to have one turn and recognize your fly. That means that, that you've, at least they've seen you fly and you've garnered their attention. That in itself , it's all you can ask for on some days. To get a follow, say 30 yards out and moving left to right, and they stop and turn and will look and follow your fly for a, I mean, you will, you will never forget that moment. That visual of that fish turning. It'll be more memorable to you than the moment of like, grabbing the fish if you get it in. I mean, there's something about that visual aspect to it. It's just, it's heart stopping.
Paddy: At the end of my second day fishing, after countless blown chances and crappy casts, I get a taste of what Tom describes. Damon makes permit magically appear with a whistle.
Paddy: You calling him?
Damon: Yeah.
Paddy: Permit.
Lincoln: Take the shot. Take the shot.
Paddy: Are you kidding me? Did that whistle actually work?
Paddy (Narration): Yes, yes it did. By the time I cast, the permit has already begun to swim away. But Damon has, ahem, turned the tide on our luck. See what I did there?
Not long after the whistle incident, Damon spots another. I can't see it but I blind cast and actually get my fly near the sunnofagun.
Paddy: I'm gonna call that a victory. Even though he didn't nibble at it. That's a victory for a guy like me.
Paddy (Narration: At the last flat of the day, nicknamed Home Flat for its vicinity to Blue Horizon, I get another shot. And this time, I throw my best cast yet. But still...
Oh, they were right there. They were right there. They were right there, man.
Lincoln: You improve, you are improving it bit by bit. Ah, see you doing better, better, better. And it happened, then it happened that those two shot there, the distance was that last one was perfect distance.
Paddy: Oh, Lincoln, you're making my day with that.
Paddy (Narration): Lincoln tells me this is just how it goes with permit, that they'll make you happy, but they'll also…
Lincoln: Make you cry, it makes you want to die.
Paddy: I, I felt all of those things today. Sometimes all at the exact same time.
Lincoln: If you like to catch a lot, that was not your game.
Paddy: It's not yeah.
Lincoln: And if you can't take embarrassment. Again, it's not your game.
Paddy: Yeah. I'll have to say, this is the prettiest place I've ever had my ass kicked.
Paddy (Narration): Before I arrived in Belize, I assumed that 81 year old Lincoln Westby lives for the heart pounding moments when the permit follows the fly. Afterall, he's devoted his life to this fish.
The first permit he ever caught, well he fell in love with his guide and married her. She came up with the idea for Blue Horizon Lodge. And, Lincoln has worked with the Belizean government to protect the permit and the water around Blue Horizon.
Lincoln: I have a lot of respect for these fish. Because of the behavior and the importance of having these fish in the country. You know, like one permit alive right, is worth around 180,000 US dollars to this country.
Paddy: Just one permit?
Lincoln: Just one permit in his lifetime.
Paddy: Because of how many people are trying to catch them.
Lincoln: Trying to catch that one fish. You catch him, I release him.
Paddy (Narration): I am shocked to find out that the Permit Master himself has in fact not fished for permit on his own in over five years. In Lincoln's view, it's the least he can do for a fish already battling persistent threats from climate change, habitat loss, and illegal gill netting. Fly fishing isn't considered a problem, but why add any more unneeded pressure?
Lincoln: I only go out there and fish when I'm guiding. I feel like it's right to leave them alone.
Paddy: For Lincoln, fishing permit is his legacy and the fish itself is the greatest teacher he knows.
Lincoln: The first thing they teach, teach you is to be patient. Ah, very patient. And, and having patience is what, what makes good friendship? Because if you have patience, you're going to be able to teach. If you don't have patience, you can't teach.
Paddy: Right.
Lincoln: You know? And I, that's what taught me, uh, how to live, I think, with other people and to make good friends with people.
It's like my wife, you know, is like, aren't you tired of talking about permit?
I tell her, no, that's my life, you know, that's what I live for. What I'm putting into these guides will continue on forever.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: And I'm going to be here forever.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: I may die, but I'm going to be here forever. You know, guides are going to be pulling those flaps.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: And they got, Hey, that's, Lincoln over there. You know?
Paddy (Narration): I try my damnedest to remember patience, understanding, and acceptance back at the Lodge at the end of day 2, when I find out that everyone seems to be faring better than me. By a lot.
Nick: Hook him again. Bring him all the way in. Brianna goes to hop outta the boat with the net. She's like, I got the net. I was like, nah, I don't need a net. I'm a badass.
Brianna: I said, let me help you. Let me help you.
Nick: And I lost the trigger fan. I had him in my hand. I'm like trying to get him. He's at my feet. I'm like tickling his belly, and the moment–
Paddy: Did you guys have any shots at the permit?
Nick: Yeah, we had a couple, uh, a couple come up on it. Chase it down and then just, not even.
Paddy: Did you land any fish though?
Brian: Bonefish. Yeah, so we, we each got three or four, uh, bonefish this morning, and then after a lunchtime we–
Paddy: Margo got some bone fish too? Yeah. Really? Yeah. That's awesome. What did it feel like to land some fish?
Margo: I felt like a little kid in like a candy shop. I was just ecstatic.
Paddy: How many fish you get? Three?
Brian: Is it?
Margo: Did I get four?
Brian: I think you got, you got four.
Margo: I got four. And then I got, you got more than I did cuz you did, you got like five.
Brian: Four or five.
Paddy (Narration): Oh, I've just caught so many fish I've lost track. I suck. I've got to catch a damn fish. At night, I dream of Lincoln's instruction and philosophy.
In the morning, Damon and Lincoln put me onto some feeding jack fish about twenty feet from the boat. I make two great casts but get no takers. Then, the wind picks up, and I cannot make a good cast for the next handful of hours. I blow three chances at permit. I am so frustrated, I want to curl up in the boat and cry.
We sit in silence on a flat and eat lunch. No one speaks but I'm surprised Damon and Lincoln can't hear the voice inside my head screaming at me.
An eternity later, Damon takes me wading. I'm feeling superstitious so I turn off my recorder and focus on the task at hand. Maybe permit don't like podcasting.
I tell Damon that I don't care about fishing right now, I have to find my cast, make some good ones, and get my confidence back. He says ok and helps me make three or four solid shots out of a bazillion attempts. I'll take it. C'mon, O'Connell! It's time to find some permit.
I lean into the superstition now and keep my recorder off. It works.
Paddy: My heart is absolutely pounding right now. My chest feels like it's on fire.
Lincoln: The first fish, there was one nice fish right there, maybe like 15 pound.
Lincoln: Uh, you had. Two shots, but the first shot was really nice.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: You know, he was right there. And
then from–
Paddy: He came right up. He came right up on it.
Lincoln: And that was a good shot. But he just didn't eat it. It turn away. And from there he went off the plant.
The other fish, the same thing. What happened is as soon as you start moving the fly, He he was already turning on the fly. And then his house and, and turn away. But he was coming to where the fly was pretty fast.
And then the, the next fish go over there that one, when you made the shot the fly landed right on top of him.
Paddy: On his head.
Lincoln: Boom. Right on his head.
Paddy: And he took off! Why would he do that? If somebody bought me on the head with a, with a bratwurst, I'd eat it.
Lincoln: There was a few good shots right in there.
Paddy: Ah, thank you.
Paddy (Narration): Tom Bie was right; getting the follow is exhilarating. But perhaps more meaningful is finally making my incredible guides proud.
Damon: Those were three good shots. Those were beautiful shots right there. Those were catching chances right here. You can't present the fly much too much better than that.
Paddy: Oh, Damon. Thank you. That I, that just makes all the heartbreak from earlier today that like, oh God. I mean, it's like just in my head, beating myself up. Heartbroken, super frustrated. And then it's like you make one good shot and it's like you forget all about that and your heart's on fire and you're like, I love this.
Damon: Yeah, definitely. That's how it goes. That's, I told you that when you were down earlier, I told you next and couple hours later, you're gonna feel better when you make a good shot. Sometimes you just gotta relax and slow down, you know?
Paddy (Narration): I am rejuvenated.
Paddy: All right. How about a little luck?
Paddy (Narration): And I am completely superstitious now. There's no way I am fishing while recording. We head to another flat and in a matter of minutes, we see churning water. Damon and Lincoln tell me to take the shot in unison. I am not thinking. I move fluidly. I make two false casts, get enough line out, and shoot.
I feel the slack of the fly line zip through my hand like a laser beam and the fly lands perfectly on the edge of the ruffled water. It is the best cast I have ever made in my life. I feel pressure and a tug at the end of my line.
I. Caught. A. Damn. Fish!
Paddy: Okay. I'm like, super fired up right now. Yeah. Can you, can you like take me by a, a play by play of what just happened?
Lincoln: Yeah. No. We, we saw a little bunch of jacks, right. Like little blue runner jack, and then you made a nice, like 35, 40 foot cast.
Bam. And we hooked up.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: But it was a drop.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: And it's like a two and a half foot needlefish.
Paddy: But I didn't get skunk.
Lincoln: No, you didn't get skunked. That's a fish.
Paddy: I caught a fish.
Lincoln: Fish on a fly.
Paddy (Narration): A needle fish looks like Honey, I Shrunk The Marlin. It's a squishy flute with a tail, about the width of your belt, with a little needle-like beak. It breeches the water when it's hooked and jumps around but doesn't put up too much of a fight because it weighs about as much as a sneeze. In fact, it has so much lack of fight that when I land the sucker, I look down at the reel and think, "well, we've never talked about this part. Which way do I turn this thing?" all while I hold the rod with one hand.
Damon helps me get it into my hands and Lincoln takes a photo. The fish looks comically small next to my 6'5'' 240 pound body. But my smile touches behind my ears. Because this moment, this fish, this adventure is one of the greatest things I've ever done outside.
Paddy: Oh my God. Oh man. That's, I'm so fired up right now. Yeah. Oh, man. Oh, thank you guys. And I made a nice cast. That felt good too.
Lincoln: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. That was like I said, that was a nice shot. It was a good shot.
Paddy: Yeah? Did okay?
Lincoln: Yeah.
Paddy: Oh, okay. Dam. I did okay.
Lincoln: Yeah. You did a great shot.
Paddy: Oh my God.
Paddy (Narration): It is the last cast I throw in Belize.
Being bad at an outdoor activity is not easy for me to deal with. The truth is, I have worried that sucking at any of the sports we do outside will cause me to lose my identity as an adept outdoorsy dude.
But that did not happen in Belize. I am a shitty fly fisher. I was gifted a dream trip and I got my ass handed to me. And it was awesome.
Paddy: Damon, what do you think? Can I call myself a fly fisher?
Lincoln: Uh, he'll give you a seven.
Paddy: Seven out of a hundred?
Lincoln: Seven out of 10.
Paddy: Seven outta 10. It's pretty, pretty good for just a ski bum from Colorado
Paddy (Narration): Thanks to Lincoln and Damon's extraordinary patience, I learned a lot more in Belize than how to kinda sorta cast a fly rod. Mostly, I Learned that sucking at things is actually really good for me. It forces me to be humble, it helps me grow. But more importantly, it helps me get past my fear of not being Mr. Awesome Outside Adventure Guy.
So here's hoping I suck at a lot of things in the outdoors for a long, long time.
Lincoln: A good attitude is better than anything because if you've got a good attitude, you can learn.
Paddy: Yeah.
Lincoln: If you get you know, beat up yourself over it and then you get sorta like ignorant. No, that doesn't work with fly fishing
When you, when you see you getting, like, irritated. I was like, yeah. It's time to relax. Yeah. And start over.
Paddy: Yeah. Hey, thank you. Thank you so much.
Lincoln: You're welcome. Yeah, yeah. Right on.
Paddy: I welcome. Yeah. I hope to be back and Yeah, I hope to after some practice. I'm gonna go practice for a decade and then I'll come back.
Oh, my heart's still racing.
Lincoln: Yeah. That was a nice needlefish.
Michael: This episode was written and produced by Paddy O'Connell, and edited by me, Michael Roberts. Music by Robbie Carver.
You can lean more about the Blue Horizon Lodge at
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Paddy: Hi, again. In case you are wondering, Nick landed a permit.
Nick: I cast into him. I'm a little behind and I'm stripping, stripping, stripping. And noses straight down on it. Half its body comes out of the water. He's like, he ate it. Strip, field pressure, set it dude. And it just runs off. I was impressed with how hard that thing fought for how small it was.
Paddy: Seriously?
Nick: It was exhilarating.
Paddy: Oh my God. That's so, dude. Congratulations. That's so sweet.
Nick: It was ridiculous.
Paddy: I'm gonna go back home and tell everybody I caught a merman.

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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.