I arrived at the office at 4 p.m. sharp and the crew was already assembled: South African guides-in-training Kyle Simpson, Haydyn Williams and Cameron Musgrave, skipper Bryan Rapson and first mate Rodel Reintegrado. Bryan presented a trip overview identifying mooring sites in the lee of D’Arros Island, adjacent to St. Joe, where we’d anchor up.
The crossing was slow but the big cat sliced nicely through the confused sea.
In short order we’d anchored, rigged flats tackle, donned boots and backpacks, and set out for St. Joe in the inflatable. Finally, it was time to truly explore. It was near high tide when we reached the outer edge of the flats on the lee side of St. Joe, yet we still had to drag “the ducky” nearly 100 yards over the shallows; there are no natural channels for boat transit on St. Joe’s lee side. The boys would eventually move a pair of 19-foot Mitzi skiffs from Desroches to the inner lagoon of St. Joe when weather permitted for shuttling clients to fishing sites we’d identify over the next several days.
Kyle was the only one of us that had fished St. Joe before, so I paired with him. Haydyn and Cameron dropped us at the tail of an expansive white-sand flat, then zoomed to the far side of the lagoon to learn what might be there. “This is a good flat,” Kyle remarked, stabbing his rod in several directions. “Plenty of bones over the sand and some permit farther up toward that island.”
Immediately, Kyle and I were into bones. Ironically, we struggled at first trying to dial in the wind and fly selection. Eventually limp-wrist casting gave way to tight power-stroke loops down the wind’s throat. Weighted amber flies were the ticket; the fish fest was on.
Meanwhile, on the far side of the lagoon, Cameron and Haydyn were getting on the board in similar fashion.
For the balance of the falling tide we had our chance with some groups of small permit but a shocking number of huge fish, mostly around the small island where Kyle predicted they’d be, until we left late in the afternoon.
Later, on board Aman’i we traded adventures, ate dinner, drank beer, cleaned dinner plates, stowed gear and reviewed images on the computer. Final tally: lots of bones (a few approaching six pounds) and plenty of permit shots but no “eats.”
Bryan ran a tight operation. Anchor watch, which was starting the cat’s diesel engines and running them for 10 minutes, was every two hours. We drew monofilament straws for watch times. Bryan also lectured tersely about bringing boot sand into his domain. My bad, I had worn sandy boots in his parlor. Good to be treated like one of the boys, though. Speaking of which, I started shaving daily, like my boat mates, and maintaining my jumble of stuff out of the way thanks to Bryan’s demand to run things shipshape. “How our guides behave is a reflection on not only them, but also our company,” I recall Keith saying at dinner on the first night.
But to some degree we were on holiday, so drinking beer after hours was OK and cussing added missing color to our dialog — as long as clients weren’t around.