Recently, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my fishing experiences over the past twenty years. While touring lodges in Belize in preparation of launching Tidehead, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with Dirk Burgard while visiting the Belize River Lodge and its remote lodge, Long Caye Outpost, located on a private island a mere stone’s throw away from the reef. It was here, I experienced something I never thought possible.
I first met Dirk on the South Fork of the Snake in Idaho, where I began my career as a fly fishing guide. It was the spring of 1996; Dirk was the Head Guide and I was the rookie. I learned so much from Dirk that first year on the river, which helped give me the tools I would hone over the next twenty years.
Jumping forward twenty years and finding myself sipping rum out of a fresh coconut with Dirk looking out towards the reef from the dock in front of the Long Caye Outpost, I had no idea what lesson I was about to learn. Again.
I always revered Dirk as one of the best guides the South Fork had ever seen and had heard that he was an equally accomplished flats guide. He just might be one of the fishiest people I’ve ever known. What I believe everyone loves about Dirk, is that if he knows how good he truly is, he sure doesn’t show it.
We finished up our rum drinks and headed out to fish the falling tide on one of his favorite permit flats. We literally idled the panga from the dock, due south, to the flat. The flat had just enough water to allow the permit to weasel their way up into the shallows in search of their pray. Dirk idled the panga up to the flat, dropped anchor and looked over towards this little nook and said, “there they are!” We looked over our gear, formed a game plan and hoped out.
The anticipation was killing me. The tide was perfect, the sun was setting and we were the only ones around for miles. One of the strong points of fishing from Long Cay Outpost. Immediately, we were on a few different tails. I may be a long-time guide, but a fisherman? Well, let’s just say I spend way too much time on the wrong end of the boat. Dirk, cool as a cucumber, had me take a shot at a fish tailing perfectly in slightly deeper water.
Little did I know, I was about to see something I hadn’t seen in 20 years of guiding in the Florida Keys for permit. I made, what I thought was a pretty good cast, dropping the fly within two feet of the tailing fish. The second the fly hit the water, the fish turned and took off like a rocket!
At this point, most every angler, and guide alike, would call it a good cast and “well, he just didn’t want it!
The moments that followed solidify Dirk as one of the fishiest guides I’d ever known. After the cast and feeling deflated once again, I reached for my line to collect myself. Dirk quickly said, “Leave It!” “What do you mean?” I said. “Leave it, he’ll come back to it. He knows right where it is.” Dirk said. I thought to myself, “this fish is gone, no way he’ll come back.’
I watched this fish scream for deep water. And as I watched him pushing water, apparently running for his life, the permit seemingly settled and did an about face! Slowly, the fish started working back towards shore. I thought to myself, “there’s no way he’ll come back to the fly. That’s just crazy!” Dirk told me, “he knows exactly where the fly is.” We all know permit have incredible eyesight. It then dawned on me at that time, that if a permit can spot a real crab in the water, well, he should see that little camo crab sitting there quietly on the ocean floor.
Sure enough, that permit started working back towards the fly. With every second, I thought to myself, “this can’t be happening.” In fact, it was. That old black tail came over to the fly and flat out, sat on it! In total disbelief, I pulled tight and it was on!
I looked over at Dirk in total shock. He looked back at me with a smile and said, “told you he’d come back!”
I fought the fish for a few minutes and then sensed he was tail wrapped. Every time he would lunge forward, I could feel the kick of his tail in the rod tip. Needless to say, the fight ended up with a broken leader and another fish lost to the sea. Didn’t matter. It was probably the coolest hook up I’d ever experienced.
I’m forever indebted to Dirk for sharing that evening with me. In just one hour on a falling tide with only an hour a fishable light left, I learned more about permit than in twenty years of guiding in the Florida Keys. If you ever have a chance to fish Belize, look up Dirk at the Belize River Lodge. If you're Lucky enough to spend a day on the flats with Dirk, you’ll most likely leave with the same feeling I left with. Damn he’s good!