Wil Permenter was determined to beat the fish, a presumed giant jack creavalle, which kept his 9-weight fly rod arced so horribly that its tip stayed well below the reel for the entire fight south of Horn Island on June 14.
The 10th-grader’s goal was a Mississippi record jack on a fly, a feat that would require a 29-pounder (current listing is a 28 lb., 15.36 oz. caught in 2005 by Dwayne Armes).
“Wil has wanted to set a record with a fly since he came close a few years ago,” said his dad, Eddie Permenter of Oak Grove. “He caught a big gaff-top catfish on a fly and we took it to the (USM Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs) on a Sunday and they thought it was a record, only to find out somebody else had caught a bigger one a week or two earlier that hadn’t finished going through the process yet.
“That kind of lit the fire.”
The 15-year-old was busy in battle, not only against the fish but against time, since a storm cell was brewing back over the mainland, about 10 miles north of their position.
“His mom was with us, and she doesn’t do rough water too good and it was obviously getting nasty back toward home,” Eddie Permenter said. “She was getting edgy and kept watching that storm and finally said, ‘Guys, I’m serious, y’all need to cut that line, let that fish go and start getting back.”
Said Wil Permenter: “No way are we cutting this fish off.”
Eddie Permenter laughed when he recalled the nervous moments.
“It was looking bleak, but Wil was determined and started putting a lot of pressure on the fish,” the dad said. “We had to chase that fish down four times to get line back. It was pretty intense because we were running out of time.”
How the family got in that position deserves a little background.
“I am not a fly-fisherman, but I love to fish,” Eddie Permenter said. “A friend of mine, Artie Cosby, gave me a 9-weight fly-rod two years ago and I tried it, and, to be honest, I found it to be too much work. I’d rather cast with regular gear.
“But, Wil picked it up and just fell in love with it. It’s reached the point where he ties his own flies. Whenever we go fishing, and we bought Artie’s dad’s Skeeter 24-foot bay boat to use, Wil will put the fly rod in just in case. We’re normally cobia fishermen; we love to chase them. If we’re not doing that, honestly, I’m happy taking him and watching him work the fly. We even bought him a 12-weight this year but we ended up putting too much backing on it and the fly-line wouldn’t load properly.”
That’s why the young angler had the 9-weight that day, and had used it to cast at trout, ladyfish and reds. After a while, Eddie Permenter had an idea that with all the shrimp boats a few miles south of Horn Island, they might could find a cobia swimming around behind one where a crew would be picking through the catch.
“We went to five or six shrimp boats and they were loaded up with jacks and sharks,” Eddie Permenter said. “I mean it was wall-to-wall jacks and we were catching them one right after another on our bigger gear and I caught a 50-pound shark. It got to the point that there were so many jacks that when we saw them, we’d pull our lines out of water.”
But, alas, no cobia, so the family returned to the shallows around Horn.
“We were back fishing the beaches when it hit me,” Eddie Permenter said. “I said, ‘Wil, we should have tried to get you a record jack out there on a fly. How did we miss that opportunity?’”
Against the wishes of Mrs. Permenter, who had noticed the forming storm, they headed back to the shrimp boats.
“Wouldn’t you know it, when we got back, the jacks had disappeared,” dad said. “We went from one boat to another and couldn’t raise a single one, and earlier you see them big schools around each boat. We’d pull up, Wil would cast a fly near the shrimp boat and I would chum a bit. Nothing.
“I could see the storm cell getting worse and at the last boat, after striking out again, I turned and said we needed to head in. Before I could get to the wheel, I heard Wil hook up. By the time I turned around, he was down in the boat trying to keep from being pulled in.”
The battle was on. The son was fighting the fish. The dad was helping with the boat. His mom was fretting the darkening skies to the north.
“The more she wanted to leave, the faster Wil worked the fish,” Eddie Permenter said. “He’d put pressure on the fish, start pulling it up, and the fish would make a run and I’d go with him. And my wife, she’d be saying, ‘Hey, we need to go!’
“It was crazy. We were in about 50 feet of water and when we got above the fish, I could see it on the fish finder. Wil would pull his head up and get the fish up a little, and then I could see it go back down and hug the bottom.”
Finally as Mom made it clear it was time to go, the young angler bore down. Risking a break of the 9-weight line and tippet, Wil Permenter forced his will on the tiring jack and won. The fish came up and Eddie Permenter got the net on it.
“Much to my wife’s happiness, we raced north,” Eddie Permenter said. “We had several sets of hand-held scales on the boat and we weighed it on all three and they all said about 27-6. When we got close, I called some friends who looked up the current record and found it was 28-15 and we knew we had missed.
“But, boy, for about half an hour, it sure was fun and I was sure proud of Wil. He’s quite a young fisherman.”
As for the storm, well ...
“Can you believe it, in the time we fought that fish, it had moved from Ocean Springs over toward Gulfport and we had no trouble,” Eddie Permenter. “Perfect.”
And, a week before Father’s Day, it proved a great gift from son to dad.
“You couldn’t beat it,” said the proud pop.