Bass Beatdown

The Other Longest Silence

In December 1969, Sports Illustrated published “The Longest Silence,” Thomas McGuane’s famous essay about permit fishing. It was illustrated with a couple of spare, evocative watercolors by an artist named Francis Golden. In the essay, McGuane delves into the then relatively new practice of chasing permit with fly rods. Remember, it was 1969. Nixon was president and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon that July. The Beatles performed publicly for the last time and the first American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. State-of-the-art saltwater flyfishing technology meant soft fiberglass rods; sticky, limp lines with fat tapers; and heavy reels that were a far cry from the CNC-machined, aircraft-grade aluminum reels with anodized coatings and sealed disk drags that are standard today.

Rather than focusing on explicit heroics, McGuane wrote poetically about the time between fish. He begins: “What is most emphatic in angling is made so by the long silences—the unproductive periods.” He goes on, in his typically precise language, to describe the hallucinatory hours spent endlessly scanning flats for movement and the anxiety and challenge surrounding the sporadic opportunities to present a fly to the inexplicably discerning fish. He writes: “No form of fishing offers such elaborate silences as fly-fishing for permit.” 

The intro text in Sports Illustrated summarized the experience: “Interminable waiting—unproductive hours on steaming waters under a hot sun—can lead a man from fantasy to frustration when the fish finally show, then spook. But the spell breaker—the permit’s take of the fly—is the ultimate fishing experience.”…

Subscribe to start your collection of the world’s best flyfishing publication



The FlyFish Journal Mailing List

We respect your time, and only send you the occasional update.