Blame it on the Barracuda

There is an elusive species of saltwater game fish much prized by fly fishers the world over, called the Permit. It’s scientific name is Trachinotus falcatus and is found around tropical and subtropical reefs where it forages in the shallow tidal flats for small crabs and other sources of food hiding among the coral and grasses.  One of the reasons the Permit is so prized is because of its wary and skittish nature.  Needless to say it is very difficult to catch with a fly. Usually traveling in pairs and moving quickly from feeding area to area, with the slightest movement, shadow or even the splash of a fly hitting the water and the Permit is off like a shot, disappearing into the deeper waters next to the shallow flats.

And to make catching them even more difficult, they need to be stalked to within casting range, usually 40-70 feet.  Sounds easy but by the time you see their dorsal fin and tail break the surface, spot them feeding, begin your slow walk, all the time trying to keep them in sight while getting your line ready to cast, they have usually moved ahead to a new feeding area.  And even when you do get in range, catching them depends not only on a pinpoint accurate cast just in front of them, but also the right type of crab-pattern fly to match the feeding area, and then more often than not they refuse your offered meal and move on.

But for my brother and I the opportunity to chase, and hopefully catch a large Permit came when we were fishing together at Tarpon Caye Lodge among the mangrove islands of southern Belize.  For three days straight we stalked the flats chasing large Permit, sometimes in pairs. One afternoon a large school of nearly 15 offered us a prime opportunity.  It was my brother’s turn to fish and he and the guide made a stealthy approach for about 10 minutes, finally getting within range. The school had paused to feed and there were numerous forked tails sticking out of the water as the fish rooted among the turtle grass for crabs.

This was the big opportunity.  For the past two and a half days we hadn’t even hooked one, being either refused or mostly having them flee before we even got in a decent cast.  Finally my brother, an excellent fly caster, was within range, had his sights set on the biggest Permit, and was about to make his cast.

All of a sudden there was an eruption of splashing tails, the water turning to foam.  And then nothing, except the sleek torpedo shape of a large barracuda shooting through the empty space where just milliseconds before a group of Permit had been feeding.  The voracious, toothy jawed predator circled once then swam off into deeper water. The Permit were nowhere to be found, having left that particular tidal flat for another feeding ground, hopefully one without an annoying barracuda to spoil their dinner.

We never did hook up with a Permit that day, but at least we had what all fishermen need.  A good excuse.  It wasn’t my fault, it was the barracuda.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

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About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Blame it on the Barracuda

  1. Those Permit fish are fantastic – that’s a great shot where you’re holding up the fish (or is it your brother doing that?). I thought you might draw some parallels with ferocious competitors but business doesn’t have to be part of everything, I guess!


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