Permit are one of the flats grand slam fish along with tarpon and bonefish. Permit are difficult to find, approach and induce to eat a fly. This along with their tenacious fighting ability, landing a permit is one of the most highly prized accomplishments on fly tackle.
Permit range throughout tropical waters including Florida from Ft. Pierce on the east coast to Panama City on the west coast and the Florida Keys.
Permit are members of the jack family living in deep water holes and around old wrecks. Permit move to the shallow water flats to take advantage of the rich food supply. Preferring the ragged rocky shorelines and hard bottom flats, they will work the deeper edges and points while waiting for the highest tides before moving higher onto the flat.
Because of their difficult nature, permit are usually caught while fishing the flats for other species. Permit are extremely wary, difficult to see in the water and if you do get a fly in front of them, they are very finicky
Permit can be caught all year in the Keys but Spring and Fall provide the most favorable weather conditions for them to move onto the flats. Northern areas are best during the warmer weather when the water temperature rises.
Permit fishers must understand that permit are out of their normal element on the flats. They move up onto the flats only to hunt for food and while there they are very nervous, fleeing in panic at any sign of danger such as boat noises and fly lines slapping on the water or flailing overhead. Fly fishers must understand this and assume the proper attitude and techniques.
Those going out with the purpose of catching a permit must be armed with information specific to the permit.
This begins with an understanding of the "flats fishing" basics.
The ideal conditions for permit would be:
A warm sunny day, the water is clear and 70-80 degrees with a slight wind rippling the water surface. A strong tide is coming in that will flood the highest points of a rocky flat on which you will be poling or wading.
While ideal conditions are rare, each element increases the chances for success.
A bright day with clear water is essential in order to see the permit and effectively present the fly.
Permit like warm water. They will not move onto a flat having water temperatures out of their comfort range.
Wind can provide an important advantage for the flyfisher. Permit do not like calm conditions in shallow water and a slight wind will ripple the surface enough to cover them as well as the splash of the fly line hitting the water. Too much wind, however, may cloud the water making conditions impossible.
Water levels also determine where permit will be found. At low tide, permit hold in channels and basins adjacent to the flats that have access to the safety of deep open water. On the weak high tides, the fish will be working the edges of the flats. Which edge they are on may be affected by wind and water conditions. Permit move up onto the flats during spring tides and other strong tides. Lush feeding areas are flooded at these times giving access to the opportunistic permit. The timing of these tides are well noted by serious permit fishers. During the colder months, tides are not as important as water temperatures but the rule is: The higher the tide the better.
Permit eat crabs. They may also eat other crustaceans but mainly crabs. Blue crabs are a favorite for bait fisherman.
The permits favorite food is crabs. Flyfishers must have a fly that resembles a crab, quickly drops to the bottom like a crab and enters the water quietly. Crab patterns have been developed that look like crabs and sink quickly as do the naturals. Arguably the best fly pattern for permit is the "Del Brown Merkin" sizes #2-#2/0. The Puff, McCrab and other crab patterns are also good for permit. Fly fishing for permit was not considered reasonably before the developement of these crab patterns. Use a full size crab pattern on windy days. Large patterns are more visible to permit and their noisier presentation is less noticeable in the wind. If one pattern is rejected, change size, weight or try color variations but its a good idea to stick with crab patterns. Upon rare occasions, permit will take a bonefish fly but not with any consistency. Many Guides use nothing but the Merkin Fly in different sizes, weights and color variations.
The one rod size to have for saltwater flyfishing is generally considered to be a 9 foot, 9 weight fast action graphite. This rod can be rigged for a wide range of gamefish including all but the largest permit. It has enough back bone to fight large fish and is able to cast fly patterns well in windy conditions.
- The fly rod must have plenty of backbone to pull in a permit. Smaller permit can be taken on fly rods as light as 8 weight but a 40 + lb fish will require the recommended 9 foot 11 weight rod.
- Reels must be of quality construction, corrosion proof for the saltwater environment, a strong smooth drag system, sufficient capacity to hold the fly line plus 200-300 yards of backing and be sized to match the fly rod. Single action reels are the standard for saltwater fly fishing.
- Permit make long runs making necessary 250 yards of 30 lb backing. Add a shock absorber between the flyline and the backing using 20 lb high vis mono line.
- Floating Weight Forward (FWF). Fly line one size larger than the rod weight is recommended to aid in casting the heavier crab patterns.
- Permit mouths are hard but not abrasive and they have no sharp teeth making wire leaders and shock tippets unnecessary. Since permit do not seem to be spooked by leaders, a leader tippet 14-16 lb test works well. In windy conditions use 8 -9 foot leader with a larger crab pattern. When calm use 10 foot leader with a small fly such as a Merkin on #1 or #2 hook.
Permit may be fished by wading stealthily or by poling a flats boat which are covered by general "flats fishing" basics. Guides who know the movements of the permit are strongly recommended.
Seeing the permit is critical for proper presentation and retrieve.
Look for permit on top of flats and around rocky shorelines and points during high tides. During falling or low tide check the basins and channel edges.
While hunting for permit on edges of flats and near rock piles, look for black sickle like tails and fins penetrating the surface and under water.
Look for muds and tailing permit. When they dip down to eat in shallow water the tail can be seen above the water surface.
Look for shadows underwater or a large eye without body.
Also look for a permits distinctive wake as they move.
Look for the mirage like shape of the permit caused by sunlight reflecting off their body.
When a permit is spotted, move into casting range very quietly. When in range the window of opportunity is very small. Keep false casts to absolute minimum and get the fly in front of the permit quickly. Accuracy of the cast is more important than the distance. On calm days sixty foot casts are normally sufficient but in a stiff breeze forty foot casts are adequate. The ideal cast has fly sinking right in front of permit.
When a crab is approached by predators out on the flat, it immediately drops to the bottom and stays still. This is exactly what the permit should see. When you encounter permit they will generally be either moving through the area or feeding. For the former, gauge the water depth, the speed of the permit, tidal currents and the sink rate of the fly and cast so that the fly reaches the anticipated meeting point just before the fish.
Feeding permit move erratically and therefore hard to lead. As they move along looking for food, they dip down to eat then come up and move in whatever direction they are facing. For this reason, the fly should be presented as close as possible. Wait for them to tail then put the fly right in front of them. Whatever the situation you must make your fly imitate a natural crab.
The best retrieve for permit is no retrieve. If your offering is refused, a small movement of the fly may bring back the permit for another chance.
Since you wont feel a strike as with other species, seeing the permit tail near your fly is the best indicator that they have taken the bait. If the permit appears to take the fly wait briefly then pull the slack slowly with the line hand to determine that the fish has taken the fly. If you feel resistance strike firmly with the line hand NOT the rod tip. With this method, if you miss, the fly is still in the permits area for a possible second chance. Sweeping with the rod pulls the fly out of the area preventing a second chance. If the permit is indeed on the line strike several more times with the rod when you get a chance.
Extra sharp hooks are necessary as the permit mouth is very hard to penetrate with a hook.
When hooked the permit makes long powerful runs. Just let them go while trying to clear any slack line and getting them on the reel. If hooked near the edge of flats, permit usually head for deep water. Permit will use many tactics to dislodge the hook or tangle the line by using sea fans, coral, crab traps, rubbing their mouth on the bottom or other tricks. If nothing else works they turn sideways using their wide bodies to resist your efforts to pull them in. Keep constant rod pressure to keep the permit from resting and take back line when possible. Pulling opposite to their direction of travel keeps them off balance. Be ready for several more runs and settle in for a struggle.
Decide ahead of time if you want to keep your permit, if you should be so lucky as to land one. If you decide to release the fish, try to leave it in the water, unhook and revive quickly to insure its survival. Permit are very good eating and they are not endangered although Florida does have regulations.
- Keep no more than 10 per day aggragate of permit and pompano.
- Permit size limit: None less than 10" or more than 20".
- May keep one over 20".
A chumming method that works well for permit requires either good GPS numbers or a guide to find the locations of permit schooling up on the surface over deep holes. Approach the location quietly and anchor within casting distance. Throw live blue crabs to center of the school of permit one at a time. This creates a competition among the fish to get the crab. Continue throwing out the crabs until the permit are sufficiently teased, then cast a crab pattern fly.
Spin and Bait
Bottom fish over wrecks or deeper water at the edge of rocky flats with crabs, shrimp, clams and conch.