Fly Fishing for Permit: Permit (Trachinotus falcatus) | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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History of Permit Fly Fishing

Permit fly fishing has evolved significantly over the decades. Initially, the challenge was to simply catch a Permit on a fly rod, a feat that was rare and highly celebrated. Over time, as tackle and techniques improved, the focus shifted to consistently catching larger specimens and understanding their behaviors. For example, in the Florida Keys, pioneering anglers like Del Brown revolutionized Permit fishing in the 1980s by developing crab-pattern flies, significantly increasing the success rate.

Detailed Biology and Evolution of the Permit

Physical Adaptations: The Permit's body is designed for speed and maneuverability. Its laterally compressed body and large, sickle-shaped tail provide both quick acceleration and the ability to make sharp turns – crucial for both hunting prey and evading predators.

Evolutionary Path: The evolutionary path of the Permit likely involved adapting to a variety of prey types and predators, leading to its current versatile hunting strategies and habitats. They evolved to feed on bottom-dwelling creatures, which is why they are often found in shallow flats where crabs and other crustaceans are abundant.

In-depth Behavioral Characteristics

Spawning Behavior: During the spawning season, usually in spring, Permit migrate offshore to deeper waters. Here, they engage in a spawning ritual where females release eggs and males fertilize them in open water. This behavior ensures a high rate of dispersion for their offspring.

Daily Habits: Permit are diurnal, meaning they primarily feeding during daylight hours. Anglers often observe them tailing in shallow waters, which indicates they are feeding on bottom-dwelling prey.

The Allure of Fly Fishing for Permit

Skill and Patience: Successfully catching a Permit on a fly requires immense skill, patience, and understanding of the fish's behavior. Anglers often spend hours searching for Permit and must make an accurate, delicate cast to avoid spooking the fish. The key is to capitalize when you actually do see the elusive creatures. 
Memorable Catches: Many anglers recall their first Permit catch as a milestone moment. For example, catching a Permit in the challenging flats of Belize, where the fish are known to be particularly wary, is a noteworthy achievement.

My First Permit

There I was in Mexico, an unexpected adventure unfolding just days after an impromptu invite landed in my lap. With little time to spare, I hadn't honed my casting, and my physique was far from primed for the challenge ahead. Worse yet, I arrived with a reel sporting an aged line, more a hindrance than a help to my already modest casting abilities.
The first few days were a string of near-misses. It seemed the fish gods were toying with me, placing those elusive Permit tantalizingly beyond my reach. When my fly did reach within target, I was met with a series of rush-and-reject maneuvers from the fish. Frustration mounted, and with it, a sense of impending defeat as the final day of my trip came around.
That day remained skunked until the afternoon sun was high. Then, like a sign, a black tail surfaced. We closed in, and I casted my line. The target was unaware of us and moving away so we opted for a ground attack.  The fish led us wading through the waters, but this time, my cast was spot-on. My crab pattern sank quickly and I slowly inched it along the substrate, and then - the unmistakable tug of a eat. Heart racing, I set the hook, thinking, "This is it. Don't mess this up."
Laughing and splashing, my guide and I stumbled back to the boat, only to find ourselves plunging into a hole, heads dipping under the water. Climbing aboard, the fight with the fish ensued. The hookset held strong, and victory seemed within grasp until, in a heart-wrenching moment, the line went slack. "What happened?" my guide asked in his Spanish accent.
Reeling in the line, expecting a break, we discovered the hook had snapped clean at the bend. It was baffling - the hook was new, seemingly flawless. We were crushed, heads hanging in collective disbelief. Everyone was thinking that the day and effort to get my first Permit was over.
Yet, amidst the disappointment, I found a spark of resolve. "It's alright, we still have an hour," I declared, the determination clear in my voice. The atmosphere shifted; we were immediately back on the hunt.
With barely 35 minutes remaining, fortune smiled upon us - another Permit, mirroring the first in size. This time, my focus was unbreakable. I could clearly see the black tail weaving through the water and occasionally piercing the surface. I whispered to myself, "Right to left, two back casts, aim three feet outside its outside eye." The cast was perfect, the fly landed precisely, and the Permit didn’t hesitate. The hook set, the fish fought, but this time, I landed it.
Landing that Permit was more than just a catch for me because I had lost that one earlier and still felt the pain. Catching that fish was a defining moment in my fly fishing journey, a testament to perseverance and the unpredictable thrill of the chase.  All the practice, reading, and more practice paid off and the crew with me was amazing.  

Conservation and Sustainability

Ecosystem Importance: Permit are considered a keystone species in their habitats. They play a crucial role in controlling the population of crustaceans and other small marine animals, thereby maintaining the ecological balance.

Global Efforts: Conservation efforts for Permit include initiatives like the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s work in the Caribbean and North America, focusing on habitat protection and scientific research to better understand the species' needs.

Locations for Permit

Florida Keys: Known as the 'Permit Capital,' it offers vast flats and clear waters ideal for sight fishing. The region’s ecosystem provides a perfect habitat for Permit, with abundant crabs and shallow waters.

Belize: Offers a unique fly fishing experience with its extensive flats and mangrove creeks. The Permit here are known for their size and abundance.

Mexico: Just across the way from Belize are similar waters and numbers containing Permit

Preparing for a Permit Fly Fishing Trip

Tactical Planning: Understanding the tidal movements and their effect on Permit feeding patterns is crucial. For example, incoming tides in Belize’s flats often bring Permit into shallow waters to feed.

Local Knowledge: Hiring a local guide can be invaluable. They provide insights into the Permit's daily patterns, preferred habitats, and local weather conditions. Enough can’t be said about the local knowledge that guides have.  They are aware of locations and importantly, how often they are fished. 

The pursuit of Permit through fly fishing is a rich and rewarding experience that combines skill, patience, and respect for the natural world. Each catch is a testament to the angler's understanding of this elusive species, making Permit one of the most revered fish in the sportfishing community. They may not necessarily be the most difficult fish to catch but they certainly have earned that allure. Regardless, a Permit on a fly rod is an awesome experience and will put you in a mindset to continue the pursuit. 

Here's a list of seven frequently asked questions (FAQs) commonly associated with fly fishing for Permit:

  1. What is the best time of year to fly fish for Permit?

Answer: The best time can vary depending on location, but generally, the peak season for Permit is during the warmer months, typically from March through November. However, in tropical regions like Belize or the Florida Keys, Permit can be caught year-round. The more important aspects are wind and water clarity.

  1. What are the most effective fly patterns for catching Permit?

Answer: Crab and shrimp patterns are the most effective for Permit. Popular choices include the Merkin Crab, Raghead Crab, and Del’s Permit Crab. The key is to match the local prey in size and color. I prefer a white crab in a small size with yellow dumbbell eyes, a small light tan Flexo Crabs or a medium spawning shrimp with yellow or red dumbbell eyes.

  1. How important is stealth in Permit fishing?

Answer: Extremely important. Permit are very wary fish, and they spook easily. Stealthy approach, careful wading, and precise, gentle casting are crucial to avoid alarming the fish.

  1. What type of gear do I need for fly fishing for Permit?

Answer: A 9-10 weight fly rod, a reel with a strong drag system, and a floating line are typically recommended. You'll also need leaders that are strong enough to handle the fight but subtle enough not to spook the fish.

  1. What is the average size of a Permit caught on a fly?

Answer: The average size can vary by location, but generally, Permit caught on fly range between 10 to 25 pounds. However, fish over 30 pounds are not uncommon, especially in areas like the Florida Keys. A Permit the size of a large goldfish is still a Permit…they don’t come easy.

  1. Can I catch Permit from shore, or do I need a boat?

Answer: Both are possible. Permit can be targeted while wading in shallow flats, which is a common approach in places like Belize and the Bahamas. However, using a flats boat can increase your range and access to deeper water where larger Permit may be found. With a boat spotting from a far and following them while they are unaware can be a fantastic approach method. 

  1. What are some tips for a first-time Permit angler?
Answer: Patience is key; be prepared for challenging fishing. Practice your casting to ensure accuracy and distance. Pay attention to the guide's advice on local conditions and fish behavior. Lastly, enjoy the experience, as catching a Permit is a prestigious milestone in any angler's journey.

If you liked this article I have another one that is similar for Bonefish that you'll enjoy.

Bonefish: A Mysterious and Alluring Catch for Fly Fishing | Fly Fishing Insider

Want to target Permit and have a really good chance of picking one up.  This article I've written on Belize provides insight into one of my favorite locations. I hope to see you there!

Fly Fishing in Belize, and San Pedro's Hidden Gem Known as The Iguana House Belize | Fly Fishing Insider Podcast


Christian Bacasa, Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast

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