I hate permit! – I love permit! I hate them because they’re so darn hard to get near to, let alone catch. I love them because they are big, strong, particularly wary, spooky, and apparently too smart for my own good. Permit know you’re getting near sooner than any fish in the ocean and offer a great fishing challenge, especially when angling with a fly rod and chicken feathers for bait. I hate permit because they’re totally unpredictable, maddeningly selective and downright scary fast. I love permit because they have a gear that bonefish and tarpon can only imagine.
The big round jack is plentiful, but most fishermen do not see many. If you do see some within casting range, chuck now! Every second counts. Fast, accurate casts, no doubt, are the #1 keys to feeding and maybe catching a permit. So, practice your casting as much as possible. In my opinion, the best practice you can get is to fish the flats for redfish. In fall and winter, redfish are a lot calmer and easier to approach, plus they eat flies, jigs, and bait more readily.
When to Book: Year Round
Permit on Live Bait
Permit see well so one doesn’t have to hit one on the nose to feed him. In most situations, I try to place my cast 10 feet long, hold the rod tip high, and slowly retrieve to position the bait six to eight feet ahead and along Mr. Permit’s swim path, I must drop the bait and let nature take its course. After the drop back, the angler must tend his or her slack. Keep slack at a minimum! If you do, you might feel the fish “taste” and see the line twitch. If you do not see anything, baby bump a few times. Those are excellent clues that if headed should prevent Mr. Permit from stealing your bait- the ultimate indignity. When the angler feels something, or see the permit tip up or act a little crazy on top of the bait, reel fast 3 or 4 times! Do not jerk!
Crabs are natures best permit bait. Shrimp are okay in a pinch, but on a lot of permit flats, shrimp do not work at all well. I use crabs 2 to 2 and a half inches wide. If the target fish are small, say 7 to 10 pounds, choose 1 to 1 and a half inch crabs. Bonefish love this size too. Really big permit, say 35 pounders and up, can easily handle three inch crabs with their crusher plates. Even larger crabs are sometimes handled by permit in a unique and rarely witnessed manner: Large crabs inhabit permit preferred shallow bayside in considerable numbers most of the year. There are large crabs, sometimes too large to fit in Mr. Permit’s mouth. In most situations, permit use their forehead ; which is a massive forehead indeed. After spotting a crab to big to handle by mouth, permit sometimes will dive bomb the crab to crush it. Then they eat the crab and spit out the shell. Next time you see big permit up close, you might see some scars on their domes.
For casting crabs, especially light weight shrimp, I like a long, kind of “soft” spin or bait cast rod, 7 to 8 feet long that is suited for at least 200 yards of 8 to 12 lb. line. Permit are easy to hook on 1/0 hooks.
Permit on Jigs
Jig-fishing for permit is different than jig fishing most other species. The big difference is the need for extremely accurate casting. You’ll catch a few round jacks if you do not cast the jig into position that does not spook the fish and ends up in the strike zone. “Troll rite” or “Slider” jigs are probably easier to use. They are flat horizontally and so are best presented by reeling them slowly across the grass just fast enough to keep the hook from catching bottom foliage. I like to use Capt. Hank Brown’s Troll-Rite jigs because they have short shanked hooks. If desired, one may attach a crab or shrimp to the jig to enhance its culinary desirability.
For jig fishing permit, I like a stiffer rod than for casting crabs. You can work jigs better with a stiff 6 to 7 foot rod rated for at least 12 pound line. Again, you will need at least 200 yards of line to be on the safe side. You’ll also need a reel with an excellent drag. On windy days, I prefer spinning tackle because I can cast light things farther. Bait casters seem best suited for working with artificials and big fish fighting.
Regarding fishing tackle suitable for permit, there is a misconception held by many that costs anglers big, trophy fish. Often, new flats anglers arrive at my self equipped with a 8 pound test outfit “for big Islamorada bonefish” and a 12 pound test outfit “for permit.” The problem resulting from this misconception are as follows: Big bonefish grew big because they know where the cut-offs were. Invariably, a hooked 10 pound bonefish will race hard to a rock, ledge, mangrove bush, or a coral head and quickly cut you off. A flats permit usually will not do that. In light of this, the 12 pound outfit would do better on bonefish leaving the 8 pound outfit for permit. I would never recommend, however, the use of 6 pound tackle for permit unless the permit are small. Jumbo permit can usually be caught on 6 to 8 pound if you are willing to pull hard for an hour or more. You will probably eventually catch the fish but you will pull on its lips for so long that your permit will build up so much lactic acid in his muscle tissue that he will likely die from exhaustion or multiple shark bite syndrome. Heavy (10 to 12 pound) tackle is needed for bonefish swimming around obstructions because to catch a big bonefish, most times you will need to stop Mr. Bone “dead in his tracks.” One can not do that with 6 to 8 pound tackle.
Permit on the Fly
Permit on the fly may be the greatest fishing challenge left for fishermen on this earth. This fish is an extremely smart, wary, spooky animal with truly awesome speed and stamina. Catching permit consistently on “chicken” requires luck, perfect casting, and a better than average knowledge of tide, wind direction, and water temperature the permit like to swim and feed in.
With luck, a fly angler will find in the course of his or her search for the exclusive round jack, some tailing permit. “Tailers” offer the best chance of catching a big, round jack on fly. “Swimmers”, especially slow swimmers, are possible to hook and catch. High and fast “Cruisers” are not. The search for tailing permit should be conducted near the hard, grassy banks being washed over by ripping current. Bonefish do not like the fast current speed permit like. In other words, permit are found on some banks bonefish like, but rarely does one find many boneys on the best permit banks.
For permit, I like crab flies such as the Merkins Crab, the Kardasian Crab, or the Tasty Toad. These crab flies have fairly large, horizontal flat bodies, rubber legs, an eighth ounce of lead eyes, and a wisp of feathers. These flies are presented differently than are streamer types. One does not strip crab flies to enhance bites. Instead the angler hops and “baby bumps” and passes crab flies. To improve understanding, let me present a scenario for you: You are staked out fishing for permit at the down current edge of a shadow bank point. The permit you have seen so far are tailing from the up-current point toward your boat. That they are tailing tells you, these fish are happily feeding and will likely eat chicken feathers if only you can place the fly right in front of them. If you cast long and to the side, they might not see the fly or if they do see it, it will be coming at them from behind. “Little things do not chase big things” to quote Lefty Kreh. If the permit thinks he is being attacked from behind by a “little thing,” he will leave immediately post-haste. But let’s say your cast did hit softly, right in front of the fish 6 feet away. First, when the crab hits the water, baby-bump it a couple of times as it sinks and let it fall to the bottom. Record in your mind, exactly where the fly is, then wiggle the fly which wiggles the grass and pulls out a bit of sand. Watch the fish, never loosing the fly’s location. Tend to your slack. If the fish suddenly tips up over the fly, strip strict. If no hook up, pause a little longer, then baby-bump a couple more times. Pause. If he tips on splashes at the spot, strip strike again. Repeat until you hook up, he swims off, or you loose sight of him. Do not become exasperated. This is permit fishing! How I love it!
The blue and silver great pompano (T. goodei), or Permit, is found off Florida and the West Indies. Permit have impressive teeth, the better to eat crustaceans and crabs with. They are silvery, reflective and downright hard to spot much less catch.
Bonefish, (Albula vulpes), is a marine game fish of the family Albulidae (order Elopiformes). It inhabits shallow coastal and island waters in tropical seas and is admired by anglers for its speed and strength.
Fishing with kids
Fishing is fun for the whole family and can be a formative experience for youngsters. It gets kids outside and interested in nature. We love fishing with kids because they are curious and will listen when you explain to them how things work.