Elusive, powerful, beautiful, and a landmark achievement in anyone’s fly fishing experiences, catching a permit on a fly rod is a special moment. Some anglers spend years before they catch their first permit, others are in the right place at exactly the right time, and the permit gods smile down upon them. Whether you are seeking your first, second, biggest, or 100th, here are 4 countries to target these black-tailed beauties of the saltwater flats.
The impressive thing about Belize is that permit can be found anywhere in the country – from the northern waters surrounding Ambergris Caye, to the central waters of Turneffe Atoll, and all the way south to Hopkins, Placencia, and Punta Gorda. All along the Caribbean coastline of this tiny Central American country, permit are found in great numbers.
And while Ambergris, Turneffe, and the flats near Belize City all offer legitimate chances for permit in waters that range in depth from three to eight feet, my favorite kind of permit fishing is the “classic-style” flats fishing that is found in the skinnier waters further to the south. On the flats near Placencia, Hopkins, and Punta Gorda, it is common to find permit upon the shallows, feeding and tailing in skinny water on the area’s incredibly productive flats.
Placencia offers excellent fishing for both tarpon and permit, as well as the occasional shot at bonefish and snook. You can spend the early morning looking for rolling tarpon on and then switch over to permit when the tides are ideal. This is a part of Belize that offers great wading for permit as well, with hard-bottomed flats that seem to go on forever.
The cayes and flats offshore of Hopkins and Dangriga offer a similar scenario, and permit is found in these waters all throughout the year. In the far southern part of Belize is the fishing town of Punta Gorda and the waters of the Gulf of Honduras. This is a very permit-focused area and an overall popular destination for anglers of all skill levels.
The waters of Ascension Bay provide the ideal habitat for a wide variety of sea life. In essence, it is a great home for all types of shallow-water flats species. The vast estuary and flats system and the adjacent reef provide the infrastructure for Ascension Bay’s pristine and highly productive fishery.
It has been said that this part of the Caribbean boasts the world’s largest population of permit, and it is not unusual for permit to be found throughout the year. Weather and conditions permitting, it is always possible to see – within casting range – twenty-five to fifty permit in a single day, their sickle-shaped fins piercing the surface of the waters near ‘Esperanza’ or the ‘Tres Marias’.
A bit south of Ascension Bay is Espiritu Santo Bay and the vast Santa Rosa Lagoon system, home to large numbers of bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, and other shallow-water species. This area receives very little pressure, making it the ideal destination for anglers who prefer fishing in solitude.
And final, the furthest to the south – near the border of Belize – is Chetumal Bay, a vast network of largely unexplored and unfished bonefish, tarpon, and permit flats.
Like many of the bodies of water in this part of Mexico, Chetumal Bay offers fantastic diversity with regard to species. Within 100 yards of a single shoreline, flat one has the opportunity to cast at bonefish, permit, and tarpon. The numerous natural channels throughout the bay provide textbook habitat for all of the shallow-water game-fish species, and permit is found throughout the year in strong numbers and in all sizes.
While the Bahamas are certainly best-known for bonefish, there are a number of destinations within this tiny island country that are very legitimate for permit. Over the past several years, several of the better Bahamian guides have begun to really target permit in these waters, dialing their permit fisheries in and putting clients on permit on an ever-increasing basis.
One of the best places in the Bahamas to find permit is the eastern side of Grand Bahama, where permit show up in impressive numbers during the May/ June timeframe and again in October and November. These fish are large and at times aggressive, which means that anglers intent on catching a Bahamian permit and paying their dues have an excellent chance when conditions are right. Other top Bahamian permit destinations include the West Side of Andros Island, the Joulters Cays to the north of Andros Island, Crooked Island, and Abaco.
Cuba is home to plenty of permit and lots of excellent and dedicated permit guides. Many of Cuba’s permit fisheries are in protected areas, making the potential of catching a permit here that much better. Combine that with Cuban flats being a little harder to access for many US-based anglers, the permit here may see a few fewer anglers during a season. But, that doesn’t mean they are any less challenging.
For many, a fishing trip to Cuba is very high on the “angling bucket list” for life – and travel to Cuba with Yellow Dog Flyfishing is 100% LEGAL. The fishing can be excellent and is relatively untouched and diverse. That said, a trip to Cuba is also about visiting the country and seeing a destination that in many ways has not really changed much since the late 1950’s. The fishing can be exciting and productive, but a visit to Havana and the some of the more rural areas of the island to experience the sights, the sounds, the people, the great old cars, the music, and the overall culture that Cuba has to offer is what makes these trips special.
On a final note, no matter where in the world you go to target permit, it is important to remember that permit as a species is never easy! You definitely need to pay your dues and put your time in. Fish with a good guide, schedule your trip for the best times of the year, and above all, arrive prepared and ready to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
Practice your casting (speed, accuracy, and distance) BEFORE you arrive at your destination, show up with the right equipment and fly patterns, and be sure that you have the right mindset and attitude that permit fishing requires.
Still a little off the radar for most saltwater anglers, the flats of Honduras are home to plenty of permit. With only a few lodges and operators here, this really should be higher up on the list…but the anglers that know of the great fishing here are fine it is at the bottom. Sometimes secrets are best kept that way.
Honduras is filled with natural treasures – biosphere reserves, national parks, wildlife refuges, and pristine coastal waters. And of all of these ecological treasures, the three Bay Islands (the Islas de la Bahía) of Roatán, Utila and Guanaja are perhaps the most exceptional. Situated on the southern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second-longest coral reef in the world), the islands are home to beautiful flats, impressive numbers of bonefish and permit, and excellent wade fishing opportunities.
The small island of Guanaja is the least visited, with an off-the-beaten-track feel, a handful of small hotels and restaurants and no cars anywhere on the island. Roatán is the largest and most-visited of the Bay Islands, with a well-developed infrastructure, an international airport and excellent opportunities for a large permit. While the mainland of Honduras has plenty of issues and problems these days, the Bay Islands remain a wonderful place to visit and fish.
Want to learn more? Listen to these WAYPOINTS Podcasts about permit fishing:
- WIL FLACK: Feeding Permit – Tips and Techniques for Chasing the Black-Tailed Devil
- JESSE COLTEN: The Xcalak Episodes