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The Backstage Pass

7 Tips For Fly Fishing For Permit

May 03, 23

Dedication, plenty of practice, times of great effort and times of great disappointment, yet when accomplished, offers a feeling of euphoria rarely experienced. Are we talking about running a marathon or catching a fish?? 

What does running a marathon have to do with fly fishing? When it comes to fly fishing for permit, it has everything to do with it, because, like finishing a marathon, a permit landed on the fly is earned. These fish are elusive, moody, and have provided dedicated anglers a quarry worth of legendary status for decades. If fly fishing for trout were the 100-meter dash, landing a permit on a fly is certainly a marathon.

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Here are 7 Top Tips to Catch More of These Legendary Fish

1. Practice Your Cast. Always. Like skiing, fly casting does tend to come back after a long hiatus. However, we’re not talking about cruising the groomers on a sunny day. Fly fishing for permit serves up every imaginable variable in flats fishing—wind, good light, bad light, fish on the move, fish not moving, white bottom, dark bottom, and the list goes on. Because so many factors can affect the moment you need your cast to matter, practice, practice, practice. Great coaches say any sport is an easy sport, but the opponent makes it difficult. Your sport is fly fishing. Your opponent is the permit, playing on their home court with their refs and their scorekeeper. Practice your cast often.

2. Have a Basic Knowledge of Tides and Weather. Tides play a large role in the feeding habits of permit. For example, most Belizean waters have very few changes in tides. This means the fish are often on the flats longer and maybe available for longer periods of the day. In the Seychelles, some atolls have large changes from high to low and vice-versa, meaning there may be a concentrated window of feeding. A very basic knowledge of tides and prevailing weather can aid the guide-and-angler team concept—when the tides and weather align or when they don’t—you want to be ready.

3. Choose Your Destination Wisely. Permit are found in many places—the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, the Seychelles, and a few other places like Australia’s East Cape. Permit junkies have yet to find a place where permit behave more like their opportunistic cousin, the Jack Crevalle, and less like permit. But in all these destinations exist guides passionate about their local fisheries. And, in these local fisheries swim plenty of permit. Belize is home to some ridiculously passionate permit guides. Mexico’s Ascension Bay is one of the largest protected marine reserves in the world. The Faraway Cayes in Honduras may be the most remote permit fishery in the Caribbean. Cuba is home to several generations of permit guides. The Bahamas, where the flats fishing is better known for bonefish—which is fine for the dedicated following of hard-core permit anglers who regularly fish the Bahamas—is home to plenty of permit as well. There’s also the Indo-Pacific permit—a completely different species of permit, yet just as challenging—found in the Seychelles and Australia’s East Cape.

4. Go With a Pro. Fly fishing for permit is unlike any other type of fly fishing—hours are spent hunting the flats in search of fish. On any given day you might have one chance or many. When the fish gods align your angling stars along with a feeding permit, you want the best guide possible alongside you. This guide will have chosen the right fly, moved the boat in the correct position, told you exactly when to cast, strip, and set the hook…and be there to take a great photo when you land the permit. Sounds easy, right? But you still have to do your part.

5. Embrace the Guide-and-Angler Team Concept. Choose a guide that matches your personality and you both will stack the angling-deck in your favor—if you are a hard-charging angler and demand to bring your skills directly to the eyes and mouth of fish and like to announce your presence with authority, choose a guide of the same ilk. Conversely, if you fish more patiently and embrace a “no worries, mon, it’ll happen when it happens” approach, find a guide with that same inner confidence yet outwardly quiet demeanor. When you find a guide you mesh with, embrace the concept of you and the guide working in tandem to accomplish the same thing—to catch some pesky permit!

6. Your Laid-Back but NEVER Lazy. From Justin Rea and Greg Vincent, two permit gurus in their own right, are the Six P’s of permit fishing. Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Stay focused and always be ready. Be aware of the little things—go barefoot or wear shoes that won’t snag spare fly line. Get in the habit of checking your excess fly line. Permit fishing can deliver very few opportunities in a day with long gaps between fish. It's not fair on your guide if he's just poled you into the current and wind for an hour, puts you on a fish, and your fly is stuck in your sleeve when the shot presents itself. Keep your spare gear tidy—don’t let water bottles roll in the boat, stow your bag, and always be ready and aware.

7. Don’t Stress Over an Exact Fly Pattern. You’ve planned this trip for months, maybe longer. You’ve missed out on ball games because you’ve been a good student and practiced your cast. And, yes, the specific fly pattern you are fishing may be important, but the accuracy of the cast is so much more. Permit really don’t want to swim great distances to eat a fly. There are sometimes exceptions to this rule, but overall, it applies 99% of the time. Accuracy and stealth of presentation are more important than anything else. There is just no getting around having the fly in exactly in the right place at the right time.

Fly fishing for permit is rarely easy…that’s what makes it so much fun. If you want easy, choose bowling or taste-testing IPA’s at the latest hip-and-trendy brewpub. But, if you want to be ready to feed a permit like Captains Justin Rea and Greg Vincent, you still have to get out there and go fly fishing for permit.

For more information on lodges, trips, gear, and permit fishing how-to articles, visit our Permit Fly Fishing page

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