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Permit 101 // How to Fly Fish for Permit

Permit 101 // How to Fly Fish for Permit

To catch a lot of Permit on the fly... you better have a lot of time, money, and one hell of a double haul hahahaha! There is a bit of truth to that, but let's start by talking about catching ONE Permit then we'll worry about the next one. 

Permit are wonderful shallow water species on the fly and sort of the "Coup De Grace" for anglers. It's so exciting when you see that black tail sticking up in shallow water as the elusive Permit searches for it's next order of Crab Cakes along the bottom. Permit are spooky, discriminating, and sort of a "proper" fish. If your manners aren't refined as you offer them a meal... they turn and leave. Sometimes fast!  These fish are quite selective and I've seen them turn tail at the mere sight of my fly. It makes you wonder how we even catch them at all!

With this in mind, Permit are often pursued while on trips for the Grand Slam species; Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit.  If the conditions and tides are good, spend a couple of days looking for Permit and you'll get some shots. With some good sound information from this blog and video you will have a good shot at connecting. The more you know before you go... the better your odds.

Time to Go Catch A Permit

You'll want to be on a guided trip for sure, and I would suggest you keep your options open in regards to species and focus on following your guide's lead. Don't guide the guide. One of the first pieces of advice that I have for you is be patient. You'll spend a lot of time poling and patrolling water and not seeing fish. You'll need to be willing to pass up shots at Bonefish and Barracuda while you are looking for Permit, and just be mentally prepared to spend a day or (days), or even multiple weeks not catching a fish.  Balance your time wisely and embrace the hunt, enjoy the marine scenery, and don't let your ego deflate when you come back to the lodge empty handed. We all do. Even the very best anglers spend the vast majority of their days NOT catching a Permit.

Permit Habitat

While fishing for Permit you'll be in a flats boat or Panga poling and looking. This gives the guide the best view from the platform so that he can search wide expanses of water. Permit don't live in densities like Bonefish and you'll need to cover some water.  Permit are most often fished in water 2' - 5' deep, with a few exceptions where they congregate over "blue holes" but this is less common.  The bottom can vary from white sand, to turtle grass, to coral, and mud. Permit will sometimes follow Sting Rays scooping up the crabs dislodged as the Sting Rays cruise along.  I've seen Permit follow schools of Jacks, Bonefish, and probably some other species. While this isn't the norm, always look behind these fish as they cruise by.

Most anglers are hoping to get shots at fish in shallow water. This makes them easier to see, read their body language, and potentially get out of the boat and pursue them with a ground assault. Belize, Mexico, Florida Keys, and Cuba are the most popular destinations for Permit. There is another species in the Indian Ocean but that is best left for another post.

What do Permit Eat?

 The vast majority of their diet is crabs. They look for small crabs swimming down toward the bottom and attempting to bury themselves. Permit will eat Shrimp as well, and a big shrimp pattern can be excellent in some areas. I personally prefer to fish a shrimp if the guide suggests it because it is best fish under tension so you are connected. Crabs are by far the primary however. They will eat minnows apparently but I've never known a Permit guide to suggest using one.

Flies for Permit

Top Permit Fly Patterns for Permit

Flies are like Snake Oil. What one person thinks is the cure for all things Permit another guide or angler will tell you its garbage. Get use to moans, groans, and other grunts of disapproval from your guide. Depending on what side of the bed they woke up on a fly can trigger different reactions. In a sense, guides are like Permit. Temperamental.

Take a broad but not necessarily deep selection of QUALITY crab patterns in various weights and colors. Joking aside, we have recruited what we feel is the best selection of Permit flies on the planet. We have customers from all over the world that shop with Red's. Crabs are quite chameleon and will vary based on the habitat, so matching this is important. One flat the guide may want tan, another they might want green if there is turtle grass present. Be ready and learn to tie your own knots and switch your own fly. Based on currents and water depth, and wind - the guide may suggest heavier or lighter flies. You'll need to put that crab damn near between the fish's eyes, so the softest landing possible with enough weight to emulate the crab swimming toward the bottom is our goal. It's not as simple as it sounds in this blog however!   

In this collection of Permit flies you'll find some shrimp as well.  Although I didn't discuss shrimp in the video as it is the minority, these are fished with short strips under tension with a "Bonefish Like" retrieve.  This Permit ate a large shrimp pattern while circulating the edge of a Bonefish mud. It was swimming high in the column searching for shrimp fleeing the school of Bonefish.

Leaders and Tippets for Permit

Leaders and Tippet for Permit Fishing

This one area that most agree on. 16# Fluorocarbon seems to be the universal recipe for Permit Leaders. I typically use a 9' 16# leader that is sold as a "Bonefish/Saltwater" Leader. It works well for me and I keep a stack of these handy. If my tippet gets knots or abrasions, I put a new one on and try to stay knotless.  

If the conditions are glassy flat and we're fishing in shallow water with light flies, I will add 2-3' of 12-16# Fluorocarbon tippet upon my guide's suggestion. You will lose a bit of accuracy here... so it's a bit of a wash as to whether it becomes an advantage.  Follow your guide's lead, if nothing else it's good for boat morale.

Essential Knots

You really only need one knot.  On tippet less than 30# test a "non slip mono loop" is used to tie the fly onto your leader. Your leader will typically be attached with a "loop to loop" connection to the fly line. If you need to mend your tapered leader, the use of a Triple Surgeon's or Blood Knot can be used but it could be qualified as "non essential". Many anglers simply carry 6 tapered leaders and put a new one on after the tippet becomes damaged.

Additional Tips for Permit Fishing

Have fun, bring thick skin, and don't feel like you are a loser because you didn't catch a Permit. Join the club. I once did (6) straight trips to Ascension Bay without a Permit!  Another time I landed (3) in a week.  It takes a little luck, but you can stack the luck in your favor by being prepared with intel and the right tackle. Build a strong cast and understand what will be asked of you. After an opportunity slips away your guide will always have some advice, take it like a man (or woman) and let the experience help grow your abilities. 

Permit fishing is a great adventure and can be a lot of fun. At other times you will question your sanity.  Going out day after day not catching fish... expecting a different result?  Insane. Probably. I'm already planning my next trip haha. It's a great challenge just don't get addicted. Budget a day or two during a week long trip to fish for Permit as a beginner. Don't ignore opportunities at Bonefish, Snook, Baby Tarpon, or other species trying to fuel your ego and check the Permit box. I've seen anglers get pretty grouchy late in the week after they've spent 4-5 days without a fish. Take it on the chin and smile. It's Permit fishing.

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Joe Rotter - January 8, 2024


Thanks for the feedback, good luck on your next Permit trip. Yes, Permit are often “visual” eaters. Can’t wait for tension or it’s too late! They drop the fly much faster than Bonefish which tend to hang onto it. Permit… not so much.

Joe Rotter @ Red’s

Terry - January 1, 2024

Hi bob. I think you also did the video. Liked your ‘check and set the hook when he/ she tips on the fly or accelerates’. Missed my first fish in Belize that way when I didn’t set because I did not feel anything. Haunts me to this day. But it always brings a smile after the thought is finished!

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