Permit are beautiful fish...

… and can be difficult to hook with a fly. They’ll saunter over to the fly, take a look and decide this fly is not for them; or, they’ll attack with surprising vigor. For the angler, the key is spotting them and taking a cast. Quick. Accurate. Often, permit are found mixed in with bonefish or tarpon. Rarely have I seen all three in the same area, but it does occur.

Permit inhabit flats and may be found in channels and on deeper flats that have lots of crabs, shrimp, worms and minnows. Permit also follow tides. In shallow water I’ve seen singles or doubles; in deeper water schools. Permit seem to run with fish of similar age groups and sizes. I’ve observed permit moving with the wind, cruising in from deep water onto the flats to feed. They move fast and with purpose, and you can see them coming from far away!

When I see these fish coming out of the water, my blood pressure rises and my mind comes to attention! A cast may be coming soon! Focus. A change of rod and fly might be necessary, but I’m ready and willing to make a cast anytime they are around!

“… there are only four locations with outstanding permit fisheries”

by Garrett VeneKlasen

Though the permit’s range is quite extensive (from South Florida to Northeastern South America) there is only a limited number of specific locations where one can find dependable numbers of these elusive creatures. Many outfitters, lodges and travel agents tout destinations as having decent permit fishing, but more often than not, permit are an extremely “incidental species” occurring only occasionally.

Realistically, there are only four locations with outstanding permit fisheries:

  • The Florida Keys,
  • Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula,
  • Belize, and
  • Honduras

As all these destinations are located fairly close together in the Caribbean. As previously stated, optimal permit fishing often coincides with windy weather. This means March and April are good bets, with May and June coming in a close second. If you’re just after permit, plan to book in the spring. If you want to include tarpon and other species in your daily routine, book in May and June when the wind calms down.

While on the subject of wind, it’s probably important to mention a few tackle details. Fly rod/line-weight choice is essential. Virtually all permit flies are quite heavy and wind resistant. Some of them, like the McCrab, are almost a health hazard to cast. Throw in a 20-knot crosswind and it is impossible to fish anything less than a stiff 10-weight rod.

Fly choice is more simple than one would think. Though I’ve seen as many as a dozen different crab patterns offered by a single tackle retailer, I prefer to fish exclusively with either the “Merkin” or “Raghead” crab patterns. Off all the artificial crabs, they are the easiest to tie and cast. Fly size and color is important. I usually carry two colors — a light beige/cream for light bottoms and an olive brown for muddy/grassy flats. If I’m fishing a shallow flat, I’ll use a lightly weighted (1/24th oz. lead/barbell eyes) size #2 crab. A heavier (1/16 oz. lead eyes) 1/0 pattern is better for fish working deeper water.

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula — The Yucatan Peninsula is undoubtedly one of the best permit destinations worldwide. The fish population is probably second to none. The expansive flats from Boca Paila to Ascension Bay hold tremendous numbers of permit, and it is not uncommon to see dozens of them in a single day’s angling.

Aside from great permit fishing there is an equally-impressive bonefish population. Depending on the location, decent tarpon and snook action can be encountered (especially from late May through June). Reef and offshore fishing are an added attraction.

A native of New Mexico, Garrett VeneKlasen began fly fishing at the age of six. He has fished extensively throughout the world. Television credits include ex-host/writer of ESPN’s Fly Fishing America and ex-writer/producer of TNN’s North American Sportsman. Writing and photography contributions include such publications as Field & Stream, Men’s Journal, Fly Fisherman magazine, The Angling Report, and The Orvis News. He is now a freelance writer and operates a specialized angler’s information research service.