Fishing For Permit in the Florida Keys
A wary tough fighting fish, that is always unpredictable. Permit are considered by many guides and anglers as the definitive saltwater species on fly or spin, rounding out the “Keys grand slam." The Keys slam consists of bonefish, tarpon and permit.
Permit range from 12 to 20 pounds, frequently exceeding that with large specimens in the 40-pound range not uncommon. On lower tide phases, permit are most often found on the deeper edges of bay and oceanside flats and banks and are often found feeding on top of these areas on higher tide phases, sometimes tailing. Also found in varying depths of deeper water on reefs, coral heads, sea fans, rocks, wrecks and occasionally "floating" on the surface in huge schools.
As with tarpon and bonefish, permit range (in our region) from Biscayne Bay to Key West, the Marquesas and Florida Bay. They can also be found up the east and west coats of Florida, the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America; to mention just a few of the places that Permit are found.
Notes on Permit Fishing
Favorite food of the Permit consists of several kinds of crabs, shrimp, mollusks and baitfish. Much like the bonefish, Permit use plates in their mouths and throats to crush their victims. They also becoming slightly more solitary as they grow older and bigger. Juvenile permit are mainly planktivorous eaters, larger juveniles will eat small clams, crabs and shrimp. Adult Permit eat clams, adult crabs, shrimp, bait fish, and even sea urchins. Most fly patterns represent crabs when fishing to Permit and are weighted in the front, in order to give the appearance of retreating crab heading for the bottom.
Permit are around the South Florida and the Keys all year, but best in the spring and fall. Moderate to windy days are much better for consistently hooking permit, they are less wary and don’t always require that perfect presentation. Permit are durable fish and can tolerate temperature swings but appear to be more available in the spring and fall during a warm up after a passing cold front.
Fly Fishing Gear and Rigging
Level of difficulity on fly - expert.
- 9 to 10 weight fly rigs using floating, and clear floating line are the go to in the Florida Keys. 10 weights are used less often but on occasion during extra windy days making it easier to deliver larger weighted flies.
- Leaders ranging from 9 to 12 feet tapered to 12 to 16 pound test using Seaguar Fluorocarbon.
- A variety of crab patterns is the normal fly arsenal for the permit angler. Merkins, toads, Velcro Crabs and combinations thereof including shrimp and baitfish patterns such as the Clouser minnows. Being able to present the fly at a variety of depths is important. Fly sizes in the Florida Keys range from #1 to #2.
Level of difficulity on spin - novice to expert.
- Seven-foot plus medium action spining rod outfits are the standard. Quality spinning reels with superior drags are essential.
- Rigging 10 to 12 LB test mono line or #4 diamiter braid is the standard. Straight Bimini twist (mono only) or double line connected to 16 pound test flouro leader. 2/0 or 3/0 hooks with live crabs or shrimp are the go-to bait selection.
Some Permit Fishing Techniques
Here's some good info from my good friend and fsihing client Dr. Charles Rosen
Assuming you're throwing a crab pattern, my preference is to try to cast the fly as close to the fish's head without spooking it - as Geoff says, "spook 'em or catch 'em"... then let it drop if you think the permit has seen it. If the fish tails on it or seems excited, I would give one long strip, being careful not to strip too fast or too slow... kinda medium easier said then done! If you feel the line come tight, then you're in business! If you think the fish hasn't seen it, but the vector of the cast is good, I would strip short... maybe 6 or so inches at a time a few times to try to excite the fish. When he sees it, again, let it fall to see if he'll tail on it.
Sometimes the fish will look at it hard then swim away, as permit often do - act like permit!? It also depends on weather, wind, and sunlight. The calmer brighter conditions are obviously gonna be tougher. Ten to firteen knot winds that cause a 'riffle' on the surface with some clouds around is probably optimal. There will be other times that even an errant cast will make the fish turn around and eat. Just try to keep all the slack out of the line and monitor how fast the boat is moving toward the fish; the speed and length of your strip will depend directly on how fast the boat is moving. There are times the guide can't easily stop the boat for shots on hard oceanside flats - always be aware of the speed and direction of the boat whether you're stopped, moving away or toward the fish.
If you're throwing a shrimp pattern or a minnow type, I would cast close to the fish and keep stripping. Needless to say, that kind of bait swims and doesn't usually fall to the bottom like a crab. In the Yucatan in Mexico, some of the guides actually preferred shrimp patterns.
Clear fly line may also help increase the number of hook-ups.