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Bonefish, Tarpon, and other Obsessions Turquoise water, silver demons on the fly

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Topic Review (Newest First)
01-01-2005 11:52 PM
Permit... sometimes...

Wow, didn't realize I'd be in such company when I joined this forum. Lefty, Del Brown, Marshall, etc. Still, here's what I know about permit from fishing the waters here in the Caribbean.

I agree with the strip theory, but Mr. Kreh is also correct, permit are often baffling. The thing is they are so analogous to bonefish that people expect their body language to be like bones. It is not. That's why having a guide that specializes in permit is so important to catching them on fly. It takes a lot of time on the water watching these fish to learn their behavior.

This is what I found to work for me. First, be direct. If the fish were moving I'd cast 5 feet ahead and let the fly sink. This is when I'd get the most interest. Fish would dart forward and take or inspect the fly. I actually missed half dozen strikes by waiting too long at this point. If a permit charges the fly on the sink, begin a slooow strip immediately. This seems to have the effect of taking all the slack out of the line and allowing you to feel the permit take. If you start to strip and feel nothing, stop for a second and watch the fish. If there is no further reaction, strip slowly again. This is that crawling action that actually looks like a crab.

Secondly, be persistent. If the fish didn't eat on the first presentation, I waited until they swam past and simply recast. Only after being sure I'd showed a fly to every fish in the pod would I change flies. It seems like sometimes I'd get a follow and then they'd lose interest (doing something wrong, I guess). Instead of continuing to strip and risk having the permit see me, I'd let them swim on and reapproach them for another shot. I've actually had them eat after maybe a half-dozen presentations with the same fly. Compare that with bones which usually spook and are long gone after a fly refusal.

Finally, I don't wish to appear an expert. I've only caught 1 permit myself and only ever hooked 3... all at home... but I've not spent too much time targeting them. I spent a week in Ascension Bay fishing for them and, though I saw a lot of fish, hooked zero. Now that I look back on that I week I think I actually had fish eat the fly (as I've had in Belize) but they eat and spit the fly so quickly that I couldn't get the hook in. Also, (and this is by no means an excuse) I was fishing with guides at the time. I find that I've been a guide too long to fish at my best with most guides... I don't think my brain is fully on at these times. Fishing on my own is a different story.

One week in Mexico: 0 permit. Three days on permit flat at home: 2 permit hooked, one landed (and helped guide my dad to his first as well - he, of course, went 1 for 1 whereas I lost mine to the reef).

On the water,
02-08-2004 08:42 AM
The French guy I know. Still no permits on fly.
I just share boats with some of the best in the KEys and I wanted to share their knowledge on the board. I did not know when Del started his hunt for permits, but if he fished 10 years for them, that is about 1000 days on the water with the best guides for over 500 permits on fly. The ratio is not that great finally.

However, if you fish with Bob Branham in Biscayne bay, the ratio is much better. His approach is just different. They are just Jacks. Bob is the only guy I know who got a royal slam on the flats with bones, permits, tarpons and a mutton snapper taken on the same fly the same day. He is just quiet and do not tell anyone he is catching lots of permits too. After maybe ten bones on fly, I stopped counting. I think recording the number of fish caught is ridiculous.
I agree that big fish are tougher than schools. Unfortunately, the permits I fish are in the 15-40 pounds range and the bones in the 7-13 pounds range. I just need to learn permits. I have now three flies for any situation... Again, I really think there is a learning curve with permits. Mel, it is good to see you here!

Here is an answer from Lefty about what I wrote (so you have another opinion):
Bob is the only person I have heard say that permit are easy to catch and apparently he knows something we don't.
I believe next to mutton snapper that permit are the most confounding fish to take on the flats. My experience is that there are no set rules and at times a floating crab works--at other times a sinking crab must be used.
I have spent days in the boat with Del Brown and Steve Huff perhaps, the two best at permit catching. I can tell you that permit are not predictable. The best presentation MOST OF THE TIME is to drop the fly within two feet of the front of the fish. Del felt and he convicnedme that the sink rate of the crab at this point is critcal. In fact, Del tapered his Merkins at the hook eye to improve their sink rate--I think this is imporrtant. A crab pattern that "settles" slowly in front of the fish doesn't draw as much interest.
If the fish circles the fly on the bototm--but fails to take it, Del would move it maybe AN INCH--just enough to impart life. If the fish left he would make another identcial cast and on at least 3 occasions the permit took the fly after two casts at it.
I once caught a big bonefish at Moore's Isand that wrapped around a sea fan and a shark bit off the tail. I opened that bonefish and it contained NINE crabs--no two were alike. I think the multicolors of the Merkin "suggest" many diffeent crabs--and the acrylic body gives a soft impact--I am convinced that crab patterns that have a lot of hard stuff on the bottom will often crash to hard to the surface.
I wish I had more time but I am going to be a week answering all my e-mails and other mail.
All the Best,
02-07-2004 11:47 AM
Capt. Mel Simpson JWW,

Del Brown spent many years fishing 200 days a year chasing Permit with some of the best guides in the world, I would say that he caught over 500, (he said) by mostly being persistant.

I've hooked quite a few permit in Southern Belize and it still ain't easy to land them even tho they are usually pretty small.

As far as the Keys fishing goes, for Permit and Bonefish, those are BIG FISH and like all big fish they are tough. So often I hear people try to compare the schoolie fish of Mexico, Belize or the Bahamas to the Keys, but there just is no comparison, big fish are just a whole different world.

I would say for successful fishing there really arn't many secrets you just have to put in a lot of time doing it. And for those of us that prefere big fish; British Columbia Steelhead, Homosassa Tarpon, Keys Bonefish and Permit, you gotta put in alot of time to land a few.

02-07-2004 05:59 AM
mcutchin Actually Del caught 513 permit on fly.
02-06-2004 10:12 PM

Serge: you seem to have a lot of insight on permit for someone who has never landed one. The keys are well known for having Big Permit but as far as i understand the shots are limited. Perhaps you should plan a trip to a well known permit spot. One that has many small permit and will offer you lots of decent attemps at them such as Punta Gorda, Belize. Although permit will always be the holy grail in FF i bet that wants you haev caught a few and cracked the code you will see your numbers steadily increase back home. How else can Dell Merkin have caught 200 permit during his life. He cracked the code he understood how they feed and react. If you only had a shot or 2 at a bonefish every couple of weeks as opposed to every day you probably would also have difficulty catching them. You better Belize it!
02-06-2004 10:21 AM
The French guy
permit myth...

I have not caught a permit yet... but I had many shots at them last year and this year (over 40).
I flyfish in Florida (Biscayne Bay) and from now until March bonefishing and permit fishing will be hot.
Last year, I tried the Merkin and followed advices given to me by Del Brown through Dan Blanton's Email (the guy was allergic to Emails).
I presented the fly correctly 80% of the time. I had the permit rushed to it and then I was waiting... sometimes more than 1 minute... which seemed to be an eternity.
Anyway, they refused my refusal by ignoring the fly, or I spooked them when trying a little twitch.
Wow they are picky... considering I catch a fair number of bones each year and nearly at least one for each half day of fishing... My main problem is probably the lack of experience with permits.
See, for bones, it took me some times to understand how they move and what is the eating mood of the day... Once you have all figured it out, they are really easy as you tune your presentation, stripping and fly according to their behavior... nothing more.
Now, for permits, this is another story...
The fish is so easy to catch on wrecks that they would eat a popper... In the surf they are easy too... and would eat a streamer... (According to the guys I fish with. most of them are guides).
Now, on the flats, they are not easy... but not spookier than a bonefish. Try to cast to a bonefish 3-4 times without spooking it... For permits, I could present the fly many times... switch flies and the permit would not spook, but would come and look at my offering... So, getting the fly to them is not that tough finally.

The problem is all in the retrieve and to read their behavior.
Here are the ideas:

1- when they are tailing like crazy, they are more easy to catch and presenting a crab dropped at less than a foot will generally do the job... (unfortunately, the flat I fish does not hold tailing permits). The Merkin would do the job, but a permit would not take it if it is not moving. The trick told by a friend (guide) who caught a lot of permits is that once the permit has seen it, you should drag the fly slowly on the bottom by 5" and then stop... wait and do it again.

2- when they are cruising on the edges of the channels, it is better to strip the fly. Bob Branham has his own ideas on this and I witnessed the success of his epoxy fly stripped in the current with a pulsating action. The permit generally takes when the fly reaches the boat. Bob says: "permits are not difficult on fly. The no retrieve thing is total bullsh*t. You cannot immitate a crab with a fly as it has no scent... You need to move the fly to make it alive and fool a permit. Permits are a little bit more difficult on fly than bones, but not much. The difficulty is to spot them in great number. They are a more rare than bones that is it. They are just jacks and by stripping the fly, you will wake up this jack instinct. They hit hard you know..."

This is another sentence suggested by a guide: Del (Brown) had more money than anyone to go fishing. He fished with the best guides more than 100 days a year. He had everything he wanted to facilitate his task and get a permit on fly. The merkin is a good crab immitation but with no retrieve the permit will not likely eat it. Del's method is good if you have many opportunities a day." This guide has caught lots of permit on his permit rat fly... with lots of 4 per tide...

Just some ideas about permit fishing and from the information I got from the Internet and friends. They are just fish. There is a learning curve with permits.

11-21-2003 02:07 PM
SDHflyfisher thanks
11-21-2003 08:51 AM
Rick J Sean,
I would highly recommend Isla Blanca - the trip was very reasonable - guides and lodging at a great place in Cancun was $1750 for 2 - 4 days, 5 nights. So that was $875 plus air fare, food and tips!!
11-20-2003 09:18 PM
SDHflyfisher i might want to take my brother with me to fish for bones and permit
he used to fish but stopped because "the fish are too small" the only fishing he wants to do is offshore for marlin andthe such he's a big computer junky and is going to college to be an architec
that might just be the way to get him to go

this will be in the far future

i've always been fasinated with bones and permit
11-11-2003 02:35 PM
Rick J Spent a few days a year ago July in Isla Blanca (north of Cancun). The draw was mostly small tarpon to 25#'s but got hooked on chasing the permit. All the flies I had were crab patterns and relatively heavily weighted. Most all the permit we saw were trailing rays. The heavy flies invariably spooked the fish when you put it on their head. The third day the guide's son acted as our guide. He had a very small (#8) unweighted crab pattern using felt, mono eyes, rubber legs and epoxy. (He was an exceptional fly tier!!) Put that right on the permit's head and it barely caused a splash and they hammered the thing. Nothing big but my brother hooked his first permit on a fly, around 8#, and it promply ripped off at least 200 yards of backing!!! He is sure hooked for life!

Last day we both hooked but did not land slams. Very cool place to fish!!
11-09-2003 04:14 PM
A more experienced, competent angler probably would have caught one...

...or probably not...
11-09-2003 10:38 AM
Ascension bay?

Eddie did you go to Ascension bay?
I was in Placencia last june and we spent one day hunting for permit. I did not have any luck, but our Guide Egbert put us on several fish. A more experienced, competent angler probably would have caught one. Anyway, Placencia is an ideal place if you are interested in Permit.
08-15-2003 06:54 PM
mcutchin Eddie,

Nice work. As Del Brown once said to me when he caught a rather small permit: "It's still a permit."

Besides that, you've already discovered that the real reason we chase permit is to go to beautiful places. You've already entered the "big time" if you get that part right, and that's what led Del to spend so much time fishing for them, IMHO.

08-15-2003 06:14 PM
"hit like smallmouth bass" huh?

sounds good to me. I'm aleady back from my trip. I just got tired writing.
08-15-2003 05:26 PM
Adrian Yeah - go git 'em Eddie

So, for another questionable theory I read somewhere that permit are total suckers when the light levels drop - early a.m. and late p.m. - "...hit just like smallmouth bass ..."

Hmmm, I'm really not too sure about that theory but hey - they made a sucker out of me enough times....

Those "margaritas grandes" make a great antidote to the permit fever.
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