Permit. That work can elicit different feelings in a fly fisherman, usually strong feelings. Love, hate, frustration, fascination, anger, defeat. Permit are all of these things.
I got lucky once and caught a permit. I made a good cast, but really I just happened to bump into the right fish at the right time, and fortune took over. That was 2 years ago after I spent a week in Cuba fishing for permit, when I knew next to nothing about these fish. I was kind of amused that I had caught one, but I didn’t have much desire to punish myself by going after them again. That is, until a few weeks ago when I had many shots at tailing and cruising permit in the Florida Keys. I wasn’t amused. I was serious, and I was into it.
I still know next to nothing about permit. I did not catch one in Florida. I spent three days filming our efforts to catch a permit, and as I reviewed the footage I realized that in spite of catching nothing I had learned a lot about fishing for permit by NOT catching them.
Flats fishing for permit is a lot like fishing for other flats species, everything is just magnified. The fish are more sensitive to the fly line, noise, vibration, the boat, which hand you reel with, what you had for breakfast that day, what color your underwear is. Everything is just a little bit tougher.
I’d like to share with you some things that I learned on this last trip, and some things that I already knew but failed to execute. Those are the ones that hurt the worst.
That means make fewer false casts. Make fewer movements with your body. Don’t move at all, if you can help it. The more you move, the more chance there is that the permit will see that movement and spook, or you’ll make a noise that spooks them.
Get out of the boat, if at all possible.
Permit are boat-sensitive and you can get much closer to them on foot, especially in calm conditions. Be prepared to get in the water at a moment’s notice. You won’t have time to put shoes on or take stuff out of your pockets. Be ready all the time.
Hit ‘em on the head.
Generally, you want to land the fly right in front of the fish’s face. Land it close, but softly. Wait for the fish to react and give you clues as to what it’s thinking. He might be interested, or scared.
If you think you see a fish, cast at it.
Don’t wait until you can count the fin rays in it’s dorsal, by then it’ll be too late. You have nothing to lose by casting at something you think is a fish. If it’s a permit, you might catch it. If it’s schmutz on the bottom, you got some target practice.
Strip out more line than you think you’ll need.
When you get up on the bow and are getting ready, strip off 3 or 4 pulls of line past what you think you can cast. If you get a shot at a permit, you don’t want to come up 3 feet short because you didn’t have enough line out. Ask me how I know.
Learn the Belgian cast.
If the wind is coming from your rod side, a Belgian cast is a useful tool. Basically, you make your back cast to the side and low to the water, then come up and over with your forward cast. The rod tip makes an oval and it keeps the line from hitting itself.
Be prepared to catch nothing, and be OK with it.
It’s permit fishing. Everyone knows it’s difficult. That’s what makes it fun. It’s absurd. You can do everything right and the fish won’t eat your fly. That’s just the way permit are. If you can accept that and learn to enjoy it, you’ll have a good time out there no matter what.
Learn all of these things. Practice them. You don’t need to be on a permit flat to learn this stuff. You can learn a Belgian cast on a trout stream. You can learn to use fewer false casts in your backyard. Just like EVERYTHING in fly fishing, you have to practice. That is the only way to get better and give you more of a chance to catch a permit.
Or don’t practice at all, because it probably won’t make a difference because permit are dicks.