Fishing for permit

PERMIT: Permit are by far the most difficult, picky, frustrating fish you'll encounter on the flats.They have superb eyesight and a well developed sense of smell- some fanatical anglers rumor them to be a higher life form in a fish's body. Aside from their obvious physical differences, permit greatly differ from bonefish in several ways. First of all, due to their body shape, they seem to be much more comfortable in deeper water. Although it is fairly common to see permit with their tail and dorsal fin sticking out of the water, they usually won't remain there for long periods of time.

Even though permit have less to fear from flats predators, they still seem to suddenly appear on a flat for a brief feeding spree and then fade back into the safety of the deeper water. They're constantly on the move and never remain in one area for long so quick, accurate casting skills (and 99% luck) are essential.

Unlike bonefish, permit are excessively finicky about what they eat. They will often charge your offering with reckless abandon, only to stop at the last moment and snobbishly refuse it like an aquatic version of Morris the Cat. Don't become discouraged though; many an angler before you has contemplated attempting Hara-kiri after a 25-pound permit repeatedly refused their perfectly presented offering. At this point, anything short of gill netting and dynamite become viable options!

FLY FISHING FOR PERMIT: For the fly fishing angler, the permit is considered the ultimate flats species. The bottom line is: unlike the bonefish (which has an empty stomach for a brain), permit always seem to be immediately suspicious about that little ball of deer hair and epoxy you're foolishly trying to make look like a crab. Let's face it, permit have all been thoroughly schooled in the culinary nuances of flats cuisine, and unfortunately there is no way that any fly pattern can come close to acting (and especially smelling) like a real crab.

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Fly Selection: Permit flies are generally larger than bonefish patterns because permit seem to prefer a slightly meatier meal. Because of their larger body size, they also tend to put more of a strain on a hook, so it is- a good idea to use larger/stronger hooks. Although there is much debate over the best permit pattern, the best advice is to stick with one pattern that looks good to the guide and endeavor to persevere.

Patterns: Permit have a particular weakness for small crabs (especially live ones) so the majority of the productive patterns are crab imitators. The two most productive patterns at Belize are McCrab Fly (1/0) and Rag Head Crab. When purchasing the McCrab, make sure that the deer hair is clipped very closely to the hook shank and the underside of the fly is weighted properly. If this pattern (which costs about as much as a new car) is tied incorrectly, it will go belly up when you put it in the water -permit, for obvious reasons, do not like crabs that go belly up. Because this fly is tied with a considerable amount of weight, it can be somewhat of a health hazard to cast. Don't use anything smaller than a stiff 9 weight or you may be wearing a McCrab earring all day long!

Other popular patterns: MOE (Mother Of Epoxy), #4 and #2, in white, pink, and brown; Clouser Minnow, #2 to 1/0, chartreuse and white bucktail with red lead eyes; Puff patterns, #2 to 1/0, in light and dark brown; Jewett Blue Crab 1/0; Del Brown's permit fly 1/0.

Stalking, Presentation, and Retrieve: Permit are equipped with the latest technology in F.D.S. (fisherman detection systems) and must be approached carefully to avoid spooking.

Tailing fish are more likely to take a fly but cruising permit are most commonly encountered, so you must be prepared to place the fly well in front of the fish, allow it to settle to the bottom, and patiently wait. When the permit is several feet from the fly, "scoot" the fly along the bottom in a slow, deliberate, crab-like fashion and then stop the fly completely. All smart crabs know that they cannot outrun a permit and will remain in a terrified motionless state in hopes that Mr. Permit will overlook them. This will be the moment of truth because the fish will either turn. on the offering or proceed as though the fly simply never existed.

If the permit appears uninterested, you must possess enough self control to attempt to persuade the fussy beast into reconsidering your offering. At this point, don't begin madly stripping the fly like a crazed bonefisherman - think like a terror-stricken crab and slowly retrieve the fly as if it's trying to inch its way out of the permit's vicinity. (This, of course, is quite difficult with the heart rate of a frightened hamster.) The trick is to try to keep the fish interested, catching its attention and then leaving the fly motionless. The majority of the time, permit prefer to take a motionless fly.

Rods: Should be the same as the previously-mentioned bonefish recommendations but a bit more stout to handle larger flies and fish. The ideal permit rod is a 9 or 10 wt.

Reels: Those reels discussed in the bonefish section should fare well against permit, but make sure your reel has at least 200 yards of 20-lb. backing.

Lines: In most cases, a floating line will suffice because most permit flies are heavily weighted.

Tippet/Leader: Again, follow the bonefish guidelines but use a slightly stronger tippet section (12-15 lb).

SPIN FISHING FOR PERMIT: The spin fisherman has a very good chance of taking a permit because of the option of using a live crab (hermit crabs work well) for bait. Crabs are a permit's one and only vice.

Presentation: Is the same as for fly fishermen but remember that the sound of a live-bait rig crashing into the water can scare the appetite right out of the most voracious permit. Place your cast no less than 25 feet from a cruising fish, allowing the crab to regain its wits before the fish gets to it. If the fish is hungry and the crab survives its airborne launch, the permit will usually pounce on the fly immediately. Make sure the fish has the crab for at least five seconds before firmly setting the hook.. The mouth of a permit is very tough and leathery, so set the hook repeatedly and never allow the fish any slack line or the hook may become dislodged.

Artificial Lures: Can also be productive but, like fly fishing patterns, must be presented and retrieved perfectly. As with fly fishing, artificial lures should be fished slowly and patiently. The presentation should "creep" along the bottom with frequent and sporadic stops and starts. Lures listed in the bonefish section in slightly larger sizes can all be productive. A spinning variety of the McCrab or a Gaines Philips Wiggle Jig 1/8 oz. (pink or White/Brown) are good choices.

Live Bait: Small swivel, 1/8-1/4 oz. slip sinker and a #2 or #1 Mustad 9174 O'Shaughnessy bait hook or 1/8 oz. wiggle jig with a crab tailer.

Rods: The same as listed in the bonefish section.

Reels: Must hold at least 200 yards of 8-lb. line. Permit are larger and significantly stronger than bonefish and will strain spinning tackle to the limit. Large permit will often make such long runs that you'll be forced to follow them in the boat, so substantial line capacity is important. If you hook a large permit, expect the battle to last for over 40 minutes.

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