The Permit is one of the most highly esteemed fish in the sea, known for both their excellent sport and delicate meat. They are also notoriously known as one of the most difficult fish to catch, but we’re here to help you with that. Although not the most migratory fish in the sea, Permit do undergo some annual migrations events, so you need to know where the fish are as they move through the sea. They also have an incredibly keen eye, which makes artificial lures and flies difficult to use, and also makes the choice of line very important. The Permit also may be one of the spookiest fish in the sea.
When to Find Permit
Since Permit are a warm-water species, they can be caught year-round in the warmest parts of the states, namely within the Florida Keys. During the summer months from June through September, you can find Permit in very good numbers much further north, all the way up to the central Florida coasts on both sides, but they will be gone by the time the cool fall weather starts to set in.
Where to Catch Permit
Permit occupy a range of different habitats in south Florida, but perhaps the best one to catch them in is in shallow seagrass flats. Although very large, Permit spend a large amount of their time searching these shallow areas, often going in water less than two feet deep. This is where you have the best chance of stealthily sneaking up on a large school of Permit, and having the ability to cast either live or artificial baits or flies at the fish. During certain parts of the year, such as during the summer spawn and in the coldest winter months, Permit will also be found offshore over shallow reefs, artificial reefs, and wrecks. Here they will be aggregating near the structures, where they will be constantly on the move.
You can catch big permit on the very shallow flats of the Florida Keys, but you can also catch bruisers around any wrecks and artificial reefs and natural structure in the Gulf, too. They generally circle around the outside - the outside, not directly on top - of the structure. To catch them, get outside of about 100 yards from the edges of the wreck and start watching the area directly over the wreck. You will see them in small groups circling the wrecks, dorsal fins out of the water. Cast a pass crab in front of them rigged on a cork bobber and hang on. They are among the strongest of all the fish we ever catch.
Tackle for Permit
Reaching up to 80 pounds, Permit aren’t exactly small fish. They are also members of the jack family, and they have that typical ‘jack fighting ability.’ What this means for you is that the tackle required for Permit is generally on the heavier side, especially when fishing offshore where they can pull you into structures resulting in line cutoffs. Inshore, you can utilize the drag a bit more and let the fish run, allowing you to use a medium setup.
Spinning Tackle for Permit
Spinning tackle is generally recommended because of its simplicity and effectiveness. A solid spinning reel is highly effective for fishing the shallow flats for Permit, where you can work the fish on the drag system, letting it run itself out. A medium reel is desired here, because you want to use at least 15-pound test line. These aren’t small fish, so you want to use a lot of line, and using the lowest recommended strength line will fit more of it on the spool. Of course, spinning tackle can also be used offshore, yet does not have the leverage that conventional tackle has, which may lead to the fish pulling you under structures.
Conventional Tackle for Permit
We generally use Spinning Tackle for permit, as the distance casting - on the flats especially - is a critical factor. While conventional tackle - the kind of casting tackle we tend to use for Kingfish - is OK to catch permit with, the advantage of increased leverage that you get from conventional gear is not so important it is worth the distance we get from good fast-action spinning tackle. If you are gonna use conventional tackle because these fish are too strong for you, lean towards longer rods - 7'6" is a good starting point and even eight foot and fast action would work. Casting far is worth a lot, and you can cast quite a distance with a long stick if you're good at them. But practice before you try to lose one of these rare beasts on the wrong tackle.
Flyrods for Permit
Permit are another one of those species that have a relatively small mouth compared to their body size, making them extra fun on a fly-rod. To catch Permit on a fly, you must be able to cast far – remember, these fish are as spooky as they come. A long rod, between 7’6 and 8 feet in length, will allow you to get a farther cast than a short rod. A heavier weight rod -- we recommend between 10 and 12 weight -- will also allow you to cast further, because you’ll be able to use heavier line and flies, which cast by momentum. Those heavier leaders and flies will also come in handy for actually catching the fish, as you want the fly to sink at a naturally fast rate.
Baits for Permit
Permit eat a diet composed of crabs, snails, urchins, and other small invertebrates among seagrass beds and reefs. Although some of their natural diet is not widely available from bait shops or by catching as live bait yourself, some of them are. These include small blue crabs, mole crabs (sandfleas), shrimp, and fiddler crabs. When choosing a bait, remember that Permit do not have the largest mouths. Keep the baits around 2 or 3 inches in length, especially the blue crabs and shrimp. Sand fleas and fiddler crabs are just smaller than the perfect size for Permit, but you will be surprised at the size fish you can catch on a small sand flea.
Lures for Permit
The Permit is notorious for being one of the most difficult fish to catch using artificial lures, especially flies. Fortunately, each year we get newer and better lures, each looking and behaving more and more like the real thing. Soft plastic baits that mimic crabs or shrimp are best for a realistic display, whereas heavy jigs are great for catching the eye of tailing fish. Presentation is the key when getting the fish to actually bite, and it all depends on the behavior of the fish at the moment. If a school of Permit is on the move, you want to cast a realistic-looking, soft-plastic lure right in front where they’ll see it, and hope for the bite as the lure descends. If the school is tailing however, and rooting through the sand for food, bounce a jig through the school, kicking up small puffs of sand that will look like a crab or shrimp burying into the sediments.