Hey all! Dale “The Bulldog” Freschi here. Are you ready to learn the ins and outs of this big boy? Sit back and get ready for fish focused material to excel your experiences on the water (tropical).
The crown of tropical fly fishing is the "Grand Slam” which is accomplished by catching a Bonefish, Permit and Tarpon all on the same day, and the jewel in this crown is most certainly the Permit. In our many trips to Cuba several of us in our group were fortunate enough to achieve this milestone.
Permit eat crustaceans such as shrimp, crabs, etc, and can be found “tailing” in shallow water or “cruising" in slightly deeper water on the various sand, grass or coral flats. These fish can be notoriously difficult to catch with a fly, often refusing a near perfect presentation by swimming up to your offering, virtually bumping it with their nose, and then refusing to eat it.
Permit are extremely strong fish and we prefer 9 or 10 weight rods paired with a good disk drag reel that hold a minimum of 200 yards of backing. We use floating fly lines for the tailing fish feeding in the shallows as we were casting our fly very close to these fish, but we sometimes use fly lines with 10 to 15 foot clear intermediate “Ghost” sink tips to target the deeper cruising fish which help in making longer casts while allowing us to land the fly closer to the fish without "line spooking” them.
As is typical in other clear water sight fishing situations, the fish are much more wary in calm sunny weather and less so on blustery, windy days when it makes it more difficult for them to see you but also makes it just as hard for you to see them. We found that stealth in conjunction with conditions combined with proper presentation and knowing when to set the hook were keys to success.
The times we were able to sneak up on tailing fish in shallow water, where their field of vision is very limited, we basically cast the fly right on their heads and the fish would often eat the fly as it dropped, imitating a natural crab or shrimp diving to the bottom for protection. In targeting cruising fish we cast the fly well in front of the fish and then start your retrieve to try and intersect them at the right moment, sometimes they want the fly moving fast, other times slow or not moving at all.
These techniques require a lot of experimentation, practice and patience but we found the most challenging part of the entire equation was knowing when the Permit had actually eaten your fly. In some cases you would actually see the Permit suck the fly into their mouths, OK done deal, but other times they would follow agonizingly close to your fly or even "tip up" on it at a 45 degree angle without inhaling your offering.
In many cases you do not see or feel the fish take your fly, and much to our Cuban guides chagrin, we had several times we did not set the hook when the fish had in fact eaten, or alternatively pulled the fly away from the fish thinking they had eaten when they hadn’t.
Fly fishing for Permit can certainly be frustrating but is always exciting and when you do finally hook and land one the absolute exhilaration and sense of accomplishment is hard to describe. You can observe some different techniques and tactics for targeting Permit in several of the Cuba episodes of Sport Fishing on the Fly and you can watch Don complete the coveted “Grand Slam” in Series 19, Episode 12.
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We would love to hear from you about your own Permit fishing experiences, please comment below your experience. We love hearing from you!