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Permit Fly Recommendations

Imagine, you’re going on a permit fishing trip.  You know when you’re going.  You know the tides will be perfect, the guide extraordinary.  But you can only bring one fly pattern in one color, different sizes and weights but, just one fly.  This could be a crippling dilemma. 

Over the years with all the permit anglers we’ve worked with it doesn’t seem that hard.  I’d simply pack tan Permit Crabs.  It is by far the first choice of captains all along the Keys.  It’s a great Bahamas permit fly, effective throughout the Yucatan and into northern Belize.  It’s a great compliment to the Avalon Fly in Cuba. The Permit Crab or its look-alikes has become a staple indo-Pacific permit fly.

But who wants to just bring one fly on a permit fishing trip?

We’ve been setting up anglers destined for permit flats since 2006.  Here’s our recommendations:

Angler Evelyn fed a this permit a Camo Crab at Tarpon Caye Lodge

Florida Permit Flies: 

The Permit Crab is essential.   Except for Biscayne Bay tan is the color.  The tan Permit Crab works well in Biscayne Bay but sometimes the olive one is the ticket.  The tan #1 Crab Cake has become an important back up fly.  Both flies have consistently help teams to the top of tournament leader boards. The Quivering Fringe is also a pretty effective permit fly and does double duty as a bonefish fly.

Sometimes in the Florida Keys permit key on shrimp patterns.  The two long time favorites are the tan Bad Tail Squimp and tan I.P. Bone.  Our tan Goat Belly Shrimp has been pretty effective too.

A rare but great time is finding permit eating crabs being tumbled off the edge of a flat.  The permit sip the crabs off the surface like a trout taking a spinner.  A version of Capt. Simon Beckers Hover Crab is the fly to have.  We don’t stock them but often tie this foam crab fly as a custom order.  If you’re fishing the Keys when this is happening you guide should have a couple favorite floating crabs on board.

Bahamas Permit Flies:

Most anglers think only of bonefish when planning a trip to the Bahamas but we have customers who have had some great permit fishing from Grand Bahama to Crooked Island.  Virtually all the fish have been caught on the #1 or #1lg tan Permit Crab.  The #1 is also a great bonefish fly.

Yucatan Permit Flies:

There’s a lot of permit fishing from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to northern Belize.  Both tan Ragheads and Permit Crabs are staples on the permit flats, get the 1/0 and #2 Ragheads and #1 Permit Crab.  The Avalon Fly can be really effective in deeper flats. 

There is a custom version of the Raghead Crab that’s very effective in Ascension Bay.  It’s light tan/beige with white legs and painted yellow eyes.  We work with a couple outfitters who love this fly, they insist on it.

Belize Permit Flies:

Belize is probably the most complex destination to recommend permit flies to anglers.  That’s mainly because the permit fishery in northern Belize is very different from southern Belize.  From Ambergris Caye south to Turneffe the fly selection is much like that for the Mexican Yucatan, tan Ragheads and Permit Crabs size #1 will be good. 

In southern Belize from about Hopkins to Punta Gorda the primary permit forage is a small dark mottled crab, they are smaller than a nickel and permit seem to look for nothing else.  Most of the guides poling those permit flats look for and will likely choose is our #2 Camo Crab*, it’s always a toss-up between the olive and tan versions.  A distant second is the #2 Crab Cake.  If you’re going on your first permit trip to southern Belize you really don’t need any other pattern but the Camo Crab in those two colors. 

Turneffe is somewhat of a transition from northern to southern Belilze.  The same flies that work further north are great, Ragheads and Permit Crabs.  Permit might be keyed in on the smaller crabs so Camo Crabs are also necessary.

*The Camo Crab comes only in size #2.  That sounds big, most recommendations call for #6 Bauer Crabs.  We put the Camo Crab on very short shank hook, the shank is not as long as the typical #6 hook but the gape is that of a #2 hook.  This leaves a lot more space between the body of the crab and the hook point.  That translates to a better chance of actually hooking one of these fish.

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Choosing Permit Flies

It’s a reasonable notion, picking the right fly for a day of permit fishing is the easiest thing about actually catching a permit.  These black tailed sirens lure anglers across baking flats to the edges of jungles mangroves and remote atolls.  Defeated permit anglers teased and torture and tossed slog home after chasing permit resolved to improve; to get better at fishing into the wind, to be more accurate or maybe to learn how to actually hear directions when a permit appears.  Luckily fly choice is easier than figuring out where “two o’clock” is when the word “permit” is shouted first. 

Permit come onto the flats to eat and not much else, otherwise it’s a pretty dangerous place to be.  They are looking to gobble down a crab or a shrimp or some bottom critter.  If a permit sees something that says “snack” it will gobble it down quickly.  It’s pretty easy to tie a fly that looks like a crab or a shrimp but that’s not the most important features of an effective permit fly.   Permit flies need to act like permit food.  A crab fly needs to dive like the real thing heading for cover.  When it hits the bottom a crab fly should have its claws up defensively, when stripped it absolutely cannot twist or tilt.  Likewise a shrimp fly needs to fish true, a shrimp fly that lists side wards no longer looks like a shrimp.  Permit are not going to waste their time chasing something that doesn’t look like food.

Effective permit flies also need to be properly weighted.  A permit cruises the flats tuned both to dangers and food with its eyes scanning the bottom, a fly needs to get down to the bottom quickly so they can see it.  Of course the heavier the fly the more likely it will land with a splash.  Unexpected splashes are very scary to permit, the right weight can be more important than the right size.  It’s important to have a variety of weights in most permit fisheries.  One of the finest permit guides ever to pole the Lower Keys (Captain John O’Hearn) labels every individual fly with its weight to a tenth of a gram!

Color can be important.  Seldom are olive crab flies effective in the Lower Keys, a dark olive crab is important to have in Belize.  It’s likely to be a tough day if there aren’t any olive crabs around and that is what’s on the end of the line.  Often that’s as complex as color choice gets for permit flies.  A tan crab on nearly any permit flat is a great choice, worth fishing until something refuses it.  There are times when permit seem to prefer a fly with some bright orange or a touch of blue, and discussions about just the right accent colors can be exhaustive.  Many permit guides and anglers carry a couple markers to put accents on a fly. 

Peter with a Keys permit with a Permit Crab in its lip. Photo Capt Will Benson

Confidence might be the most important factor when choosing a fly.  Permit angling is hard enough but if the captain or angler doesn’t trust the fly it gets a lot harder.  Permit refuse all the time for no apparent reason but if the fly is a known factor the refusal is blamed on something else: the strip was too fast, the cast too short or too long, hull slap, too many false casts, the pole crunched the bottom, the rod flashed in the sun…

But the fly stays on the end of the line if it’s caught fish before.