Five Tips for Fly Fishing for Permit


Fly fishing for permit is a tough game, and having just returned from a trip to the Palometa Club in Ascension Bay, Mexico, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned from pursuing permit on the fly. With that, I have five tips that stand out for future ventures.

1. Join the search.

The best permit anglers rely on the best guides to see the fish. And seeing a permit is more than just sighting it. In fact, the likelihood of success largely depends on knowing how and where the fish is moving. Is it happily feeding? Which direction is it moving and how fast? Of course your guide might be able to tell you these things, but in the heat of the moment, seeing the fish and recognizing what it’s doing will allow you to make critical decisions that might otherwise be impaired by having a guide explain what’s happening in real time. A guide’s eyes are developed. By developing your own sight on the water, you will grow.

2. Practice the stuff you’re not good at.

It’s great that you can cast 90 feet. But what about the wind? What about with a long leader and a fly? How is your over the shoulder cast? When on the water, shots at fish are often made in circumstances more difficult than what you might find in the grass or the casting pool. Practice the hard stuff.

3. Get into a communication rhythm.

Fly fishing for permit is a team effort, and any team relies on good communication. When the guide says, “Permit. 60 feet. 10 o’clock,” point your rod where you think that is so you and your guide know you are on the same page. Before you blow it on a fish, be clear what your guide means when he or she says to strip fast or strip slow.

4. Ask questions.

The more you know, the more prepared you will be for when that moment comes. When on a flat, ask your guide what you’ll be looking for. Permit on the bottom? Floating permit? How far in front of the fish should the cast be? Growing your understanding of what is happening will lead to better efforts and also make the experience more enjoyable.

5. Maximize the in between time.

The hunt is fun. However, this consuming process can keep you from stopping and smelling the roses. The places where you can chase permit happen to be some of the most beautiful places in the world. Be sure to take a timeout every so often to appreciate what’s around you. If you don’t, there’s a decent chance you’ll have regrets when the week ends, and especially if you didn’t catch a permit and you didn’t make the most of other aspects of the trip.

— Tim Harden

3 thoughts

  1. Very well said Tim. One other tip I would suggest is not just pointing in the direction of the clock position being called, but also looking through the top of the rod while pointing. The angle of the rod gives the guide a better idea of the range (distance) the anglers is looking. The guide will then have you point up or down and be able to better your chances of seeing the target he is looking at.

  2. I have a couple to add to Tim’s excellent list:
    1) Spend some time early in your fish pointing at things in the water. Ask your guide,”how far is that?”. His 60 feet might be your 80.
    2) As keeping a taught line is critical to successful Permit angling, ALWAYS beep familiar with your position on the skiff relative to the current. You can ask your guide; you can watch the muds his push pole makes, and you can look at the bottom to see which way grasses are bending. A slack line makes for many Permit farewells.

    Most important? SLOW down! Take a Xanax! By keeping calm, you’ll be less likely to speed up your cast and you’ll also be less likely to jerk your bug away from your quarry.

  3. All good suggestions. Also, I find it critical to really listen to the guide, especially for permit. They are so damn hard to see, I have had hook ups without seeing the fish if I do exactly what I am told. It is harder than it sounds because you are so conditioned for visual clues.

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