Permit in the Keys
Saltwater specialist and Fulling Mill ambassador Ian Slater thinks back to one of his late summer adventures fishing for permit…
“Late summer in the Keys can present some excellent fishing. Hot humid days followed by light winds and finding ways to dodge the very apparent storms heading your way. All in good fun! This alone keeps most anglers and guides off the water, opening up the flats with very little pressure on the targeted species.
On this late summer morning, I had the day off and invited my good buddy Andrew along for what we hoped was some epic permit fishing. Generally, when inviting someone along for “fun fishing” I still like to treat it as a guided situation, therefore I’m not fishing but rather poling the skiff. Today was an exception.
Andrew was still looking for his first Key West permit on fly and that was the main objective. While leaving the ramp we jokingly discuss the simplicity of what we’re trying to do:
1) Find a permit that is actively feeding.
2) Get the fly in front of the fish.
3) Catch the fish.
4) Repeat multiple times.
Unfortunately, it never is as easy as said but having that frame of mind is honestly the best way to approach each situation and shot at a permit.
As we approached our fist spot, the sun was just creeping above the horizon and in the distance we could see some fish waking around. Not positive in what they were, we pushed up on them. Trying to create the best angle of visibility from the glare of the rising sun, I notice a tip. Then I see another fish tip up, followed by another tailing permit. These were the fish we discussed about upon arriving to the flat. I was able to work Andrew into position on the large school of permit, without compromising the shot we wanted. As the fish neared us, Andrew laid out a great shot on the group of tailing permit. With the fly in play, Andrew is slowly pulling the fly through the fish and waiting for my call on if a fish is getting behind the fly or not. The early morning low light situations are great but visibility is not. This is where teamwork between your angler and guide is a must. For whatever reason the fish weren’t interested in what we were throwing and pushed on. I’m for certain the fly was in the fish, maybe they saw it, maybe not but that’s permit fishing.
As the day grew longer and hotter, we kept a positive attitude and knew we would get another shot or two. We checked another area I was seeing fish in days previous but we had to leave in short time due to a large storm rolling in. With areas to fish limited by the prevailing storms we checked an area that was lee to the wind and well out of range to the storms.
Once at the flat we waited in search for a strong push of fish. The flat looked very active with stingrays mudding, sharks cruising and birds feeding on some of the higher spots on the flat. All tell-tale sign of a healthy, active flat. Like clock work the fish make their presence and get on the flat looking to eat on any crab or shrimp that has been carried off by the current.
I position the skiff for a 90-degree shot on the fish. Andrew lays the fly down perfectly in front of the school. A single fish immediately pulls away from the other fish and tracks right behind the fly. Andrew remains patient and continues to move the fly mindfully in front of the single permit. The fish tips up on the fly and Andrew strip sets to get tight to the fish. As the fish takes off and starts clearing the line, everything goes slack. Emotions were high and how the fish came off, I don’t know. I assume Murphy’s Law is directly correlated to permit fishing, as anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Once again that’s permit fishing.
It didn’t take to long until another opportunity presented itself and a school of much smaller permit got on the flat. These fish were eating hard and moving very erratically throughout the flat. Andrew insisted that I take this shot. With some back and forth bickering on who’s going to fish this school I gave in and grabbed the long rod.
I decided that the best way to approach this situation would be out of the skiff. I waded up to these fish and every time I was in-range for a shot the fish would move just out of reach. This game of cat and mouse went on for much longer then I had like. Moving up and down the flat covering a hundred yards at a time in less then desirable wading bottom I was finally able to get a shot. I made a cast and went directly at the fish. The fish so focused on feeding once the fly hit the water she was all over it. Once tight to the fish I was in my backing trying to get back to skiff to continue the fight. While not the biggest of permit, it had the attitude of a much larger fish and put up a great fight. We got the fish to hand, took a few photos and sent her on her way.”