Imagine this… Standing on the bow of a flats skiff with a rod in you hand… You look behind you and see your guide on the poling platform scanning the gin clear flat for fish as you glide across… You look out and notice a slight break in the water up ahead… Your guide whispers from behind you “Permit tailing at 1 o’clock…30 yards”… Getting closer… “Cast when you’re ready”… You cast, the permit sees it… He eats it! Fish on!
As a member of the jack family, Permit are one of the hardest fighting fish around. Ranging from 5-30+ pounds and averaging 10-20 pounds on the flats. Fishing for Permit on the flats is mainly all sight fishing. Whether poling a flats skiff over 2-3 feet of water or using a trolling motor on a larger bay boat its all about searching for that fish and making the perfect cast when the time comes. Permit primarily eat crustaceans, mainly small crabs. They have large eyes that can easily spot a crab burrowing in the sand. When they feed in shallow water, Permit tend to stick part of their tail out of the water while looking in the sand for food. This is known as tailing. Tailing permit can be easy to spot on calm days. Although on those very calm days, they can spook quite easily. A long cast and a perfect presentation is a must. These fish are a prized game fish here in the Florida Keys and are very rarely taken back to the dock. We personally do not kill Permit.
Permit On Fly
Catching a permit on a live crab is challenging but can be easily done. Permit on fly however is one of the most challenging things you could ever do with a fly rod. Due to their very large and ever watchful eyes and of course their already wary nature, Permit will not easily eat a fly. It may be difficult but surely not impossible, a definite challenge any fly fisherman should take on. It may take 100 casts at fish to get one to eat, but when that time comes it will no doubt be worth it.
Bonefish are a quick and nimble flats species that will give you a run like you’ve never seen. Ranging from 1-10+ pounds and averaging 2-5 pounds, these fish are much stronger than they look. Bonefish have a similar diet to Permit although they do require a much smaller crab and are more willing to eat a small shrimp, jig or fly. They can be found feeding solo or in large schools of over 50 fish and are best in the spring and summer months. Bonefish are a prized game fish as well and are simply not harvested in the Keys.
Surely one of the largest fish you’ll ever see flying through the air… Tarpon are big, they’re acrobatic and an hour long fight is not at all uncommon. Ranging from 10-200+ pounds and averaging 20-80 pounds, these fish have every bit of muscle it takes to flat wear you out. Tarpon can be sight fished on the flats or caught in the channels by drifting back pinfish or crabs. We find these fish in deeper oceanside flats from one fish to pods of ten or more. They can be pitched a live crab, big shrimp, pinfish and of course a fly. You are guaranteed mu ltiple jumps and blistering runs coupled in with a very long fight. Tarpon are a catch and release species and are always released. They can be measured for a very close weight estimation (within 3%) and will provide you with a stunning photo.
Other species are available in the wintertime when the water gets cold such as Redfish, Trout, Ladyfish, Barracuda and large sharks. There is always something to do in the Backcountry of the FloridaKeys. A wonderful time surrounded by the most beautiful scenery the Keys has to offer.
Sharks are creatures that strike both fear and excitement into anyone who comes across them… They’re brutally strong and can become impossibly large with a mouthful of teeth and fast as can be. Wanna catch one? Be up close and personal to Jaws? It can happen! In the backountry of the lower keys and Key West, there are a large number of sharks. Mainly Lemons, Bulls and Black Tips. They range from 3-7 feet on average with some of the Bulls pushing 8 ft. Hanging fish carcasses over the side next to the flats can chum them up right to the back of the boat allowing for an easy hook up. We use wire leaders and strips of fish or big live bait to entice one of these toothy critters to eat and then hang on! A screaming run and a fight that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour.