Fly Fishing for Permit: A 102 Guide

Another long post. An overwhelming amount of information that will hopefully arm you with what you need to successfully catch some permit!  Let us mention again, that the suggestions we offer are specific to our time fishing saltwater and may not be what everyone else does. Try to be subjective when you read this information and use what works for you and leave behind what doesn’t. Regardless, enjoy this deep dive in to Fly Fishing for Permit: A 102 Guide.

When fly fishing in saltwater, there are numerous species, each with its own allure. Our last blog went over the oddly spooked and invisible bonefish. However, the one fish that seems to cause the most addiction in a fly fisher is…. the PERMIT.

Permit can be distinguished by their elongated dorsal fins and anal fin. Permit tails are deeply forked, and their bodies are compressed laterally, making the fish tall and thin when viewed from the front. The average permit has six or seven dorsal spines, and 18 to 21 soft rays. The anal fin has two or three spines, and 16 to 18 soft rays. Both dorsal and anal fins have dark, anterior lobes. Permit have an orange-yellow patch on their abdomens in front of their anal fins, while their pectoral fins are dark. The permit fish can reach a maximum length of 48 in and can weigh up to 79 lb according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Permit are usually found in shallow, tropical waters such as mudflats, channels, and muddy bottoms. Although permit are found close to shore and even in some brackish areas, they spawn offshore. Young are found usually in the surf zone where small invertebrates are available for them to eat. Permit are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Brazil, including most of the Caribbean islands and off the coast of Mexico and Belize.

Focusing specifically on Xcalak, Mexico, they are plentiful. Now when I say plentiful, it’s not like the A section of the Green River in Utah with 10,000 fish per mile. But on a good day you could cast to 20 plus groups of fish. It’s not like they are crazy fighters, although a 15 lbs permit will probably take you well into your backing at least 2 or 3 times before you get it in. And it’s not like they are giants like sea run tarpon that can go over 200 lbs. Although I have seen permit that probably pushed 40-50 lbs. and would be nigh on impossible to land even if you were lucky enough to catch one.

The Trachinotus Falcatus is not a particularly rare or elusive fish. I think part of it’s allure comes from sight fishing for them, it feels a lot more like hunting than fishing. It gets your heart racing and possibly your upper lip tingling. Your brain begins reeling over the next CRUCIAL steps to take and to call this “Permit Fever” would be and understatement. Many Anglers have had the perfect shot to a group of permit, only to let their excitement and nerves get the best of them. To catch this fish on a fly rod adds an even 

When you FINALLY get a Permit to eat your fly and you reach down to grab it by the tail, an overwhelming feeling crosses over you. We have known some anglers to cry, simply because the feeling is so strong. This may be your first permit you ever casted to or you may have been trying to get this very fish for the last 20 years of your life. And today, the heavens opened, you did everything right. You earned your reward. We can’t stress how special this moment is. It is one of the few fish that everyone knows exactly how many they have caught. There is also a saying that “there is no such thing as a small permit. All permit are permit.” Even the 2-3 pound dinks are tough to catch. Some brief statistics ran on a permit trip from our friend Rob Mukai with Acocote Eco Inn said that there is about a 6% land rate per shot. So if you cast to about 18 groups of fish, you are doing well to land about one. Besides being lucky, there are a few things that you can do improve your chances and I will outline a few of them.

Permit Personalities:

Surfer Dudes.  These are singles or doubles found where strong wind pushed waves over the skinniest water on a flat.   As a wave trough rolled past, the entire flank of the fish would be exposed.   The rough water meant a close approach was possible.

Boys-in-the-Bubble.   These are two permit that had created quite a large mud of milky water. The combination of brilliant sunshine and opaque water somehow made these permit almost perfectly visible beneath the surface.

Buddies.  These schools feed intensely and move quite slowly.  The boat can move parallel to them, allowing cast after cast.

Fashion Models.  This school is found clumped on a sandy flat early in the morning when it is dead calm.  You can see their tails and dorsal fins spiking through the water from hundreds of yards.  It was like they were begging to grace the pages of Fly Fisherman magazine.

The Lines:

For permit we suggest a 9 weight line. Those that are familiar with Scientific Anglers, they offer 3 categories of the same line. They are their Amplitude AST Plus (most expensive, slickness additive with texture for superior shooting & durability), Amplitude Smooth (mid-level price, same slickness additive but smooth surface, exact same shooting & durability rating) and Mastery (most cost effective, no additive to line, smooth)

Enter the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Grand Slam Taper. This line  is designed with a short powerful head to turn over a wide variety of flies no matter what the conditions present.  The line loads up a rod with relative ease to allow you (the angler) to make the most of every shot that comes along.


  • Features the revolutionary AST Plus slickness additive for superior shooting ability and increased durability (Amplitude AST+ & Smooth Only)
  • Floating Texture on the tip section for the ultimate in flotation
  • Shooting Texture running line delivers longer casts
  • Designed for demanding tropical saltwater applications
  • Loads rods quickly, cuts through the wind with ease, and turns over big saltwater flies
  • Short, powerful head for quick casts to moving targets
  • Tropi-Core technology for tropical climates


  • The AST Plus slickness additive easily highlight’s the pros section of this article due to the fact that it is a gamechanger. This coating takes a minute or two to dial in due to the fact that this line feels much more slippery than most. Performance wise the AST Plus coupled with the dimpled “shooting texture” means that this line shoots really well through the guides for that little bit of extra distance.
  • Like all other Sharkwave and Amplitude series fly lines this line has a three-color construction that provides a ton of contrast. The Amplitude Grand Slam features an horizon (white) tip, coupled with a Sand (light orange) running line and pale yellow site line section. These contrasting colors aid in judging distance while casting or bringing in fish.
  • SA/ID – This is standard on all Scientific Anglers fly lines. However, I feel that it is underappreciated. All fly lines are marked with the series, taper, and weight designation on the front of the line (ex. SA Amplitude Grand Slam WF 8 F)


  • The noise level on textured lines is always a talking point for some anglers. Some may even argue that it spooks fish. The slight whistle as the line travels through the guides always takes a little to get used to.
  • The AST Plus coating is pretty slick and takes some time to get used to when handling. Is it fair to put in as a con? I am not sure. This could be due to angler error just as much as anything

Overlining – We know that for some people it helps to slow down a super fast saltwater rod to go up a line weight over the recommended. We will leave that up to you and your doctor.

The Rods:

Up next, the rod. You may be wondering, what makes a good permit rod? Again this could be viewed as a very loaded question. The variance in answers to this question can be due to what condition an angler may find themselves in.  Complimenting your cast with a rod action that works with the angler instead of against the angler is going to provide a better fishing experience and less frustration on the water. But on average the go-to rod size was a 9’ 9 weight. Again, it is not needed for the fish per se, but because the permit flies tend to be heavier and you will be casting into the wind a lot of the time, the heavier weight rod will help you throw your fly a little further. As noted in the intro, if you get to cast to 20-25 groups of fish in a day, you doing pretty well, so you don’t need to worry about your arm falling off from casting heavy rod all day. An 8 weight is fine as well, but it’s just a hair less power to throw the heavy fly into the wind. Below are a few of our suggestions for rods.

  • Winston Saltwater Air 2 – The Winston Saltwater air is an extremely light, fast action, fly rod capable of generating high line speed needed for the windiest of conditions. This rod is perfect for delivering flies to the spookiest of bonefish either on foot or the front of a flats skiff
  • Sage X – Very castable rod that is great for beginning or experienced anglers. The X Rod is the new flagship fly rod from Sage that takes fly fishing performance to the next level. New technology and technically advanced materials deliver the company’s finest casting fly rod ever. Designed with Sage’s new Konnetic HD Technology, the X Rod uses high-density fiber composites to maximize lightweight strength and deliver tight loops over the complete range of casting distances.With efficient blank recovery, casting energy is smoothly transferred from butt to tip. Along with tighter loops, this fly rod decreases lateral and medial vibrations to greatly improve accuracy. The X Rod is enhanced with Sage’s most durable, high-quality components that add to the rod’s overall performance.
  • Orvis Helios 3D – With the Helios 2, Orvis hit a homer; with the Helios 3D, they have hit one out of the ballpark. The 3D is designed to deliver large flies, with decreased damping vibrations, to bonefish and tarpon on the flats with power and accuracy.. and on the water, accuracy means success. A matte black finish on the rod blank and reel seat provides a look of stealth when casting. Head to the saltwater flats with the Orvis Helios 3D ready to drop a Clouser in front of a bonefish. Available in 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 weights to fit your needs Stealthy, matte black finish Recoil snake guides and titanium stripping guides Aluminum rod tube with sock.

The Reels:

This is your most important piece of gear. This is what is going to stop your fish. Your rod is really not going to help all that much when fighting a fish. Make sure your reel has a sealed drag. Assume it will get dunked in the ocean. And saltwater wreaks havoc on metal. A sealed drag will keep the corrosive saltwater out of the important bits. Along with it being a sealed drag, it should be a smooth drag. A jerky drag can break you off, and that is the last thing you want when you have your first permit on the line.Below are two of our favorites.

  • Ross Evolution R Salt – 9/10Ross Reels’ Evolution R Salt reel was designed with the rigors of fly fishing in the salt in mind. A 16-disk, sealed-drag system incorporating stainless steel and carbon fluoropolymer produces 30 pounds of fish-stopping drag pressure. Not one, but two, counterbalances on the spool reduce mass and eliminate vibration. An exceedingly strong frame, made of Anodized II aluminum, performs in the most challenging saltwater environments. In short, the Ross Evolution R Salt reel will exceed your expectations. Ultralight weight for unsurpassed power-to-weight ratio Sealed drag Stainless steel internal components for corrosion-resistance Increased backing capacity for fast-running quarry.
  • Nautilus CCF-X2 Fly Reel – 8/10 The Nautilus CCF-X2 features a stout, saltwater safe, disc drag system that is built to withstand the stress of hard fighting species like Bonefish. The 8/10 reel is a staff favorite due to the fact that it has a lightning fast line retrieval rate of almost a foot per revolution. This reel can also be fitted with a larger 10/12 spool to tangle with cuda, tarpon, sharks and whatever else can be found while roaming the flats.

The Leader & Tippet:

Permit aren’t particularly leader shy. A straight through 25 lbs leader works well. However, to help you cast and turn over the fly, we prefer a 16 lbs tapered leader with about 18 inches of 15 lbs tippet. The length of the leader was about 13 feet. That will work well for the majority of fish you will see. Try a  6 turn blood knot from the leader to the tippet and a non-slip mono loop knot to tie on the fly.

The Flies:

Permit eat crustaceans, mainly crab and shrimp. Their feeding behavior consists of them cruising higher in the water column then tip their snouts down up to grab food off the bottom. So what you want out of a fly is something that either swims or will drop in the water column in front of them.  Fish all three of these flies with a long slow steady strip. Again, swimming crustaceans, they do not pop like a regular shrimp or baitfish.

  • Kung Fu Crab & Merkin Crab Variations: When fishing a crab, you really want to drop it pretty close to the permit’s face so they can see it drop in front of them. Let them find and tip on it. If you move it do it in a slow steady strip. Remember this is a crab running along the bottom not a shrimp or baitfish. Sometimes, in skinnier water, the crabs with brass eyes.
  • Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp – Fantastic pattern for fishing on the mud and sand flats in the Bahamas. It provides great movement with the rubber legs. Pick your weight 2 – 8 depending on the scenario.

The Casting:

If you can only do one thing before you go hunting for permit, it would be to work on your casting. A good double haul can improve your chances immensely. If you can’t get your fly in a place the fish can see it, you don’t have a chance.

  1. Practice a double haul of at least about 50 ft. I know, to a trout fisherman 50 ft. sounds like a lot. But if you think about it this way, it really isn’t that bad. Your leader is going to be about 10 ft. your rod plus arm are about 10 feet. That means you only have to throw about 30 ft. of fly line. In most tropical lines, the weighted part of the line is more than 30 ft. so you will only have to throw the heaviest part of the line.
  2. Once you can get the 50 or more feet pretty consistently work on your accuracy. Work to hit a hula hoop at 50 feet.
  3. Finally, learn how to shoot line fast. Being able to shoot line on the back cast as well as the forward cast will help a lot. Many times the permit will be moving and you don’t have a lot of time to false cast to get your distance. Try to work from your ready position to 50 ft in about 2 or 3 false casts.
  4. The best way to practice would be to cast from the front of a boat. But because that is not possible all the time, try to get to the point where you are pretty comfortable with your distance and accuracy. When the permit show up, chances are the wind will be blowing, you will have buck fever, and your cast will not be as pretty as when you were on the lawn, but the more you practice the smaller the drop-off will be.

Ready Position – Before you get on the bow of the boat, you should know a couple of things. Figure out how many pulls from your reel it takes to pull off about 40 feet of line. That way when you get on the boat you know how many you have to do. So when you do step up on the bow of the panga, strip off about 40 ft of line onto the casting deck. Now cast all the line on the deck out. Doesn’t matter where (just don’t cast at 12:00 or you will hit your guide ;). Then strip the line back and pile it neatly on the casting deck. What this does is it puts the line that is going to go out of your guides first on the top of the pile reducing the chance it will tangle. Now get into a good casting stance, check to make sure you aren’t stepping on any line. Make sure you have at least 10-15 ft. of fly line coming out of the end of your rod tip. This will help you load the rod and get more line out faster. Hold the fly in your hand. Now you are ready. When you want to cast, drop the fly and go straight into a back cast.

Fishwest is doing a hosted trip to Xcalak, Mexico at our Inn. We have one of the best permit fisheries around, and we are one of the least pressured fisheries as well. I caught my first permit here. And I liked it so much I moved down here. If you would like to join us, for the permit trip of a lifetime give us a call at 877.773.5437 for more information or by clicking HERE.