Permit Fish - Light Tackle Beasts

February 08, 2021
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Permit fish, a larger and more powerful species, are often mistaken for pompanos. They can be ultra-suspicious, spooky, and difficult to catch on light tackle. In the western hemisphere, they are part of the big three inshore game fish, including bonefish and tarpon.

Don't mistake the permit fish for a pompano. While they may appear quite similar, the permit fish grows into a much bigger and much more powerful fish. Pompano rarely grow larger than seven pounds, whereas permit weighing 40 pounds are common. Size is the distinguishing characteristic that makes things very interesting for anglers, as with any member of the jack family, when they reach considerable size. Brute force and, at times, a cantankerous disposition make permit fish a real chore to handle on light tackle.

Permit fish exhibit a range of behavior from are ultra-suspicious, spooky, disappearing with the slightest noise, movement, or vibration to super agro. They have been known to bite anglers wading in the shallows. In the western hemisphere, permit are members of the big three inshore game fish, which also include bonefish and tarpon. Many fly fishing flats anglers would consider permit to be more challenging catch than bonefish, tarpon, or any other sport fish that inhabits the area. They have hawk like vision unbelievable hearing, and a sense of smell that would make a bear jealous. Permit fish are definitely one of the most difficult fish to catch in salt or freshwater.

At In The Spread, our core motivation is always on catching big fish on gear, so that is the perspective from which we approach any discussion of fishing. So, when we want to know where the big permit can be found and how best to catch them, our thought processes are centered around using gear and not fly fishing tackle. I just wanted to throw that out.


When it comes to the fighting prowess of the permit fish, they rate right up there as one of the very best gamefish. Expect long runs and a strong desire to go deep, if possible. This is a stubborn fighter that will tax your gear. Many a fisherman has been surprised by the tenacity and absolute slam down hammer like force this fish puts forth. Their size, challenge and rod bending power make them a very popular fish.

You can fish permit throughout the western Atlantic Ocean, with heavy abundance in South Florida.

Permit frequent offshore wrecks, oil platforms, and artificial reefs, as well as grass and sand flats, deep channels, warm water discharge areas and holes inshore. Smaller fish school to hunt prey inshore on sandy sea grass flats, but with maturity and size will become more solitary. Although, I have encountered large schools of 40 + pound fish congregating around deeper structure, in certain locations.

Permit fish feed on a variety of crustaceans and crabs that they root up from the seabed. Their mouth is full or granular teeth and bony plates that they use to crush these hard shelled prey. They will use those teeth to bite the crap out of you, too. Since I am not fly fishing and usually after bigger fish in deeper water, there is no need to worry about that, but if you are wading for them, be cautious.

There appears to be a correlation between blue crab mating season and the prevalence of permit fish schools. The crabs begin their mating when water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Atlantic warm above 72 degrees, in the early spring. This is the same time that permit show up in mass. If you examine the stomach contents of a permit in the spring to early summer, it will be loaded with crabs. It is all water temperature driven, so don't get hung up on months. The 72-82 degree water temperature range is the window for good permit fishing. When the food arrives, the bite will be on. It's like following a tasty food truck from stop to stop.

Challenges of Permit

Permit are a fairly common fish, and can be found cruising the reefs, inlets and passes, sailing in the surf, and along the flats or schooling around structure in deeper water. Many time permit are following rays or porpoises as they stir up the bottom. Current is also a big factor in stirring up the bottom. As the seabed is lifted up by bigger marine life or moving water, the crabs and crustaceans that seek protection in the sand are exposed, bringing them into the line of fire. Permit will stage near the bottom, waiting for food to appear. An upwelling or some type of upward current like a warm water discharge may push a conveyor belt of food up to the surface where you may see fish tailing. Take the time to get to know the area you are fishing before putting pressure on it.

Approach areas that are known to hold fish in a very deliberate manner. Do not get right up on the fish. If you are sight casting, keep a healthy standoff. It is better to cast short than get too close and spook the fish. The main point is just to keep your distance. Another good point is to try and fish areas that are not getting as much pressure. Even little bit of fishing pressure can turn permit off.

This is a stubborn finicky fish. You really have to be cautious and assume absolute stealth in your stalk. Permit are as skittish to the tenth degree. One minute they're there and then poof they vanish. The more casts you make, the more skittish they get. It can be maddening. The trick is in how you present baits. It is highly recommended that you use a swimming crab, as they tend to fall through the water column at a more consistent rate. If the fall rate is too fast or too slow, the crab will not get eaten. It is kind of like baiting big tuna. They have damn good eye sight and insane instincts. A small jig head with a stout hook will help you cast further and achieve the ideal fishing depth.

Permit Fishing Tackle

It goes without saying, for any fishermen that has tangled with a good sized fish, that bigger permit are absolute beasts on light tackle. You don't need special gear, but you do need gear that is up to the task. Cheap or inferior tackle can proof catastrophic when applying the kind of drag you will need to boat big permit.

My go to setup is a 10-17 lb rod, a nice spinning reel, I like Shimano, spooled with 15 lb braid. Make sure that whatever reel you go with has a nice drag, because you will need it. Even though you are using light tackle, you can easily find yourself maxing out the drag on bigger fish. Easily, 10-12 lbs of drag can be applied, when going toe to toe with a 50 pounder. That may seem light for a bruiser of fifty pounds, but you have to get the bite before you can wage war. I like a 20 lb fluorocarbon leader. This really helps with making the optimal presentation. It is so important to present the crab without too heavy of a leader. You leader size, jig size and crab all have to meet in harmony to execute to most irresistible morsel.

Learn More About Light Tackle Permit Fishing

Light tackle permit fishing is on the most challenging endeavor the inshore fisherman can undertake. A sure way to achieve greater success in your fishing is to educate yourself on how other guys manage to thrive in theirs. Our Fishing for Giant Permit Fish video is a great tool to learn advance tactics and techniques to catch this amazing fish. Watch today, catch tomorrow. The season is right around the corner, this spring. Go with knowledge and tight lines.

Seth Horne

In The Spread

Seth Horne In The Spread,
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