A place of resource, information & opportunity for the saltwater flats fisher

Article By:


Carlos Temistocles Cortez

Permit #1

Permit -  Why they are difficult...


For the last month I’ve been fishing intensely and as you know my brain is occupied 100% with this species. It won’t let me see or think about anything else.

I impose upon myself such a degree of specialisation that it leaves me with no room for development in other skills. At this time, I struggle with making a delicate presentation having little or no breeze and with such conditions, the distance between fisher and fish must be long and makes things very difficult to get that fly to land gently without scaring the fish. Calm water makes me uncomfortable!

I’m capable of making the quick presentation, with a minimum amount of false casts, no more than one or two is always my aim. Relatively short distance is preferable and my ideal range to maintain accuracy is 15-20 metres. Preferably with a reasonable amount of wind, 20-30 km/h is perfect. I’m always looking for accuracy, casting into a circle target area of about 60cm and using leaders of 3.6 m on average and most often using heavy flies. With these skills and tools in place, I feel confident and prepared for the task in hand.

I don’t know why, but obsessing about achieving the necessary skills makes me continually feel I am not good enough and I know that thinking this way is likely to help create a limiting factor in my own personal approach to Permit fishing.

Let’s go to the specific topic:

There are two characteristics of the Permit which differentiate it from other species that I know of and have fished for. A Permit is special and unique because….

- It’s suspicious and cautious at distance from an early age. We hold in high regard, any fish of a large size because they have been prey themselves, been targeted and yet they have survived.  That experience has made them more difficult to deceive. To capture an adult fish means that in general, we have the right skills and have done things very well. For the Permit, it’s behaviour is a natural condition and juveniles behave very similar to the adults. A Permit caught, of any size, holds value and recognition, almost. I say “almost” because we still have that tendency to praise larger catches as we do with all other species.

- The density of population in areas we fish, namely the flats, is relatively low and the meetings of fish and flyfisher are most often  few. There are other species that have similar difficulty, scarcity or low catch rate, but the amount of opportunities that we can have in a day usually tip the odds in our favour with Steelhead, Chinook and Tarpon for example.

Below I list the variables that characterise Permit fishing.


Variables out of our control:

- Presence at the time and place:  The Permit is a deep-sea fish that often feeds in shallow water, which is the place we hope to catch it. But you cannot get him to eat if you don’t find him.  It may be that the temperature range of the water is not the right, that the salinity was affected by heavy rains, that there has been sudden changes of pressure, it is spawning season and many or all of the fish are grouped together in deep water, they are feeding on something unknown and many other possible reasons that we do not know. To find them one day does not at all guarantee their presence during the following days. Never is one day like another, often a great day is followed by a very bad day.

- Weather:  We need sunlight to be able to see them. With no light and little or no wind, we can see them by surface disturbance or tails and dorsal fins alone, but we really won’t have too many realistic ‘good chance’ opportunities, with most fish in an area passing us by at distance and unseen. We want wind so fish don’t scare easily. With an absolute calm, it is almost impossible to get close and within firing range. With winds too strong it will be difficult to handle the skiff and control the cast and of course, there are times and places that can become too cloudy or simply inaccessible.

My Personal Opinion:

- The presence of predators can change the behaviour of the Permit population. At sites where there’s a few sharks but not too many, Permit are usually “friendly and curious”, they don’t get scared so easily.  Yet on the other hand places with a great presence of sharks, then this tends to make Permit extremely nervous and difficult.

- Fishing pressure changes fish behaviour in the short term. If we visit a place two or three months after the high season, it is noticeable that Permit tend to be more “cooperative”.


Variables out of our direct control, but in which we can have some influence:

- Fishing Guide: sometimes we have certain references, but still they are subjective, which can prove good for one person yet  bad for another. For me, the character, the knowledge and the skills of the Guide are out of our control, much like the weather.  Experience has taught me that, like other interpersonal relationships, if we politely converse and we clearly convey our objectives , then by building a friendly relationship, we can make the best of the circumstances. And with good friendship in the boat, we can blame each other for our failures. Haha!

Variables that depend on us:

- Choice of the time, the place, the guide and the expected situations: making good decisions according to our potential and tastes can improve our chances.

There are situations that are open to personal improvement:

- Permit on the back of the ray: It allows early detection, shows us a simple target, moves slowly, usually eats while we are moving the fly and allows us to hook up because we feel tension.

- Large groups: they can see easily, the target is bigger, and with a good presentation this can provoke competition to feed.

- Small groups: they can see easily too, the target is a bit smaller but they can spook less easily than large groups.

Tailing Permit: they are definitely eating. So present the fly very close and sinking, or stripped very slowly with stops. You have to be very accurate!


- And a more complex situation:  Permit in cruise mode are never easy, usually moving fast and sometimes with changes of direction on an ongoing basis, without settling.

For all these situations described, we require luck and skills: (Sometimes one much more than the other)

Being able to see them with some anticipation of their next move, have quick reaction, present the fly with few false casts and be able to do so with wind from any direction. Precision is always important.

And what really makes the difference is being able to see what happens after a good presentation, to try and make him eat and set that hook by visual stimuli, not by feel.

Every combination of all these variables can combine to make a fishing day more simple or complex.



If we just take the time and the necessary attention to detail, we can fish different places, we can approach with a better understanding of their behaviour and make even the mystical Permit a little more predictable.  We can progress, by adapting to the ways required for the situation and opportunity before us, by fine tuning our skills, capabilities, knowledge and intuition. Then we can get to the stage where we catch Permit with some notable consistency.

The biggest problem is that this road is long and as long as we walk it, the rewards are no more than sporadic. The complexity of both distance and costs contribute to the level of difficulty faced also.


Maybe the intermediate solution is to try to be a specialist in a particular place or a type of Permit fishing situation. This way, recognisable results can be achieved for the short term.

Whichever way we choose to go, it is hard to make the decision to specialise in a fish that has more say than we do, in the decision of when we are to catch it.


Good luck with your Permit fishing journey.

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