The Florida Keys, especially Big Pine and the Lower Keys, have become a famous destination for these burly, crab eating fish. The late Del Brown caught many of his 500-plus-fly-rod-caught permit in our waters.
Catching a permit on fly or live crab in shallow water is arguably the greatest accomplishment in all of angling. Once hooked, a permit will flee the flats at dreamlike speeds, then dig in with a tenacity that makes a bonefish seem like a wimp. If you've ever caught a bonefish, you know that's saying a lot.
Permit are far easier to catch on live crab than on fly, and any way you do it is a blast. It's not uncommon for a permit to flare over a fly, circle it curiously, or bolt away in disgust. If fly rodding is your thing, the trick is to keep believing. Sooner or later a permit will rush the fly and zoom away with it. It might be your first shot or it could be your 10th.
Theories abound about why permit are so wily when they come onto the flats from deep water to eat crabs. One factor is surely their bulky physiques. A 25-pound permit meandering through 18 inches of water with its black fins breaking the surface obviously has a hard time blending in. So the permit relies on its huge eyes to avoid being ambushed by lemon or blacktip sharks. Ripples from a boat, fly line hitting the water or casting motions probably make the permit edgy.
Others don't think the permit's skittishness has much to do with it. The real problem, they say, is that permit are such finicky eaters, preying almost exclusively on crabs.
Truth be told, many fly fisherman will occasionally throw a live crab at a permit. They are a spectacular fish no matter how you catch them.