For the shallow water angler, spring in the Florida Keys is a time of great anticipation. Water temperatures are on the rise and the winter cool fronts, with their stiff north winds, are on the wane. The number of fishable days increases, the tides push more water in and around our archipelago, and, most days, the air temperature is absolutely sublime. It is most definitely permit time!
We’re not talking about just ANY old permit, but big, trophysized specimens. These fish become frequent visitors to the flats, putting themselves within easy reach of the kayak angler. Having fished for these difficult fish for several years, I can tell you that early spring offers several advantages to the permit aficionado. During the winter months, with water temps typically in the 60s, permit (and bonefish and tarpon) move into deeper, warmer water, well out of reach of the shallow water sightfisherman. But, as the water temps rise into the low to mid 70s, the fish start to show on the flats, and the permit, being the most tolerant of temperature extremes, are first to return.
I’ve had March days where I didn’t see a single bonefish or tarpon, but saw many, many permit. In addition, permit have a major offshore spawning event that generally starts around the full moon in April, which puts them in a very aggressive mindset about eating in the weeks leading up to the spawn. They also seem to be more likely to venture into very shallow water, so tailing fish become fairly commonplace this time of year. March can sometimes be a bit windy, but as you spend more time trying to catch these spooky fish, you’ll start to see the breeze as an advantage. The chop on the water’s surface disrupts the sight lines of the fish, meaning you can remain undetected and get closer for shorter casts.
The wave action from a breezy day also masks the pressure waves from the hull of your craft. To the uninitiated, all of this might seem to be taking things a bit too far. But, if you’ve ever tried unsuccessfully to outwit a big permit on one of those slick calm July mornings, you’ll develop an appreciation for a little bit of breeze. Rigging a spinning rod for permit is fairly simple. Ten or 15 pound braided line is heavy enough, and I use about 5 feet of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader. Tie on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook, pin a live silver dollar sized crab on your hook, and you’re ready to go. Casting a crab accurately in breezy conditions can be a little tricky, so throw some practice casts to dial in your accuracy. I try to put it about 18 to 24 inches in front of the fish. If you have trouble finding crabs, live shrimp are the second best bait. With the shrimp, you may want to add a BB sized split shot sinker for ease of casting, and to get the shrimp to fall (slowly) through the water column, hopefully catching the attention of your quarry.
For fly rod anglers, this pre-spawning window in March is possibly the best time of year to get a permit on fly, due to the generally aggressive attitude of these springtime fish. I usually like a 9wt rig, although some folks will use a 10wt, just to help with casting in the wind. But, whichever weight you choose, you really need to be able to cast quickly and accurately to all angles of the wind. Spend some focused time practicing your fly casting in real world conditions. That means having a full length leader and a heavy crab fly (with the hook point clipped off) during your practice sessions. Permit are usually on the move and, many times, you’ll only have one clean shot, so work to deliver the fly with as few false casts as possible.
Spring has sprung, so get out there and hook into a big silver slab today!
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