Landing a permit in any vessel is an accomplishment, but particularly so in a kayak. Sometimes tough to find, usually tough to approach, many times finicky about eating, permit can be quite a challenge. But once hooked, they’re always stubborn fighters, and all the prior frustration melts away as your line peels off the fishing reel. Most permit anglers would say nothing in flats fishing is more satisfying than grabbing a large permit by the tail for a quick photo, and I concur. So in this month’s article, I’ll share a few of the advantages of a kayak in pursuing the wild, wily permit.
When I’m out paddling, the three primary ways I encounter these “silver slabs” are when they tail, float, or I simply see them through the water column. Contrary to the impression of many visiting anglers, “tailers” and “floaters” aren’t the most common ways we find permit. Seeing the fish in 3 to 4 feet of water is a much more everyday occurrence. And it’s easier to see fish in those depths from a skiff than the much lower height of a kayak. However, with tailing and floating fish, I think the kayak has some distinct advantages.
Tailing permit (and bonefish too), will get in amazingly shallow water, especially on an incoming tide. And permit, with their tall bodies, push more water than many of other fish you’ll see on a flat, making them easier to spot. Most flats are not of uniform depth. At low tide, they are a series of shallow gullies and troughs with exposed bottom in between, and these areas can be tricky or even impossible for a powerboat to navigate. But a kayak only draws 3 to 4 inches of water, so maneuvering around the flats at low tide is a breeze. Also, this enables me to approach the fish from the inside, or shallow side of a flat, rather than from the deeper, outside water. I like this set up because I don’t think the fish are expecting predators or problems from the direction of shallow water.
Floating permit are one of the coolest things you’ll see in flats fishing. Sometimes I find them floating in the wide open, but usually it’s on a channel edge, or in a patch of sargasso weed in 3 to 6 feet of water. The spike-shaped tips of their dorsal fin and tail are the only thing sticking above the surface, and the low angle of sight from the kayak is actually an advantage in this situation. Looking through a small monocular, I can survey a patch of sargasso weed or a channel edge at some distance, without alerting any fish that are there, and determine the best way to approach them.
When tailing or floating, permit can be tricky fish to approach, especially in calm conditions. Many skiff captains have found from experience that it’s hard to get into casting range before the permit will either see them or feel the pressure waves from the boat and spook off the flat like their tail is on fire. This is where the stealth of a kayak is a HUGE advantage. I can silently pole or paddle and slide into casting range completely unnoticed by the fish. The low profile of the kayak makes it harder for the permit to see me, and the smaller size of the kayak pushes less of a wake, enabling me to get closer to the fish, shorten the casting distance, and give me a few extra seconds to get a good shot before something goes wrong. And since old man Murphy (see Murphy’s Law!) generally has a field day with permit fishermen, anything we can do to gain even the slightest advantage matters a lot.
One day I was out fishing with a friend from Naples, another hardcore kayak fisherman like myself named Alan. He was fishing a mile or so from me and found a school of about 2 dozen floating permit in a patch of sargasso weed. Alan took several shots with his fly rod but couldn’t get them to eat a fly. So he called me and told me to come over and try a live crab. I took 4 shots at floating fish, leading them by about 3 feet for fear they might spook from the splash of the crab hitting the water. But they just weren’t reacting to the bait. So I put the next shot six inches from a permit’s nose and he gobbled the crab, resulting in a great battle and nice fish measuring 25” to the fork of his tail. The small size and stealthy nature of the kayaks kept Alan and I in the game long enough to score a nice fish without them knowing we were there.
The Keys’ location gives us access to what may be the best place on the planet for trophy-sized permit, and you can certainly reach these fish without a motor. So get your yak on and use your stealthy little craft to hook a big permit this summer!
Comments will be approved before showing up.