Living Sanibel: Permit
The permit is one of the most sought-after game fish in Florida. Anglers have been known to fly into the Keys from everywhere on the planet to catch one of these elusive members of the jack family. In the Florida Keys, the permit is stalked in flats boats while feeding over grass flats. It is most often taken with small crabs, but it is also targeted by fly fishermen, and, because of its cautious nature, is considered (along with bonefish) to be one of the hardest fish to catch on a fly. Because of its similar shape, the immature permit is readily confused with the pompano. The best method of identifying one from the other is to remember that the belly of a pompano is yellow, and the back anal fin region of a permit is a distinct orange.
Locally the permit is almost never found in the back bays and estuaries. The most likely place to find large schools of permit is over the near shore and offshore artificial reefs of Lee County. In the early spring though the summer permit congregate in large schools at the Doc Kline, Belton Johnson, Edison and Pace’s Place reefs. (For a complete list of these reefs go to leereefs.org). Few anglers ever attempt to take them on a fly in deeper water, and the baits of choice are two- to three-inch crabs or fresh, live, hand-picked shrimp.
The fish over these reefs tend to be large, averaging 15 to 35 pounds. Fluorocarbon leader, light tackle with good drag systems, and buried hooks are a must. The permit is a sight feeder and has sharp eyesight. Any sign of a hook and it will not bite. Extremely wary, the permit has to be approached slowly, and care must be taken not to spook the school.
Coming upon one of these schools, even if you are not trying to catch a permit, is a true marvel. They often number in the hundreds of fish per school, and their bright, silver sides flashing in the sunlight make for a fantastic sighting.
In the wild the permit feeds on mollusks, crabs, and shrimp. It seldom feeds on small fish but has been known to do so on rare occasions. Once it reaches adult size, which can top 50 pounds, the only fish capable on feeding on permit are large sharks. A tireless fighter and considered good table fare, the permit will always be a top-notch catch in Florida waters.
This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.