Stalking the Backcountry Bulldog

The Permit  is considered by most anglers to be one of the more feisty and challenging fish in the Florida Keys to go after. Permit are more plentiful in Florida Keys waters then in most destinations but, that being said, they’re not so easy to catch.  That’s what makes them so much fun to go after.  They’re a very beautiful fish too…. and they make a really nice looking photo for your scrapbook and Facebook.


Permit are related to Pompano but can get up to 5 times their size and fight like they are on steroids. Good news; they are very good eating. Bad news ; it is considered sacrilegious to ever kill one on flats. They are extremely more valuble as a sportsfish then in the pan. Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit are all part of a multi-million dollar recreational  sportfishing industry in the Florida Keys.


You’ll recognize Permit by their very oval shape, very pointed tail-fins, dorsal and anal fins.  They also have a slight bit of yellow coloration along the bottom of their stomachs but that’s hard to notice unless you’re very close.  What you do notice, because of their rather rotund shape, is the light reflecting off their long sickle tail as they forage for crusteceans on the ocean floor .

Permit love crabs and their mouths are structured to crush them.  The bigger the permit, the bigger the crabs they eat. But they also like other crustaceans such as shrimp, and sometimes smaller fish.


Most Permit in the Florida Keys Backcountry and up on the Flats average around 10-35 lbs.  Pound for pound, their tenacity after being hooked is unrivaled on the Flats. This is a saltwater MUST for your bucketlist. To quietly stalk, accuratetly  cast, and fight this bulldog of the flats to boatside is a proud accomplishment for most anglers.


You’ll find them in shallower tropical waters, grass flats, around reefs, wrecks, channels and sandy beaches and down to no more than 120 feet. Deep water Permit found over wrecks and rockpiles in late spring are typically spawning and easy target for light tackle fisherman. Hopefully someday they will be protected during the spawn. Individually they are very wary and shy in the very shallow water, making a quick accurate cast challenging and fun. Cast too close, you spook them. Don't cast close enough, they don't see it.


You can fish for Permit any time of the year although a very bad cold front can shut them down till the next warming trend, which usually is within a few days in  Key West.  The best way to find them is to get an early morning start and be where they are when the sun comes up.  Watch for their fins cutting the water (called tailing) or cruising the edges of channels, waiting for the rising incoming tide to hop up onto the flat.  You’ll need a sharp eye but, of course, Capt. Mike will know what to look for, and help point your rod tip in the right direction.


All in all, the Permit is a good all-around sporting fish…. they’re  mysterious, exciting to find, a challenge to catch! They’ll offer the fight of a fish normally twice their size..