Crab flies have been responsible in the upturn in the number of anglers catching Permit. Crab flies are also worth while for targeting , stripped bass, tarpon and other fish who prey on crabs. Hatches of crabs cause feeding frenzies.
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The Tan Sand Crab Saltwater Fly pattern is ideal for catching Permit. These fish have been called the holy grail of fly fishing. They are reflective and light absorbing at the same time. Their silver sides are like mirrors but their back, tail and fins are gray to sooty black. Many anglers don’t hook a permit the first time they try for one. A lot return home empty handed even after a second and third days fishing. They are haunted by the memory little dark tails and fins mocking them just out of casting range. Anglers who manage to catch one become the focus of envy by others at the fishing lodge. The most annoying thing to happen is when a novice fly fisher returns from a Bonefish trip having unintentionally hooked a permit and they announce, “I thought Permits were hard to catch!”
They are one of the most challenging fly rod sport fish. They live in places where the water is crystal clear. You see every fish you cast to. You might have to stalk the same fish for some time before you can send out your first cast. You must try and get it perfect because you may not get another one. This long range target casting can be very demanding. Long casts are the norm as it is hard to get close to your target Permit. A fly that is allowed to fall or glide to the bottom in front of a patrolling or tailing Permit will often produce a strike. As the fly touches the bottom I give the line one or two very short sharp strips. The motion is like a crab digging in to hide. If you can get the fly flicking up debris it is even more realistic. If the fish picks up your fly set your hook but if he ignores it do not retrieve your fly until the permit has past.
These fish have very good eye sight and excellent hearing. They are unpredictable in mood and direction. They are constantly on the move. A feeding cruising permit will cover a large area in a relatively short period of time. You must wade softly but quickly whilst watching the permit. If you take your eyes of it, even for a second, it can disappear never to be seen again. Permit often travel and feed in schools. You may be able to see all the fish but sometimes you may only see one and make the mistake of casting for the one you can see and dropping your line over the backs of the submerged ones. You will only do this once as your reward will be an explosion of water as the permit vanish. You must use polarized sun glasses and study the surrounding water. I am a catch and release supporter but I am told that looking at the contents of a Permit’s stomach will not help you work out what they are eating. Permit do not have teeth. They have crushers in the back of their mouths. These crushers turn everything they eat into a fine mush. Their main food are crabs but they also eat shrimp, minnows and urchins. The fish act in a different way depending on what they are feeding on. Permit tailing are crab hunting, whilst ones that are cruising are bait fish hunting. A good Permit fly fishing guide will be able to tell you what fly to use in each circumstance.
To make the most of your precious time (and money) when on the water you must practice and practice casting. You want to aim to get your fly in the space of a large dinner plate 60 feet away again and again in different wind conditions. If you do not live near water go to a local park. You may get some strange looks but your skill will improve so you can place a fly accurately. You can then start feeding permit. If you play golf you practice so you do not look such an idiot the next time you play a round. The same applies with fishing for permit. Permit do not only eat crabs. They like to eat shrimp. If you cast a shrimp pattern into the path of a permit, allow it to settle then start to slowly strip it away. As the permit notice the movement and home in for the kill speed up the retrieve to imitate a shrimp fleeing for its life. A crazy charlie is an ideal choice of fly. Match the colour to that of the sea bed.
When out fishing for bonefish look for 'Permit Mud'. What am I talking about? Sand and silt is kicked up into suspension when a group of bonefish root along the bottom searching out food. They color the water along the area of the beach. The water looks all cloudy. 'Permit mud' is a great indicator of activity and an easy way of locating permit. Cast your fly into this location.
The only tip I might have on fishing with crab flies is that there are quite a few rays cruising the beaches of Eleuthera- wingspan about 5to 6 feet and they mosey along singly or occasionally in pairs, about 20 or 30 feet from shore , doing about two knots. My guide got extremely excited when he saw one and we ran along to catch up to it. Apparently they roil up the water behind them and the bonefish tag along closely to pick up any bits. Sure enough there were fish in the wake and I believe I did hook one - much to the surprise of the fish, me, and certainly the guide! Best regards, Jack Hickmand CA