Key West Permit Fishing

with Capt. Nick LaBadie

Permit Fishing in the Florida Keys

Warning: sight fishing for permit on the flats has been known to invade an obsessive angler’s mind and never let go. Having the utmost respect for hunting permit on the flats is the biggest thing I can stress to anyone wanting to target these fish. 
The Florida Keys and Key West are known for sight fishing these shallow water gamefish and for good reason. We have a solid population of permit and we can target them all year round. They are arguably one of the most difficult and impressive fish to catch on the flats in the world and the coolest part is that we are in one of the best places to do it! 
Sight fishing permit on the flats and in the backcountry off of Key West

Permit Fishing in Key West

Key West is known for big permit on the flats. They go offshore to spawn in April and then work their way back to the shallow water sometime in May depending on the moon phase. Some of my favorite times are February/March (pre-spawn) and the late summer/fall. Both of these times of year offer great opportunities to target the ever-elusive permit. Sunshine is probably the most limiting factor when sight fishing for them on the flats but they are known to “tail” in certain conditions and this is another way they we can find them in the shallows.
Averaging anywhere from 10-40+lbs, they are very large and one of the strongest fighting fish around. Once hooked the permit will no doubtably go on blistering runs and battle relentlessly. I sometimes relate them to a jack crevalle on steroids when trying to describe the fight, and if you ever get the chance to hook into one of these incredible fish you will quickly understand what the addiction is all about. Dedication to the hunt and the reward of a properly presented cast can not be explained because the feeling is indescribable.

Fly Fishing For Permit

Catching a permit on a fly rod is considered to be one of the greatest accomplishments a saltwater angler can achieve. The difficulty level is through the roof and you really need to bring your A-game. Everything must come together perfectly.
Mr. Permit is never one to give second chances and once these fish sense the boat or something amiss he packs his bags and bolts away. Patience and an accurate cast are essential to tricking these fish into eating a fly. If you think your a great fly angler this is a true test of your abilities.

Best Time of Year to Fish For Permit

So here in Key West, as I previously mentioned, we can catch permit all year round. But if I had to pick a time of year to come down and specifically target permit I would say the late summer/fall is my favorite time of year. The winds are down and the water is warm which makes sight fishing on the flats an awesome experience. In July through September, it is not uncommon to find schools upwards of fifty fish in the shallows. We sight fish them tailing on the flats as well cruising around looking for food on these beautiful summer days. 
Spring time (Feb-March) is also a very productive time of year to fish for permit on the flats here in Key West. They go offshore to spawn in April and these “pre-spawn” fish flood onto the shallows in search of food and also school up in certain areas. The only downside about fishing the flats in the spring is that it is usually a little windy. Don’t get me wrong- a stiff wind can definitely help, but some anglers find it hard to cast when it is blowing. 

How We Catch Permit on the Flats

Ladies and gentlemen is does not get any more sporting that hunting these fish in the shallows. Sightfishing for permit in Key West will truly test your abilities as an angler. There are many different factors that go into finding these incredible fish feeding up on the flats and equally as many factors to actually catching one. The angler must present the bait or fly in front of the fish before the fish realizes we are there or it is game over- sometimes easier said than done.
a picture of a permit sticking its tail out of the water as it is feeding in the shallows off of key west
Sunshine is one of our most limiting factors when sight fishing permit on the flats. We can find them pushing wakes or finning on the surface, but when the water is too deep we need to be able to see into the water.
The most popular bait and most effective will be a live crab. Not only are they a permit’s favorite food, but also easy to cast. My favorite size permit crab is about the size of a fifty cent piece and sometimes we can trick them into easting a live shrimp, but they are a lot lighter and harder to cast. 

Permit On the Wrecks

If all else fails, these gamefish are also found hovering over shallow water wrecks and structures providing the right conditions. Around Key West and the Marquesas Keys are home to some of these closely guarded structures. It is not the most sporty way to catch them, but it is still a productive way to get it done. If you are able to catch a permit off of a wreck your guide won’t give you credit for catching a “flats permit”, but these fish will still send your drag screaming all the same. 

You can generally sight fish them in the upper part of the water column when they are one these wrecks. But you putter put the wood on them because they will try and break you off in the structure or there could be some lit up sharks milling around just looking for an easy meal. Be sure to use heavy gear.