The holy grail of saltwater fishing, the Permit, drives anglers crazy. Seriously people go insane for this fish. Permit are temperamentally snooty and senselessly selective. There are other species that are similarly difficult to catch but none as frustratingly conceited as the Permit. People spend thousands of dollars and go on more than a few trips to catch one Permit on the fly.
Permit are tough and really desireable. Which means maximizing your chances takes time, effort, and proper preparation. You can’t control if the fish eats your fly or if the wind is howling or if your gear malfunctions. What you can control, however, is which fly rod you choose for the job. Choosing the right fly rod will certainly give you the upper hand on the most difficult fish to catch in saltwater.
Most anglers choose a medium-fast 10wt fly rod for every Permit situation they encounter. While a 10wt may be the most popular Permit rod, there are times when an 8wt or 9wt may be a better tool for targeting these finicky predators. We’re here to offer some advice to point you in the right direction.
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Most Permit fishing is done with a floating fly line. That means you don’t need a rod with oversized stripping guides, an ultra-fast action, or an insanely strong butt section… generally speaking. Rods that are more stout with faster actions and big componentry are typically used to throw heavy sinking lines and big flies. This isn’t always the case, and there are certainly times when ultra-fast action rods are useful for Permit, but we’ll get into that.
It’s also common to target Permit with small/medium-sized flies. An 8” beast fly is used more often for Stripers than it is for Permit. Permit patterns more often include shrimp, crab, and small baitfish patterns. Flies like the Alphlexo Crab or the EP Spawning Shrimp are more likely to tempt the selective Permit. These flies are small and require a combination of accuracy and delicacy to feed a Permit. Small flies, accuracy, and delicate presentations all point toward a lighter rod with a more forgiving action.
And in minimal wind with no weather and small flies and Permit at short/medium distances, a lighter rod works best. In these situations fish an 8wt or 9wt rod (8wt if you’re targeting smaller fish and 9wt if you’re after larger fish). But, if you’ve ever done any saltwater fly fishing, you know that it’s rare to target fish in bathtub-like conditions. If the weather picks up or conditions change, it may be worth considering a different rod.
There are multiple advantages to a more powerful fly rod. Perhaps the most obvious advantage is the ability to cast farther. The greatest casting range gives you the best chances of catching a Permit. More powerful rods also help cut down the wind and minimize false casting.
Upgrading from a medium-fast action rod makes sense if you find yourself needing to make quick casts from a boat or speedy pick-up and put-down casts. Rods with a faster action have a stronger butt and mid-section which allows anglers to carry more line in the air, shoot line more quickly, and pick up line off of the water more efficiently. What's the downside? An ultra-fast rod loses some of the delicacy and finesse we were talking about earlier so you have to be careful about spooking spooky fish.
In high winds and choppy waters, however, delicacy and finesse become less important. A fly rod like the Sage Igniter is made for these conditions. Choose a fast action rod like the Igniter in a 9wt or 10wt to cut down the wind and increase casting power and efficiency.
Finally, location matters, particularly as it pertains to fish size. If you’re targeting Permit in multi-species fisheries like the Bahamas, chances are you’re fishing for Bonefish until you see a Permit. In this situation, it may be beneficial to prioritize rod versatility instead of carrying around two rods. A 9wt is a little over-gunned for Bonefish and a little under-gunned for some Permit but allows anglers to target both efficiently. Belize and Mexico also see large populations of small-to-medium-sized Permit so a powerful fast action 10 or 11wt may be overkill.
That being said, there are larger Permit in every Permit fishery and you never know when you’re going to happen upon one. Many anglers like to carry two rods when flats fishing and it’s honestly a good idea especially if you’re in a boat with room for storage. An 8wt is a great Bonefish rod but if you see a trophy Permit you’re going to want the lifting power and fish-fighting abilities of a 10wt.
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