From Boca Grande all the way down to Naples, we get a lot of permit on the wrecks from 5 to 20 miles offshore. The permit go to these structures in schools of anywhere from 50 to 500 fish or more, and constantly circle the wreck all day.
Permit really love the heat of the day, so there’s no reason to get an early start. You want to let the sun get up so you can see fairly deep into the water column making it easier to spot fish. When the permit are schooling on the surface, you’ll see their fins popping out of the water or their faces come out as they slurp a crab off the surface. When they’re up on top, you’ll see the flashing, which we call “mooning,” which you can see for several hundred yards.
Sometimes the permit will be schooling below the surface like 10 to 15 feet down. You can easily see them as they swim by the boat, but when there at a distance, they’ll make a distinct lime green patch in the normally blue water. You’ll also see them flashing from a distance as they turn and the sun bounces off their sides.
The permit in my region average 15 to 25 pounds, with fish to 40 pound common. Permit are one of the toughest fish that swim, and they’ll test your tackle. They just don’t give up. They’re also very smart, and a hooked fish will run into the wreck and cut you off on the structure. You can target them with anywhere from 20 to 30 pound spinning tackle—I like to go with the heavier gear so I don’t lose many fish to the wreck.
The preferred permit bait is a live crab, either a pass crab or a blue crab anywhere from 2 to 4 inches in width. If you buy your crabs, they’ll come declawed to make them easier to handle, but if you catch them yourself, you want to declaw them so you can reach into your livewell to grab a bait without ever having to take your eyes off the fish. When declawing a crab, if you simply break the pincers off, the crab will die within 20 to 30 minutes from the trauma to its body. Instead, you want to take your pliers and grab the crab in the elbow joint of the claw and squeeze until the crab lets the claw go. The ability to drop their claw is a defensive move in case a predator has it by the claw, and doesn’t kill the crab. Eventually, the claw will regenerate and grow back.
Hook the crab in the point of the shell going from bottom to top using a 3/0 to 4/0 thin wire tournament circle hook. If the permit are down deep, you might want to try using a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jighead which will make the crab dive down below the surface and get the bait right in front of the fish. I like chartreuse or blue colored jigheads because they retain a lot of the natural color of the crabs.
If you can’t get live crabs, they’ll also eat large live shrimp or a shrimp and jig combination. They’ll eat brown, chartreuse or orange hair jigs as well, and I’ve even caught them on brown paddletail grubs. You can also catch them on tan or yellow Clouser Minnow flies.
Permit aren’t stupid. If they see your boat or sense your presence, they won’t eat, so you want to anchor up a good distance from the wreck and let the tide carry you bait to the fish. These fish have excellent eyesight, so I always use fluorocarbon leader when fishing permit. I’ll start with 40 pound fluorocarbon and drop down to 30 pound if I’m not getting the bites or I see fish denying the bait.
Permit are good to eat and it’s legal to keep one fish over 20 inches, but I usually release all the permit I catch because they’re such a cool hard-fighting fish. The only time I’ll keep one is if a shark grabs it and bites its tail off. Since the fish is already dead, I’ll bring it home and eat it.Captain Tips