When people think of my region, permit fishing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, despite the fact that we have some of the best fishing and some of the biggest permit found in Florida waters. July is prime time for permit fishing in my region, as the fish are schooled up on the reefs and wrecks, as well as around the inlets and on the beaches.
Permit on the reefs and wrecks are part of the spawning aggregation of fish, and tend to be in large schools of mostly larger fish somewhere in the 20 to 40-pound range. These fish can be seen bobbing in the sargassum weed during the calm days, or just mooning, flashing or finning on the surface.
Any time you have large concentrations of permit, the fish become more competitive for food, and are thus easier to get to eat a bait or fly than the singles, doubles or small pods of fish that you’d typically encounter on a Keys flat. If you approach these fish slowly and quietly by either drifting within casting range or using your trolling motor, you’ll get plenty of shots at fish.
One of the things I like to do is use the Anchor feature on my Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor to hold my boat in position near a reef or wreck and then watch the side imaging screen on my Humminbird Solix 15 to spot the fish, which look exactly like a school of permit swimming by the boat. You can tell which direction the fish are moving, where they are and how deep, so all you have to do is put a live crab or a crab and ¼-ounce jig in front of them, and you’ll get a bite.
Since these fish are not only large, but powerful, I target them with 30-pound braided line on an 8-foot medium heavy rod and 6000 size spinning reel. You’ll want the longer rod to make long casts with a light crab. Add a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader to help prevent rub-offs if the fish gets into the reef, and you can really lean on them and heat them up.
July is also a month when we’re still have extreme low tides on the new and full moons, and those tides are sucking a ton of crabs out the inlets. The crabs are riding on the dead seagrass floating on the surface, and the permit will be around the mouth of the inlets or feeding along that weed line as it wraps outside and works its way offshore.
You can drop your trolling motor and just buzz up and down the weedline sight casting to feeding fish that are slurping crabs out of the grass. The inlet fish can be anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds, so I fish them with 20-pound tackle, and an unweighted crab on a 3/0 VMC circle hook. When you see a fish eat a crab off the grass, just cast near the area and ahead of the fish, and it’ll rush that crab and engulf it.
Permit on the beach tend to travel in schools, although there are also some very large fish that travel in singles and pairs. They tend to be near rockpiles, with the school fish averaging 10 to 20 pounds, and singles and pairs representing the largest fish you’ll encounter. These fish are very spooky, so any time you cast to them you want to lead them so the bait splashing on the surface when it lands doesn’t scare the fish. Permit have excellent eyesight, so if you get the crab within 15 feet of it, the fish will likely spot it.
When hooked, permit are some of the toughest fish to land, and don’t give up easily, even when at the boat. You can legally harvest one fish, but most permit anglers release them, as the population in my region is limited and we want to keep that population healthy for future generations. Grab the fish, snap a picture, remove the hook, revive it and let it go. Then grab your rod, pin on a bait and get another one!