The problem with permit is in your head. In a riddle sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein in which a Brit lives in a red house, a Swede keeps dogs, a Dane drinks tea and so on, the question is: Who owns fish? Now, if you make a table and analyze the clues, you can logically deduce the answer. The problem is that, by that time, the fish has swum away, you probably made a mistake and now you feel dejected — which only makes things worse. What you should have done is not cared about whether or not you are part of the 2 percent of the population who could solve this riddle and just guessed. You had a 20 percent chance of getting it right, and in reality, those are actually pretty good odds. There are similar results in the world of permit fishing. The fool wins. And that, my friend, is the cruelest part of this twisted game. But it’s not the permit’s fault; it’s yours for caring so damn much.
Here’s the trick: Don’t put the permit on a pedestal. Don’t play them up to be something more than they are. Don’t believe what you read in magazines. And whatever you do, don’t listen to your buddy who says he has the magic fly. If you really want to catch one — stop. You’re wasting your time. You see, you have to not give a damn. You have to be reckless, foolish, crazy and detached. If you think about it, you’re done. You have to truly, honestly not give a flying rat’s ass if he eats your fly or spooks off the flat. Once you let go, that’s when it happens.
Permit have the most amazing ability to sense fear. That is their overriding instinct. From the time they are little, they have an electric-jittery quality to them. Someone once told me that permit don’t have one lateral line, but they have thousands. Imagine the feeling when you are frightened, or sunburned. Every nerve is on edge and hyperstimulated. That’s how permit are all the time. They sense everything. And if you’re nervous and afraid that they might spook, they think, “What’s that fear I sense? Is there something to be afraid of? I think something’s wrong, so I’d better get out of here.” And they’re off. Meanwhile, you’re left even more fearful of spooking them the next time. It’s a vicious cycle — deeply psychological and a total mind warp.
Ask yourself what happens to the guy who nervously walks up to the girl of his dreams and stutters, fumbles and avoids eye contact. Rejection. That is permit fishing. What’s the answer? Confidence. Deliberate action. Projecting success and poise in the moment.
A lot of folks like to analogize permit fishing in relation to baseball, because baseball uses statistics.Those folks believe that if you throw your fly at enough permit, and play the numbers game, sooner or later you will catch one, and therefore the equation can be reduced to a shots-per-day calculation. If you are really good, say a .300 angler, you will catch more permit if given more chances. I find this analogy true for the most part, but, at its core, permit fishing isn’t a regular-season sport. More often than not, great permit fishing occurs in some of the most challenging and pressurized conditions and situations. At it’s highest level, it’s more akin to the postseason.
I prefer to think of it like football’s fourth quarter. There’s an intangible to permit fishing that goes beyond the statistician’s approach and numbers and that happens really fast. It’s feeling the pressure, a sense of timing, cadence and stepping into the pocket to make the play. Good permit fishermen might play in the NFL, but great permit fishermen are those who win Super Bowls.
Now, all this analogizing is well and good, and everybody loves thinking of themselves as an elite quarterback as they stand on the bow of a turquoise skiff in their light blue technical fishing shirt, throwing a cream or pink fly. But “doing the Tebow” with a permit in hand isn’t what I’m talking about. What I’m saying is that, despite the pastel nature of our uniforms and overly dramatic celebratory Facebook postings, there are similarities between marching a team down the field and executing a late-afternoon cast with wind in your face. The connection is the mind-set it takes to succeed at both. You cannot wilt in the moment or reach back to throw a Hail Mary bomb and hope for the best. Permit fishing is harder than that and favors the mentally dominant. The singular biggest advantage in permit fishing is in your head. You have to rise up, see the shot, feel the pressure, make the cast, sell the fly, win the fight and get the cheerleader’s number — all before your guide says “go!”