You’ve got all the equipment. Your knots are finally up to par. Practice and persistence have gotten your casting to the point that you can throw a heavily-weighted crab fly 60 feet into a stiff wind and drop it into a teacup. Your fly box is filled with crustacean-like patterns so real that you’re afraid to reach in and grab one for fear it might start gnawing on your thumb. You’re finally ready to take the plunge and find the cure for permit fishing fever.
Here’s a look at 10 of the best permit fishing destinations in the world, in no particular order, both near and far. Undoubtedly, some won’t agree with this list. If you have one that you think is better, we’d love to hear about it.
Belize Permit Fishing
Rimmed by the Caribbean Sea and bordering Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, the predominantly English-speaking nation of Belize harbors some of the best permit fishing in the world, both in terms of numbers of fish and their willingness to eat flies.
Although permit fishing in Belize is good along the entire coast, most of the focused permit fishing primarily occurs in three different regions of the country: Placencia, Turneffe Atoll and Punta Gorda.
1. Placencia, Belize Permit Fly Fishing
Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Outfitters’ Jim Klug is an expert on Belize and its permit-fishing opportunities, starting at Placencia. Located midway down the coast, this area is home to several fishing operations, including Whipray Caye Lodge.
“One of the few complaints about this area is that most of the fishing involves runs of 45 minutes or more to productive flats,” says Klug. “Fishing out of Whipray Caye, which can accommodate up to eight anglers per week, entirely eliminates those runs. Although accommodations are fairly basic, the lodge employs some of the best permit guides in the world, and its location is right in the middle of some of the best flats. It makes an ideal trip for serious fishermen who want to spend long days on the water fishing rather than riding in boats.” With excellent fishing for bonefish and tarpon, Placencia is also a great place to try for the elusive grand slam — once you get your over-grown pompano out of the way.
2. Turneffe Atoll, Belize Permit Fly Fishing
Further down the Belizian coast, Turneffe Atoll is home to one of the most beautiful lodges in the world, Turneffe Flats. Ironically, the area is better known for its bonefishing, but fly fishing for permit can be just as spectacular. From Turneffe, fly anglers have access to over 250 square miles of permit flats. Anglers have the option of casting to tailing fish from 16-foot Dolphin Super Skiffs or wading.
“One of the great things about Turneffe is the abundance of things to do if you aren’t a fisherman,” says Klug. “The diving is every bit as world-class as the fishing. For wildlife enthusiasts, there are over 60 bird species on the atoll, and the manatees and bottlenose dolphins are exciting and fun. Take an ecotour with one of the lodge’s Atoll Adventure guides. The trips are informative and fun, and a 25-foot, twin-engine boat is at the lodge’s disposal, allowing non-anglers access to the entire ecosystem.”
3. Punta Gorda, Belize Permit Fly Fishing
Rounding out the Belize permit scene on the southern end of the coast is Punta Gorda. “This could be the number-one destination in the world for permit,” says Klug. “There are more fish here than any place I’ve ever been. For that reason, I keep coming back for the best permit fishing in the world.”
Opened in 2002, Machaca Hill Lodge (formerly El Pescador Punta Gorda) offers anglers not only access to some of the best permit water on the planet, but also a picturesque view. Perched atop a hill, it overlooks the Maya Divide to the west, Guatemala to the south and the Bay of Honduras to the east.
“Fishing here is focused almost exclusively on permit,” says Klug. “That can mean this trip is not for everyone. But for those hoping to grasp the Holy Grail of our sport, it’s not unusual to see hundreds of permit over the course of a week or even a day when conditions are right.”
Fly Fishing for Permit in Mexico
The Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is another hot spot for those suffering from permit fever, both in well-known Ascención Bay and lesser known Espírtu Santo.
4. Ascención Bay, Mexico Permit Fly Fishing“Ascención Bay and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are home to several fantastic lodges,” says Frontier’s Beaver Shriver. “Casa Blanca and Boca Paila offer anglers some of the best opportunities available to catch their first permit.”
Casa Blanca is one of the most elegant tropical-flats-fishing lodges in the world and offers great access to permit from October through June. Boca Paila, located north along the coast outside of Ascención Bay but still inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, is booked exclusively through Frontiers.
“This is one of the best fisheries in the Caribbean,” says Shriver. “The lodge averages 40 grand slams each season and over a dozen super grand slams (grand slam plus snook). One of the other strong points is the experience of the guides. Most of the flats are too soft to allow for wading, but that’s not a problem because anglers can access the flats aboard the lodge’s 16-foot skiffs.”
Head south from Ascensión, and you’ll find one of the best-kept secrets among permit aficionados – Espíritu Santo Bay.
5. Espíritu Santo Bay, Mexico Permit Fly Fishing
“There’s only one lodge that is ideally positioned to access and fish the majority of the bay,” says Klug. “Playa Blanca is located about 10 miles south of its more famous sister lodge, Casa Blanca. It uses the same fishing program, guides and equipment as Casa Blanca, but anglers primarily fish the relatively unfished Espíritu Santo Bay. Almost no one fishes this area, which means the permit see very little in the way of angling pressure. There can be a remarkable difference in the willingness of permit to eat in Espíritu Santo versus Ascención Bay.”
Fly Fishing for Permit in Honduras
6. Roatan, Honduras Permit Fly Fishing
Roatan, in the Bay Islands of Honduras, isn’t often thought of as a permit destination. But there are plenty of fish there. I had the opportunity to fish out of Mango Creek Lodge with outfitter Jason Balogh of Honduras on the Fly.
Although we didn’t catch any fish, we did see plenty of fish and have a number of shots. This is primarily a wade fishery. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding ways to fish for permit — particularly when they decide to swim off the edge of the reef into deep water, spelling shredded fly line.
Nearly all of the fish here are tailing, and very small flies are the key to success. Whereas crab patterns seem to work best elsewhere, Balogh has had the most success with small patterns like Bonefish Bitters.
Permit Fishing in Florida on Fly
Without a doubt, some of the best fly fishing for permit in the world — particularly for big fish — can be had right here in the Lower 48. Areas like Mexico and Belize may offer the 101 classwork on permit fishing, but South Florida is the Ph.D. program.
7. Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida Permit Fly Fishing
Starting in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, anglers can target some of the largest permit in the world. Although there is some traditional fishing for tailing permit available, the majority of fish are cruising deeper edges or hanging over coral heads.
8. Key West, Florida Permit Fly Fishing
The same is true of Key West and the Marquesas, home to bigger permit than any place else in the world. The flats and channels between Sugarloaf Key and the Marquesas are the same waters that the legendary Del Brown fished to catch the majority of his 500-plus permit.
“If you want to catch a truly large permit, there’s probably no place in the world better than the Lower Keys,” says flats guide Chris Aubut of The Salt Water Angler. “We’ve also got a variety of situations to fish them, whether it’s tailing in shallow water, holding over coral heads on the edges of flats or laid up in channels slurping crabs floating out on the tide. The options are endless.”
Because of the size of the fish in both areas, heavier rods in the 10- or 11-weight class are necessary to loft larger, heavier crab patterns like Del’s Merkin or Borski’s Chernobyl. A heavier rod also helps combat the ever-present trade winds when permit fishing in the Florida Keys.
“Our best permit fishing is during the spring and fall,” says Aubut. “But we do have the chance to fish for permit year-round, as long as the weather cooperates. Ideally, you want a little bit of a breeze to put a ripple on the water. That seems to make the fish less skittish. It’s kind of a fine line between just enough breeze to keep the permit off guard and white caps when Key West permit fishing.”
The Bahamas Permit Fly Fishing
Most anglers don’t think of the Bahamas when they talk about chasing permit. But according to Klug, there are some exceptional opportunities both on the west side of Andros and in the Abacos.
9. Andros Island, Bahamas Permit Fly Fishing
Prescott Smith’s Stafford Creek Lodge offers some of the best permit fishing in the island chain. Most of the time, the permit (averaging more than 15 pounds) are caught on the west side of the island or in the Joulter Cayes while fishing for tarpon. It’s not uncommon for the Stafford Creek guides to have anglers ready with two different outfits, one for tarpon and one for permit. This is more like fishing in the Florida Keys, and Smith’s staff uses a unique approach to access the best waters available around Andros — they actually trailer their skiffs to numerous boat ramps around the island — saving anglers from what can be back-breaking skiff rides.
10. Abaco, Bahamas Permit Fly Fishing
Another serious permit locale in the Bahamas is the Abacos. Anglers fishing out of Sandy Point have the chance to chase these elusive game fish from Dolphin and Action Craft skiffs around Gorda Cay and Mores Island.
Both Bahamian locations offer large fish that can be as challenging as their southern Florida cousins.
Above are the top permit destinations in a nutshell. Like we said, some folks might not agree with this list. They might have had better or worse experiences at these or other locations. These are a starting point. And chances are, once you see those giant, rubbery lips open up to gobble down a crab fly, you’ll catch permit fever. And like several generations of anglers have already found out — there is no cure.