Permit on the Fly

Fly Fishing for Permit. It was windy, and we tracked them for about 10 minutes to get the right angle. As well, the contrast of their dark backs over the patchy bottom let us track them and determine which way they were heading. Yet two quick looks and a brief follow were all we had to show for our efforts, after stalking some 15 fish and casting at almost half. “Make a long, slow strip first to take up the slack, then stop and let the fly sink to the bottom. If it doesn’t rush the fly, make a couple of quick, erratic strips to get the fish’s attention, and again let the fly settle. Chances at Permit on Fly The next three days brought our permit sightings to nearly 100, providing over a dozen shots at cruisers and tailers, and also a few more near misses. Nevertheless, our quest for permit on fly in central Belize did not culminate with a catch. The best drop to the bottom like the real thing. Here are three of the best choices: BAUER CRAB: Will Bauer came up with this fly specifically for Belize permit.
permit underwater caught on fly
Permit, the fly angler’s Holy Grail, abound in central Belize.

Overcast skies and gusting winds over 20 miles an hour are hardly ideal for finding permit, but with legendary Belizean guide Lincoln Westby poling the boat, I still liked our chances.

Not 25 yards down the slim coral shoal we were tracing, two shadows moved in from the adjacent depths and crossed our path. They were a pair of 20-pounders, and Westby turned the boat, affording me a better casting angle. I sent a permit crab fly sailing toward the fish, but before it touched down, the permit exploded and dropped back off the edge. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we resumed our search.

Lincoln Westby, renowned Belize permit guide
Lincoln Westby has guided fly anglers to some 2,000 permit hookups.

Most Experienced Permit Guide

After 44 years of guiding, Westby returns to the sites of some 2,000 permit hookups, aided only by memory and a compass atop his panga’s -console, to offer anyone willing to risk sanity and self esteem plenty of shots at fish regularly surpassing 20 pounds, within earshot of waves breaking against the barrier reef.

poling the shoals of Belize's Permit Alley
The author scans a Permit Alley shoal bordered by deeper water.
Map of Belize's Permit Alley

Seven to 9 miles off the coast, sprinkled along a 20-mile stretch between Dangriga and Placencia, these narrow shallows rise from 50 to 70 feet of water where Spanish mackerel, bonito, bar jacks and jack crevalle constantly tear into schools of baitfish beneath frigate birds hoping for an easy meal.

angler lifts with permit caught on fly
Getting a permit to eat a fly takes both skill and luck.

Belize’s Best Fly-Fishing Action

Cameron Davenport, who has fished Permit Alley on several occasions, landing four permit, recounts his latest success. “We came up on a school of 10 tailers late one afternoon. It was windy, and we tracked them for about 10 minutes to get the right angle. When I finally got a shot, I put a crab fly in front of them, and a 15-pounder saw it and grabbed it.”

Jim Klug, veteran of many permit quests, also tasted sweet victory on these shoals. “I had a pretty memorable day down there recently when I caught two fish on a high incoming tide. The largest was 18 to 20 pounds. It ate a Bauer Crab and took off for deeper water.”

permit tailing on the flats
Its black sickle tail is a permit’s most obvious tell.

Permit Telltale Signs

As expected, protruding tail and dorsal fins were easiest to detect. But whitecaps, sea fans dancing with the tide, and coral heads strewn throughout added to the challenge of pinpointing permit, many of which surfed in and out with the waves, like pompano…

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