|Capt. Eric Wrenn with an nice Pine Island permit from the flats.|
Permit are one of Florida’s most prized gamefish in both inshore and offshore waters. Unfortunately, they’re only common on the shallows from Biscayne Bay to Key West. We have plenty of them here in Southwest Florida but mostly on the deeper reefs and rock piles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Catching a permit on the inshore flats of Pine Island has always been a rare event but that might be changing for the better.
I’ve always seen permit on our flats as long as I’ve been fishing this area, especially on the sand bars of Charlotte Harbor, but have never hooked one until recently. Last month I had a charter from New Jersey on board throwing live shrimp at some baby tarpon off Matlacha. We had a solid hit that pulled a nice amount of drag but the fish never jumped. I assumed it was another mid-sized jack, which had been eating our baits all morning, but I was thrilled when a two pound permit came up to the boat. I’ve guided clients to several hundred of these fish off Key West and this was by far the smallest I’d ever hooked. I also can’t remember being so excited about any catch in a long time.
The main reason I was so thrilled is because I seemed to be the only local flats guide who hadn’t landed a permit in the past year. My friend Capt. Joe Harley had at least three anglers catch them on fly last fall out in Pine Island Sound. My other buddy Capt. Eric Wrenn had an amazing morning recently when he caught eight permit on live shrimp off a Matlacha Pass oyster bar. I’ve also heard from at least a half dozen recreational anglers who’ve landed these fish in the same waters on both live bait and artificials.
This is really great news and it says a lot about the current condition of our fishery despite all the recent bad press we’ve had after the Lake Okeechobee situation. At the same time, I have no illusions about Pine Island becoming the next hot permit destination. This area will never rival Key West or Belize because our water is just too dark most of the year to allow the kind of sight fishing for this species those locations can offer. But word will spread and there is a cult of hard core permit anglers who won’t hesitate to travel to any new spot to chase this “Holy Grail of the Flats.” Best of all, they’ll bring their money with them just like they did to the Keys and Central America several decades ago.
So if you’re reading this and have caught a permit on the Pine Island flats recently, please don’t keep it to yourself. Feel free to brag a little, especially online. It will only benefit our local economy and our waters in the long run.