PERMIT PINNACLE – LEEWARD ISLANDS FLATS

PERMIT PINNACLE – LEEWARD ISLANDS FLATS

Eugene Potgieter of Uncharted Fishing Company explores Atlantic permit in the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

I had visited this location in the past and knew that there were loads of quality fish holding in the deeper water, but I did not expect to see tailing Atlantic permit on just about every flat I set foot on. Countless hours spent on Google Earth, and advice from all the locals regarding access to the intended areas, was enough to keep me up till late at night. There is just something special about figuring out the area, fly patterns, tides and everything that goes with it.

The wind in this part of the world can be very consistent. A stiff breeze can make casting challenging but also allows for getting really close to those tailing fish. In fact, your biggest concern isn’t spooking a fish that is not presenting itself, but rather missing a presentation altogether.

Whenever I come to this part of the world I pack a 9-weight setup, since we visit the Bahamas frequently. I always make time to visit some of my local bonefish spots in Nassau, but I much rather prefer chasing Atlantic permit. Who wouldn’t?

DAY ONE

On our first day (afternoon) on the flat, I focused on an area where I have seen some big bonefish in the past, but the tide was very full and the water seemed dirty, so we made a call to relocate to another area which was 45 minutes away. I raised the question, and it did not take long to get the nod, and off we went. Once we got to the area, I assessed the bottom – a combination of turtle grass, broken reef (mostly dead unfortunately), but the water looked clear and very fishy. 

My friend had little to no experience, so after a short brief we were off and he was just stoked to be walking the flats and feeling part of the mission. Not 15 minutes had passed when a 20lb fish swam into me. With the glare on the water I only saw it five metres from me and decided to just stare and take it all in. I knew I would spook it instantly; my heart was pounding from excitement knowing what I just saw is special. About 30m later I saw something breaking the water, asking my friend Frosty “Did you check that?”. I needed confirmation that my eyes were not lying to me, and he looked at me with this cheeky smile responding, “Is that what we are looking for? Tailing fish?”.

“I needed confirmation that my eyes were not lying to me.”

Slowly we made our approach. They were tailing the whole time pretty focused on what they were feeding on. The wind and angle were better for Frosty and he made a near-perfect cast, the fish had a look and swam off past us not even noticing. We decided to continue our wade in the same heading due to the wind direction. After another 100 metres or so, we ran out of light and decided to call it.

I sat onboard the boat the whole evening wondering why that fish refused the fly. Also, I knew I had to wait another week before I could set foot on the flat again. “Tick tock, let the countdown begin” I thought.

DAY TWO ON THE FLATS

This time Frosty invited his friend Jasper and off we went. I had the whole week to think “was this just luck? will the weather hold up? what pattern should we use? I should have packed my vice, I should have packed in more flies…” – all these thoughts were shared during our trip to the spot. Upon our arrival, we had a brief discussion that mainly consisted of who would get to go to the area that we knew held good fish and who was going for a wander to the unknown. We decided that Frosty would go on his own to the tested water, now that he knew what to look out for (second time wading for permit), and Jasper will go with me. After a few basic casting instructions, we approached the area.

My eyes fell out when I saw fish after fish tailing. I remember saying to Jasper “What you are seeing right now, this is what fly fishermen dream of, sight casting at fish, let alone tailing permit.” On that note, we decided he would have the first go. With all those tailing fish I knew I would have a good chance myself later. Jasper got a few good chances, and the fish just did not respond to the fly. I decided to change the fly (from a Merkin to a darker Alphlexo), and finally, we got a reaction from one fish. After a good hour of numerous opportunities, Jasper said that I should have a go, and I could not wait.

“The smallest of nibbles took place – honestly, I expected a different take, but it was so gentle.”

I decided to walk for to another area where I felt a bit more confident that the fish were not spooky at all. The first few casts were nervous and did not get quite into the zone where they would see the fly, but I felt comfortable folding out the leader into the stiff breeze. I then asked Jasper, “Do you mind recording me? Because I’m going to try be a bit more aggressive and land this fly right in front of him – he has to see the fly to react”.

I cast the Alphlexo right in the zone, slowly got the line taut, and when a small wave moved the fly past him, he started following. My heart was sitting in my throat at this point in time; the permit started going on his side pushing a solid amount of water, and I knew he was committed. The smallest of nibbles took place – honestly, I expected a different take, but it was so gentle. I took some tension on the line and instantly felt weight, when I followed with a firm strip set.

atlantic permit in the bahamas
Eugene’s first Atlantic permit.

“You did it, you did it!” Jasper was screaming. Frosty in the distance saw we were on, and he started to make his way over. By the time Frosty got there I was into my backing for the fourth time. His comment was, “I thought you would have released the fish by the time I got here.” After some exhilarating runs and a battle that lasted just short of 13 minutes, we landed the fish. My first-ever Atlantic permit in hand. I could not imagine a better moment; the setting, on foot, and figuring out what works. This is what we fly fishermen dream of.

DAY THREE

This particular day started off by venturing off to a new area. Now that I knew exactly what to look out for, I believed the following stretch had fishy written all over it. A bit more surf in the area had me worried at first only until I saw shadows in the water, mostly in pairs. 

atlantic permit in the bahamas

My permit fishing experience changed quickly when I saw first-hand how quickly a permit spits a fly. There was one instance where I had cast right behind the breaking surf into the clear water, the surf led the fly right into the zone where the water almost cleared up from the breaking foam. The next moment I saw my fly right in the corner of a permit’s mouth and before I could get the line tight the fly was drifting on by. This happened a few times; I just believe we are not always aware that this happened for the most part. I remember my thought process went from “this is easy” to “how is it possible to hook up on, never mind landing the fish”.

“I’m certain most people must think we are insane – how can this be fun?”

Trust me, there were moments when I thought the same, but I very quickly snapped out of it when I saw the next tail. Finally, much later that day I had an inquiry, casting at a shadow on the foam edge (where the wave meets the shallower part of the reef), and the fish almost took it instantly! Fish on, and with loads of sharp reef and coral heads in the area making me nervous, he very soon found his way around a head, and that was game over. Sad but very exhilarating.

Permit eat on an Alphlexo Crab.

Conclusion? I went home that night thinking this was better than any trip I had ever been on. For me seeing those fish waving at you, keeps you motivated, guessing, and simply tests any fly angler to the max. Presentation, pattern, and stalking the fish are all part of that experience we desire. I’m already planning my next trip with the idea of landing that 20lb fish. They are there, and you see one or two of them on a daily basis. How could this not excite you?

Into reading? Check out issue 44 of The Mission. It’s free.

3 thoughts on “PERMIT PINNACLE – LEEWARD ISLANDS FLATS”

    • Leeward Islands are located in the Caribbean. It’s well know for their beaches, cocktails, party shirts and quality permit.

      Reply

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