Catching one permit is hard enough. How about six on one day under competition pressure?

That’s what teammates Jose Ucan and Justin Rea pulled off earlier this year at the March Merkin tournament Key West, Florida.

It’s amazing how a proper hangover, a stomach bug and throwing up off someone’s boat can forge a friendship. That’s exactly how Justin Rea, who guides out of the Florida Keys with Sting Rea Charters (, and guide Jose Ucan of Kay Fly Fishing Lodge (formerly La Pescadora) in Punta Allen, Mexico, first connected.

Justin says, “I was fishing a Redbone ( tournament in Mexico over ten years ago and was paired with Jose. I got really drunk the night before. It was a disaster. The next morning when I got in the shower, because I kind of didn’t know where I was, I frickin’ opened my mouth and I ended up getting Montezuma’s revenge. Halfway across the bay in his boat, I’m puking all over and Jose must have been thinking, “Who is this fucking gringo?’ Anyways, I ended up catching two permit that day and, as sick as I was throughout the tournament, I ended up winning it.”

Jose and Justin on the flats

From that inauspicious start, their partnership has gone from strength to strength. Justin joins Jose in Punta Allen to teach permit schools every August, but it’s in the competition scene in the US and Mexico where they are making the biggest waves. A formidable team, with Justin on the pole and Jose on the bow, they have not only won prestigious tournaments like the Del Brown ( and most recently, the March Merkin (, but they have dominated.

We spoke to them about their most recent record-breaking win in the March Merkin, their connection, and techniques for upping your permit game.

Jose Ucan and Justin Rea
Jose Ucan and Justin Rea


When he came out this year for the March Merkin we went out pre-fishing the day before the tournament, which we don’t normally like to do, because if you catch one in pre-fishing, you have bad luck. Right? Well, we had two shots and he caught one. Damn! We went in, had lunch and just chilled. And of course, on day number one, we were getting lots of shots, but we were not feeding them, we didn’t catch and we started getting frustrated. On day two, we were getting more shots in. I don’t want to give a whole bunch of secrets away, but we unlocked a little bit of a code on day two. We only ended up catching one fish, but we saw the fish react to something we did and we capitalised on that the last day. Going into day three, somebody else already had three fish on the board and we only had the one, but we were convinced that we were going to do well.

Jose Ucan (JU): At the tournament this year, we were lucky on the last day, because on the first day we had solid weather and we had a few shots. If we caught the first fish in the morning, then we’d crush it on those days. But if we didn’t – if we didn’t find fish or if I didn’t cast well or if something happened… This year was crazy, because we caught our first fish in the last minutes of the second day. On the last day, we arrived there around 8am and saw three or four fish tailing. One cast and we got that one.

JR: Jose saw something off the right side of the boat. I stopped the boat, he jumped out and waded over. I looked and there were seven permit lined up. He made a perfect cash, came tight and caught one. It was 8:15am. Every time we’d done well that early in the morning, it had been a really good day. We kept going – whack, whack, whack, whack.

JU: That day we crushed it. We found big schools, a couple of small schools, a lot of singles too. It was just a great, great day. One of the best days I think for Justin and for me too.

The winning duo at March Merkin 2022, Jose Ucan (left) and Justin Rea (right).


TM: There are books, forums and entire schools of thought dedicated to permit and the intricacies of leading them vs casting as close to them as possible. What’s your take?

JU: You need to have a feel for those fish. Because some of them do not want to eat and you need to know how they eat. It depends on how they are coming. A fish can behave in three or four different ways. They can make nervous water, they can be tailing, or floating on the surface. How are they going to eat? A couple of those fish you need to hit on the head, some you need to throw far in front of them and others just three feet in front. You need to read those fish before you cast.

JR: The angler really has to pay attention to the fish. You watch the fish come up and his body language tells you when he ate the fly. Every fish is different. If the fish are tailing, you want to put it in there close. If the fish are cruising, you can lead them and cross them a little bit, and then strip it by them. If the fish are floating, tailing on the surface, it’s a different presentation. Getting the right angle is very important. Ninety degrees is probably the last angle you can take. Really, you want them coming, moving towards the fly and the fly has got to be going away from them a little bit.

Finish the article in issue 34. It’s free!

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