An urgent shout and fervent pointing clearly indicated that Jimmy Porter had found the jackpot. "There they are!" the Englewood angler exclaimed. "They've been bouncing between those two pieces of the wreck and they just came up." "They" were permit — a feisty coastal species that looks like a jacked-up pompano with black fins, a taller profile and a little more yellow on the underside. In 20-plus feet of water, sun reflection casts a golden hue across the permit's broad flanks. This day, the gilded apparitions were on the move, but once Porter in the tower and Billy Nobles on the bow dialed in their pattern, our group kept the rods bent for an hourlong rally that only ended when a thunderstorm built too close for comfort.
Find the fish
Small permit roam flats and bays, but wrecks scattered along the central Gulf coast harbor chunky specimens of 15 to 50-plus pounds. Shelter and abundant crustaceans are the likely attractions.
Hailing from Apollo Beach, Nobles spends mid May through mid July guiding tarpon clients in Boca Grande Pass. A series of wrecks west of this famous portal provide dependable diversions between silver king trips.
"I have (global positioning system waypoints) for wrecks at 3 miles, 5 miles, 15 miles and 25 miles," Nobles said. "The farther out you go, the bigger the permit get."
Local charts provide wreck locations, but permit schools frequently relocate. Success may require diligent searching.
"The key is being where the fish are," Nobles said. "They're either there or they're not, and sometimes it's just trial and error. In (the Tampa Bay area), I hit 12 wrecks one day before we found them."
When it's right
Depending on winter's severity, permit may reach our area as early as February and stay through October. Rough seas stir nearshore waters and push permit to deeper spots. Excessive fishing pressure does likewise.
Calm conditions often find permit "finning" with their sickle-shaped dorsal fins breaking the surface. This aids sightfishing.
Slower water movement allows permit to leisurely roam their wreck habitat, whereas swift currents keep them tight to structure.
Most fishing action spikes right before a summer thunderstorm, but don't push your luck. Lightning can reach several miles and suddenly turbulent seas create navigational nightmares for small boats.
Unmistakable downdrafts precede the storm's unleashing, so once you feel that sudden rush of cooler air, it's time to go.
Shellfish on the menu
Permit will eat live shrimp, but so will many nuisance species. Small blue crabs or calico "pass crabs" attract the right audience.
With a No. 1 light wire hook set through an outside corner of its shell, a crab casts easily and remains frisky. Removing the claws prior to fishing eliminates painful mishaps during the rush of a hot permit bite.
Nobles prefers medium-action spinning gear with 15-pound braided line and 5 feet of 25-pound leader for wreck permit.
Fluorocarbon's low visibility avoids spooking leader-shy fish, while its abrasion resistance proves invaluable when a big one runs for the structure.
Chumming with chunks of larger crabs — or bait crabs that die in the well — can bring your quarry topside. If permit stay deep, add a small splitshot above the hook or just fish the crab on a 1/8-ounce jig head.
Fight the good fight
Permit will often make you pay your penance of patience, but once they decide to chew it's game on. Strikes are sudden and harsh. Multiple hookups are common.
When our school popped up, Porter struck first from his elevated perch and passed the rod down to Wayne Carter of Riverview, who handily boated a 15-pound icebreaker.
Once more, Porter would sightcast and hook a fish from the tower, but his topside view provided pinpoint casting reference for his boat mates.
Al Fuller boxed a plump permit, as did Nobles' wife, Kim. The captain ended the show with a 25-pounder.
Each fish tested tackle and angler with swift sprints and stubborn resistance. Firm, steady rod work eventually brought these shiny brutes to the net.
Nobles summarized the permit attraction: "They have blistering speed, and the fight is second to none. Just when you think you have them whipped, they'll peel out some more line.
"It's just a spectacular game fish, and then you get them home and they're absolutely delicious on the table."
Legal permit must measure 11 to 20 inches, fork length. Daily bag limit is six per person, one of which may be more than 20 inches.