Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Trophy permit in the Florida Keys provide test of gear, grit

With the help of guide Richard Stanczyk, left, and mate Hunter Barron, right, Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin catches a trophy-size permit.

Courtesy of Nicholas Mancini

With the help of guide Richard Stanczyk, left, and mate Hunter Barron, right, Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin catches a trophy-size permit.

ISLAMORADA — Richard Stanczyk pointed down toward the pod of permit lingering over the wreck and told me to ready my bait.

"We might only have one shot at these fish," said the legendary fishing guide, 67. "Don't blow it."

Stanczyk, quick to point out that he was fishing the Florida Keys long before I was born, has seen his share of anglers miss big fish.

"Whatever you do, don't let that fish drag you into the wreck," he added. "Then it is gone for sure."

No better place

Stanczyk, owner of the famous Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada, became an international angling celebrity in 2002 when he figured out how to catch broadbill swordfish, a species previously thought to be nocturnal, during the light of day.

But on this warm summer morning, Stanczyk doesn't really care what he catches as long as it pulls.

"There's no other place like Islamorada in the world," he said. "When it comes to world records, we have everybody beat."

It is hard to say exactly how many former, current and pending world records have been set in what locals like to call the "Sportfishing Capital of the World," but a safe number would be in the hundreds.

With easy access to the inshore fishing of Florida Bay, offshore reefs and the deep, blue water where the billfish roam, Islamorada certainly seems like heaven for fishermen.

Wreck lurkers

I was stoked to have a shot at a trophy permit, a species seldom seen, let alone caught, in my home waters of Tampa Bay. So when my bait disappeared in the whirl of feeding fish, I prayed the line would last long enough to at least get a photo.

"It is going to run deep," Stanczyk said. "Don't let it find that wreck."

I could feel the power of the fish, turning its body sideways in the water to increase the resistance on the line. It was like trying to reel in a doormat made of solid muscle.

Permit are typically found on offshore wrecks and artificial reefs, but the flats fishermen of the Keys also catch them on light tackle and fly rods in a few feet of water. These fish are usually released, the thought being that a permit let go today will live to be caught again tomorrow.

That's why in 2001 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up the Special Permit Zone in areas of South Florida. The regulations are more restrictive so the big breeders have time to reproduce.

To land a big permit — 20 pounds or more — is truly a noteworthy entry on any angler's life list. That's why I got nervous when the fish peeled off line, 1 foot at a time, and dragged it closer to the sharp steel hull below.

"I can't make any headway," I told Stanczyk. "It's like trying to stop a runaway freight train."

For 10 minutes we played this game. I'd pull and reel up a few feet of line, then the permit would take its turn and erase all my gains. Then, for a brief second, the permit took a bit of a rest. That's all I needed to turn its head. Slow and steady, I pulled up on the rod.

By now, my forearms were sore and sweat dripped from my brow. The tropical sun beat down on my neck, and I thought the fish might just outlast me. Then I saw a flash of silver 10 feet below. This permit was mine.

Stanczyk's mate grabbed the fish by the tail and lifted it on to the boat. "Let's get a quick photo," he said. "And then get this fish back in the water."

The process took less than a minute. Stanczyk placed the fish gently back in the water, and in an instant it was gone, down to the wreck it had tried so desperately to find before.

"You got your permit," Stanczyk beamed. "What's left on your list? Dolphin, wahoo, blackfin tuna?"

. Fast facts


Scientific name: Trachinotus falcatus

Range: Tropical and warm, temperate seas from Massachusetts to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Size: Up to 59 inches in length and 60 pounds. Common to 25 pounds.

Comments: In June 2011, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission adopted rules that created a Special Permit Zone in the Florida Keys, where the rules are more restrictive to protect spawning aggregations as well as large permit that support the local trophy fishery.

Regulations: Special Permit Zone — 22-inch fork length, closed season May 1 to July 31 and one fish per day bag limit; all other state waters — 11- to 22-inch slot limit (may possess one over 22 inches), no closed season and two fish per day bag limit.

Trophy permit in the Florida Keys provide test of gear, grit 08/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2012 8:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humilation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person


    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry announced crowd of 24,325 at Raymond James Stadium.

    Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    The Rays still talk about having a shot to make the playoffs. But recognizing and correcting mistakes will help them next year, such as Mallex Smith trying to steal third in the first. "Those are the little things we've got to find how to eliminate real quick," manager Kevin Cash said.

  5. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears


    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”