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The Toughest Fish
Photo/David A. Thompson

It’s elusive, flattened and silvery, a fish with huge eyes and a forked tail resembling a flying V electric guitar. And for fly fishermen it’s one of the ultimate prizes—the permit. “Permit are one of the most exciting fish to catch on a fly,” says Toby Brocklehurst of In Cloud 9 tours, who has been fly-fishing in Cuba and Central America for some 30 years. “Among fly fisherman, it’s the top of the list,” concurs Connecticut resident Jimmy Coale, a former fishing guide who has fished all over the world. “It’s an obsession.”

Permit can measure more than three feet long and weigh in at well over 20 pounds. Considering their size, the water they swim in is extremely shallow. They are found in the Florida Keys, the Yucatan and Belize. Particularly abundant in Cuba, they feed on crabs. Their name is an alteration of the Spanish for little dove. But more telling is the Latin species nomenclature falcatus, meaning armed with scythes, a moniker they got for the way their dorsal fins protrude from the water.

Although abundant, they are easy to scare, and extremely tough to land. The fly fisherman must present a crab-like lure to the fish, but that’s only the start of the struggle, according to Coale: “They will spit out your fly in a heartbeat. They know instantly it’s fake.” He says it takes practice to know how to catch permit, because they have thick, rubbery lips that disguise a bite. A fisherman needs to watch them tip in the water, head down, their sickle-shaped fins emerging from the shallows and set the hook at the precise time. “You can see 50,” he says, “ and catch one.”

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