Taking The Risk For Bahamian Permit and Tarpon
The Bahamas offers more than just bonefish. Permit and tarpon also abound.
By Alex Suescun

Permit provide a big challenge and sweet reward for Bahamian fly fishers.   Photo by Dave McCoy

When most fly fishers think of the Bahamas, bonefish immediately come to mind. It’s well known that anglers enjoy some of the world’s finest bonefishing throughout the archipelago. Nevertheless, anyone who travels to Andros, the Berry Islands, Great Abaco, Crooked Island, Acklins, and other top Bahamian destinations solely to target bones may be missing out on other terrific options, namely permit and tarpon, which are often abundant yet left mostly undisturbed.

Nothing quickens the pulse like the tail of a permit waving nearby.

Don’t Settle for Easy

While the aforementioned species rank high on many anglers’ bucket lists, most Bahamian guides opt for plucking the low hanging fruit. Bonefish are incredibly plentiful and widespread in the islands and much friendlier to anglers with little saltwater experience or less than ideal fly-casting skills.

We can’t blame the guides, after all; they simply want to provide the most enjoyable fishing experience for their anglers. Multiple bonefish hookups usually contribute to that end far better than a handful of good shots at more technically-demanding permit and tarpon, which reward a considerably smaller fraction of their pursuers.

Success with permit requires accurate casting and a little bit of luck.   Photo by Andrew McNeece

Minimal Pressure

Interestingly, thousands of fly fishers from every corner of the globe travel to the Florida Keys specifically to attempt to catch a permit or tarpon. However, Bahamian islands that boast thriving populations of these coveted species don’t see that kind of demand and fishing pressure. That's much to the delight of more daring traveling anglers who are willing to dedicate part of their fishing time, if not all, to stalking the sickle-tailed phantoms and silver kings.

It is possible to come across a tarpon or permit while chasing bonefish, but they don’t converge on the same spots very often. When they do, chances the fish will stay put long enough for you to stash that 8-weight bonefish rod, grab a heavier outfit, and place a fly in front of a fish are slim.

In Andros, anglers pursuing permit and tarpon are often rewarded for their time and effort.   Photo by Dave McCoy

Make a Plan

Of course, nobody wants to go home skunked after spending several days fishing abroad. What if you were to spend part of the time fishing for bones and the rest going after permit and/or tarpon? That is most definitely doable, but such a split-shift plan requires a bit of research and a discussion or two with someone who can add essential local knowledge to the equation.

For starters, permit and tarpon may be present but not always abundant year-round. In Andros, for instance, both species' availability peaks during the warmer months. Even if you schedule your trip accordingly, there’s still the important matter of tides. Although spring tides (stronger exchanges that occur during the full and new moon periods) are usually conducive to good fishing, you’ll want input from a guide, lodge manager, or a travel outfitter who has been there and done that. Ask if the permit or tarpon action is available where you’ll be fishing and if it’s best during a rising or falling tide. In addition, tide charts for the Bahamas don’t list adjustments for many neighboring areas, so you’ll also need that local expertise to predict when you’re likely to encounter the most advantageous tides.

The light-bottomed flats on Andros’ west side make it easier to spot incoming fish like this pair of tarpon.

Ideal Destination
Before you book a trip, you should research destinations that are likely to pay off. Andros, the biggest land mass in the Bahamas (but sparsely populated), boasts the richest natural supply of fresh water in the country and the largest network of flats and reefs in the entire Western Hemisphere. That translates into fertile estuaries and vast inshore fishing grounds with perfect habitat and an abundance of forage.

Just off the north end of the island lies the fabled Joulter Cays, where permit patrol the pristine flats in singles, doubles, and schools, often trailing stingrays in hopes of nabbing any crabs scurrying out of their way. Meanwhile, tarpon cruise the edges or stage in the channels, allowing the current to serve up their next meal.

Turning left at Andros’ northwest tip, anglers find miles and miles of undeveloped coastline on the renowned west side of the island, where numerous freshwater creeks empty onto the shallows of the Great Bahama Bank. The coastal creeks act as conveyor belts, dishing out the morsels craved by the many bonefish, tarpon, and permit that inhabit the area. The seemingly endless, light-bottomed flats make it easy to spot fish, whether laid up or on the move.

Tarpon fans relish Andros Island because it offers both good numbers and size.   Photo by Mary Raulerson

Focused Lodges

When it comes to permit and tarpon, Stafford Creek Lodge and Red Bay Sunset Lodge in North Andros have excellent track records. In fact, their seasoned guides have been responsible for the grins on the faces of many guests posing proudly for snapshots with nice examples of both species.

Though many anglers say that size doesn’t matter, the opposite is generally true. Who doesn’t want to pull out their cell phone and share a photo of a trophy permit or tarpon? Luckily, Andros offers good numbers and sizes of each species. There are plenty of 20- to 30-pound permit roaming the flats, and although most tarpon here fall in the 30- to 50-pound range, you’ll also see 70 to 100 pounders now and then.

Stafford Creek and Red Bay Sunset lodges carefully selected the most experienced and versatile guides in the region, and it's not a coincidence that they are all equipped with the same specialized flats skiffs you’d see driven by the top inshore charter captains in South Florida and other shallow-water fishing meccas. So, when you come to either lodge, you can expect to fish aboard a modern and well-maintained Hell’s Bay, Action Craft, Maverick, Hewes, or Dolphin rigged for fly fishing and designed to float shallow and cruise quickly and comfortably, even in open water with a moderate chop.

Proper Prep

If you are ready for a bigger challenge and willing to up the ante on your next trip to the Bahamas, take the necessary steps to make an informed decision before settling on the location and dates. Then, aside from your bonefish gear, pack a couple of extra rods (preferably a 9 and a 10 weight), a handful of weighted crab patterns for permit, some bunnies and split-wing hackle flies for ‘poons, tapered leaders for both species, and a spool of 50- or 60-pound fluorocarbon for shock tippet (tarpon will wear through a lesser leader instantly).

Remember you’ll need to strip-strike to set the hook, and don’t forget to practice your casting before you go. You may be able to get by with 40-foot casts (sometimes less, if you’re wading) for bonefish, but you’ll often need a precise, 60-footer to score with permit or tarpon. If you can answer the call when your guide says, “Eleven o’clock, 60 feet, mon!” Lady Luck is waaaaay more likely to smile on you.

Alex Suescun

Alex grew up chasing bonefish, redfish, snook, tarpon, permit and other saltwater species in South Florida’s fabled waters and then broadened his pursuit of gamefish to the Caribbean, and Central and South America. His career in sportfishing began in 1991 as Assistant Editor of Saltwater Fly Fishing magazine, working with the likes of Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, Stu Apte, Chico Fernandez, Nick Curcione and Ed Jaworowski. He later hosted and produced his own TV fishing show, Tarpon Bay Tales, for 11 seasons. And after an 8-year stint as Executive Editor of Salt Water Sportsman, Alex joined the team at Fly Fishing International.