Catching Permit In The Seychelles

Sometimes, just the smallest change in techniquecan turn frustration into success, as saltfly fisher Craig Worthington explains…

The Boeing 777 banked slightly and began to descend through the clouds. As it did so, the lush tropical Seychelles island of Mahe hove into view. It was a stunning sight. The sea sparkled with an azure blue and jungle cloaked mountains pierced right up into the clouds. Without knowing the temperature on the tarmac, it was almost enough to make a travelling Kiwi feel right at home.

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Of course, the expected wall of heat hit as soon as I departed the plane. “Permit temperature”, I thought, and soaked it in.

I was here to visit Josh (our eldest). He had been living and working here for the last two years and was beginning to get a handle on the local flats fishing. Permit and the occasional golden trevally had begun to feature in his catches and bonefish were talked about extensively. Like all flats fishing, however, progress had been slow and difficult. I looked forward to experiencing those challenges.

My initial fear was that on an island with a population of 100,000 the local flats would be hammered by gill nets. I was pleasantly surprised that this didn’t seem to be the case. Unlike other tropical locations that I was used to, the edge of Mahe doesn’t drop immediately away into the abyss. It is surrounded by a huge underwater plateau that extends sixty kilometres offshore. This plateau has many granite reefs that are thirty to fifty metres deep. This meant there is plenty of good fishing to be had outside of the inshore areas and there is no pressing need for the locals to gill net the beaches.

The interesting tides of Mahe also do not favour netting. The place is home to some strange tidal behaviour (I discussed this tide in the June issue). Suffice to say, careful attention to tide tables had to be made before any decision to go flats fishing.

Josh hooked up on a Seychelles flat on the main island of Mahe. The flats here are all in big wide bays that are exposed to the open sea.Josh hooked up on a Seychelles flat on the main island of Mahe. The flats here are all in big wide bays that are exposed to the open sea.

The first good tide didn’t happen until 4pm in the afternoon on about the third day I was there. It wasn’t an ideal flats fishing time of day, but we had a look anyway. I was chomping at the bit to have a go. Luckily the day was slightly overcast and there was a slight offshore breeze to stop the flat from overheating.

Josh had recently caught juvenile permit and some tricky golden trevally at this location, so hopes were high. As I waded out I noticed plenty of life over the rich sea-grass laden sands. The dark bottom didn’t lend itself to fish spotting, but there were plenty of swirls and hints of tails to cast at.

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I thought I saw a bonefish tail. Then it came up again. This time a narrow tail wrist was clearly visible – obviously a trevally of some sort. At that moment another school of fish pushed a rippling wall of water along in front of them to my left. I cast at them even though I guessed they were mullet. They were closer than the trevally and within range. I let my heavy rubber legged crabby ‘thing’ settle to the bottom of a sand patch in front of them, gave it a gentle upward pull, and hooked up! The fish powered off on a sideways arc. It swam into a clear window of water and showed itself to be a smallish permit with a couple of its mates tracking along behind. I’d only been on this flat twenty minutes and was already hooked into a permit. This place was good!

Josh was a fair distance away. As he waded over carefully to help me with a picture I applied a bit too much side pressure and pulled the hooks from the fish. Damn! “No matter,” I thought, “these things look easy. I’ll just get another one.”

I would be choking on that early confidence for the next two hours. It started to look like I’d been lucky.

Josh, meanwhile, was on a roll. He connected with a nice-sized juvenile permit and even managed to get the greatest prize for this particular flat – a lovely golden trevally.

It was these golden trevally that were the trickiest fish to catch. They could drive you insane. I was exposed to a golden trevally feeding episode late on the first day when a bunch of big fish came charging onto the flat and “ripped it up”. They pushed a big wall of water in front of them, kept kicking their tails up into the air at speed, and didn’t slow down for the entire time they were on the flat. “My God,” I wondered, “how on earth do you get a fly in front of those?”

As it turned out, even when you do get a fly in front of them they are very hard fish to hook. Tiny flicking sparkles spraying out all around the trevally eventually lead us to the conclusion that they were mobbing schools of small shrimp. Getting them to look at a fly when they were so fixated on these tiny morsels was very difficult. Josh had managed to catch the occasional one by doing a fast retrieve through the feeding trevally packs, but it was not easy. You’d be lucky if you got three good shots in one flats session, and most of the time they would ignore you. This was a fishing problem I realised I probably wouldn’t have enough holiday time to sort out. I went back to concentrating on the permit.

Luckily, just at that point where I was getting totally frustrated and my casting and stalking mojo was beginning to fall to pieces, I managed to catch another permit. This one I hung onto for long enough to get a photo. It was only a little fish but a permit nonetheless. I even had digital proof. I was now a permit fly fisher!

Full of enthusiasm we raced back to the flat the next day. The tidal range had increased overnight, giving us an extra hour of viable fishing time. However, the instant I waded in past the beach’s edge I realised we had a problem – the water was hot. Not only were the shallows hot, but the entire flat. We waded right to the very edge of the flat, but failed to find any ocean temperature water out there. It appeared that the wind had altered slightly and had trapped a massive pool of tepid water all along the coast. We kept wading and searching for ‘cooler’ water, but just wasted more time doing so. By the time we had decided it was a dead loss, there wasn’t enough tide time left to relocate to another flat. It was a valuable lesson. Not only did the tide need to be scrutinised, but also the direction of any sea breeze that might heat up the flat. Such are the problems you encounter when you fly fish the tropics.

A morning tide would not cause the same water heating problem so we waited a couple of days for the 5pm/5am low tide to move forward an hour or two into the early morning time slot. This completely cured the hot water problem. We fished for the next few days on different flats and found that an early low tide could keep the water temperature stable right through until lunchtime. Even with no breeze and the baking heat bearing down at 10 a.m., the water conditions stayed fishable.

We checked out several different flats options and found good concentrations of juvenile permit in some places and maddening schools of tailing, shrimp feeding golden trevally in others. On the best flats you’d find both, but this didn’t guarantee you would catch anything. There were lots of mullet on the flats with plenty of surface ripples to look at. It was very hard to tell the mullet ripples apart from the permit ripples. All we could do was just keep on casting and occasionally it would work in our favour.

On our third day on the flats Josh had a great time. He caught two good-sized permit before I’d even had a touch. I did have some eyesight problems to contend with, but that couldn’t totally explain his winning form. In desperation I examined the fly he was using along with the retrieve style that was working best for him.

His fly was a simple ‘Gotcha’ style fly with a silver body – the smallest shrimpiest looking fly he had in his collection. It also had light, bead-chain eyes which helped with the delivery of delicate presentations. I had something similar in my fly box, but its dumbbell eyes were heavy. I battled on, hindered by its fish scaring ‘plop’ and tendency to sink deep into the sea grass forest.

Altering my retrieve style to the type of one-handed retrieve style that Josh was using was the main factor that helped turn my fortunes around. This was particularly fascinating. It was a direct reminder that different species like flies that move in specific ways. Josh’s retrieve was obviously the ‘right’ way.

In a normal fly fishing situation I retrieve with two hands with my rod held in my armpit. I like doing this because it keeps your fingers on the fly line at all times and gives you an immediate strip-strike response whenever a fish touches the fly. It is a very good retrieve style when fishing for snapper and allows for fast movement and direction changes in your fly when fishing for pelagics. As a result I hadn’t really utilised a fast single handed fly retrieve in many years, yet this was exactly the style of retrieve Josh was using.

It turned out that Josh’s fast single-handed “flick-flick-flick” retrieve closely matched the local shrimp prey’s movements through the water. It was certainly paying dividends for him. When I changed my retrieve to something similar after tying on the smallest shrimpiest fly I could find, I caught a permit! It wasn’t a big permit, but it was a permit nonetheless.

Craig's permit. Not a big permit, but a permit nonetheless. Craig's permit. Not a big permit, but a permit nonetheless. 

Josh went on to nail a couple more biggish permit (a big one is around two kilos on this flat) using this retrieve and I caught another smaller one. Josh finished the day with five permit while I happily went home with two under my belt.

The final tally could have even been better. What I was now seeing in the water with the new fly and the new retrieve suggested we were truly on to something. The permit were showing a greater interest in my fly and sometimes there were multiple permit chasing it. At one time I had five permit up on the surface chasing my fly with their mouths open as I flicked it along as fast as I could. Somehow not a single fish connected, but it was obvious that we were starting to unravel some of the secrets to catching Seychelles permit on fly.

Time, tide, wind and sea all conspired to ruin any further chances on those permit flats. The next two days were wiped out by ocean swells (the flats are situated in big unprotected bays) and then the tide started to wither and fade back into its neap tidal range. Such is the life of a flats fisher.

It was unfortunate, but I was very happy with the chances I did get on the permit flats of Mahe Island. I didn’t know when I would get another chance to return, but I sure-as-hell knew that, upon getting back home, I would be experimenting with this new/old single-handed, rapid-fire permit retrieve even more.


A few weeks later my two younger boys were down at the local rocks firing out pilchard chunks on their conventional tackle while I threw a smallish white marabou fly between them, sinking it down to the kelp. I employed the single handed “flick-flick-flick” retrieve and nailed trevally after trevally. The fly totally out-fished bait on this occasion.

The Gotcha fly proved deadly.The Gotcha fly proved deadly.

This proved that the fast and jumpy single-handed permit retrieve is also a Kiwi trevally retrieve as well.

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   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

August 2019 - Craig Worthington
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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