Captain Brian Cone of Contagious Charters has been guiding anglers to big permit in the Florida Keys for the past 20 years.
Springtime is the best time to catch trophy permit as schools come together over wrecks and other offshore structures all along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
“They’re in large schools and spawning,” Cone explained. “We target them with crabs on 20-pound braided line with 30-pound leader. In the afternoon they tend to come up and you can sight cast to them in deep water.”
While fishing a barge in 100 feet, Cone readied his anglers as his mate, Daniel Attales, readied a crab. A large permit was spotted, and a cast was made at it by Attales.
“It was about a 40-pounder,” said Cone. “It swam right by the crab.” While the huge permit may have passed the offering, it wasn’t long before the baited crab met its end. “A bigger one came up from below. I looked at Daniel and said ‘That’s the biggest permit I’ve ever seen, and it just ate our crab.’”
Over the next 30 minutes, angler Russel Bailey would battle the huge permit.
Last year, bull sharks roamed the same barge, making meals of many hooked permit. Luckily for Cone and crew, this year the sharks seem to have been non-existent. “The bull sharks haven’t bothered us this year. Last year, we were having issues with the sharks, and there were four or five huge ones living on the barge and would attack hooked permit.”
As the fight came to its end, getting the fish into the boat was made difficult by its size and not fitting easily into the huge landing net. Eventually it was caught and brought into the boat, measuring a whopping 49.5 inches to the fork of the tail!
“I’ve caught plenty of 40- and 50-pound dolphin (mahi mahi), and I am certain this fish was over 50 pounds,” Cone said. “I’ve been told that if a permit gets to 30 pounds you can measure the fork length, and it will be pretty close to the weight for each additional inch. This fish was about as wide as a five-gallon bucket, and could have been over 55 pounds.”
As Cone has always done since he began guiding in 1999, the permit was revived and released.
“I had a 60-pound Boga Grip on board but didn’t want to spend any extra time looking for it. The only permit I’ve ever kept were ones that had their tales bitten off from sharks, so we let that one go. It was the biggest permit I’ve ever seen.”
The current Florida record is 56 pounds and 2 ounces caught near Fort Lauderdale, while the world record was caught in 2002 from Brazil weighed an even 60 pounds.