The Midas Touch

Rasmus Ovesen interviews Indo-Pacific permit specialist Keith Rose-Innes

The Indo-Pacific permit (Trachinotus blochii) has long stood unjustly in the shadow of its cousin, the Atlantic permit (Trachinotus falcatus), which to many saltwater fly fishers is the only permit species out there. But this couldn’t be further from the truth: in fact there are four different species of permit on the flats: T. anak, T. blochii, T. africanus and T. falcatus. These species are widely dispersed, from the Western Pacific Ocean including but not limited to the Coral, Tasman and Phillipine seas, across the Indian Ocean and the Arabian and Red Sea, to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The Atlantic permit, certainly, is the biggest of the four species, with recorded weights in excess of 80 pounds, but other than that there is very little to suggest that it deserves more attention than its cousins. All three remaining species are found on shallow flats, and while they certainly display different characteristics, micro-habitat preferences and feeding habits, they all carry that certain genetic coding that makes them a trying and, oftentimes, frustrating challenge to catch on a fly rod. They are highly sensitive, cautious, clever and finicky. Furthermore, they have keen eyesight and a highly developed proclivity for rejecting flies. Perhaps the most difficult of them to catch is the Indo-Pacific permit (the golden pompano), which is also (without much required debate) the most beautiful of the lot. It boasts pearlescent flanks surrounded by glowing coronal auras. Pure liquid gold emanates from its fins, and gleaming specks of gold dust radiate from its big, soulful eyes. It’s a thing of seductive beauty to behold, and it’s the prime flats target of the Indo-Pacific Ocean — a veritable gold trophy! South African globetrotter, fly fishing guide and director of Alphonse Fishing Co, Keith Rose-Innes, has a long-lived history of fly fishing for Indo-Pacific permit. He was among the first people to successfully target the fish with fly rods, and he has never looked back. He now resides in the Seychelles, and having guided for these fish for ages, he is probably the foremost authority on fly fishing for Indo-Pacific permit out there. You were among the people who initially cracked the code when it comes to targeting Indo-Pacific permit. What attracted you to this particular fish in the first place? Keith – I don’t think you can understand the feeling that drives you to fish for permit until you are standing there making the cast. The experience incites the ‘little boy’ in you. I think that when a species is so difficult to catch it becomes an automatic attraction. I wouldn’t say we ever initially ‘cracked the code’, as we caught them through spending painstaking hours targeting them with a variety of earlier patterns. The cracking definitely came with the Alphlexo Crab fly, as it has revolutionised the game of confidence when fishing for Indo’s anywhere in the world. What makes fly fishing for these fish so special compared to other flats species (and other permit)? Keith – It’s definitely the difficulty aspect as you don’t catch them by mistake. It’s the one kind of addiction that you can refine and get better at. Permit fishers are a different kind of animal and, for me, whether it be Atlantic, Anak, Africanus or Indo, the feeling will be exactly the same. The attraction becomes a necessity when you spend so much time fishing for them, before eventually hooking one that stays on, feeling the anxiety of it being on the line, and then finally holding this amazing slab of silver and gold. What were the major obstacles you faced when you first started targeting Indo-Pacific permit? Keith – I think that doubt in the fly was the biggest hurdle to overcome as it’s a confidence game. It is hard to catch the first Indo but it gets easier as you become more confident. The biggest mistake is often placing the fly too far away from the fish and moving it too slowly. As you spend more time fishing for them you understand how to position yourself, taking into account what’s under foot, what the current or wave action is like, where to place the cast and how to get the fish’s attention. I always tell my guests to let the fish make the decision; rather too close than too far; and, all you need to do is show the fish the fly and then it’s up to the Indo to decide if it wants to eat or not. What is it that makes these fish so challenging to catch? Keith – I still believe that we have a lot to learn about the species as it’s hard to understand how a fish can have such a split personality. On some days a way-below-par cast will entice a fish to rush a fly and eat, when other days you can make 100 perfect casts at different fish and present the fly correctly to get a reaction that resembles throwing a rock at them. The stars have to align, the weather has to be right; the cast, the strip, the colour and weight of the fly; the fish has to see it and then for some strange reason it has to decide to eat. How does fly fishing for Indo-Pacific permit compare to targeting permit in, for instance, the Mexican Gulf? Keith – I haven’t caught enough Atlantic permit to preach as if I know this answer. All I can say is that from what I have experienced they are equally as ball-achingly difficult. The only difference is that we catch 90% of our Indo’s on foot and in 1 to 3 feet of water with a slow to medium stripped fly. From my limited experience with Atlantic permit they don’t seem to like the fly stripped and most of the shots I have had have been from a skiff. Other than that, they are ‘brothers from another mother’ that all went to the same school of difficulty. What are the most essential skills to bring to the fore when targeting permit? Keith – Casting, casting, casting and casting! Being able to put that fly into the right place at the drop of a hat, and being able to accurately cast, cast and cast. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned over the years while targeting them? Keith – Never become too despondent and don’t take permit fishing personally. It’s a game of practice, enthusiasm and belief. Do you have any tips for optimising the tackle setup? Keith – Fish as light as you can when it comes to fluorocarbon tippet (12 to 15 lb). Most importantly bring as many well tied Alphlexos as you can get your hands on, because they work, but never underestimate the tying secrets that the guides hold close to their hearts. What have been the most important lessons when it comes to flies and presentation? Keith – Currently the fly pattern doesn’t vary as the Alphlexo entices 99% of the Indo’s we catch. The colour, weight, size and style does, however, vary between atolls and spots and it’s evolving constantly. If you show a fish a fly and it hangs around long enough to allow a fly change, then change the fly rather than keep showing the same fly over and over. You’d be surprised how this may entice an eat. Once you locate a permit (or a small school of fish), what is the best way to approach them? Keith – As we fish mostly on foot it’s best to intercept them on their path to where they are going, and present the fly to them coming straight at you, or between straight on and 45 degrees. The nature of the substrate will determine how you approach them, as we often fish on mottled bottom that crunches under foot. The weather also plays a part as wind gives you a bit of cover and so does wave action. I believe that current is one of the biggest factors as it carries scent and sound, so I’d rather cast to fish up current versus down current. Is there anything one needs to be particularly conscious about when a permit is finally on the fly (and eventually eats)? Keith – The most important thing to understand is that you need to keep in direct contact with the fly at all times. An Indo inhales the fly, so the slightest twitch on the line can mean an eat, which requires a steady strip strike to set the hook. Quite often, when you feel a bump, it’s the fly being exhaled and you have missed the eat. Where is your favourite place to target them? Keith – The most prolific in the Indian Ocean is without doubt the Amirante chain of islands. What makes these fisheries so amazing is that there can be piles on certain days and nothing on others. All the atolls fish differently and fish better on particular tides. Miss a trick and you could quite easily not see a fish. The humbling part is that even if you know the atoll, the spots, the tidal preferences and fly pattern, it by no means guarantees a fish in seven days of fishing. Any other tips, for people who would like to catch their first Indo-Pacific permit? Keith – Fish with an organisation/guide that understands the species, destination and how to fish for them. Don’t make an already frustrating situation into an ALMIGHTY frustration that you would never want to do again. Stack all the cards in your favour.

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