Are Permit the Toughest Fish on Earth to Take on a Fly?

The prestigious Del Brown permit tournament names its winners!

Mike Ward holding large permit
Mike Ward with his team’s biggest permit. Courtesy Del Brown Permit Tournament

Spokane, Washington angler Mike Ward boated and released six coveted permit with fly tackle to win the 2022 Del Brown Permit Tournament in the Lower Florida Keys. The tournament spanned three days of fishing and ended July 13.

The tournament is based on an aggregate score, with each caught-and-released fish measured by length. Ward and his captain, Brandon Cyr of Key West, tallied permit measuring 27.5 inches on the tournament’s first fishing day, and two more fish on the second day measuring 24- and 26.75-inches. On day three, they caught-and-released three more permit with fly gear, measuring 28.25-, 26.5- and 23.25-inches.

The permit catches tallied 900 points for the Ward-Cyr team, claiming the event’s top slot.

Second place went to Robert Dougherty of Dallas, guided by Capt. Nick LaBadie of Key West with four fly-caught-and-released permit for 600 points. Their catch included a 30.25-inch fish, largest of the event.

Noted Keys captain and permit angler Simon Becker of Cudjoe Key led angler Clint Packo of Littleton, Colorado to third place with three permit releases and 450 pounds.

“It is honestly still surreal and has not set in,” says 28-year Brandon Cyr about being on the winning tournament team in the Del Brown event.
In 2020 he was the winning guide for the inaugural year of the IGFA Permit Invitational tournament.

“It’s just mind-blowing to me,” he says. “I still feel like I’m the young guy trying to chase everybody down, so to actually have success like this is just beyond me. I don’t know how we pulled it off, but we did.”

Mike Ward and Brandon Cyr hoisting trophy
Mike Ward and Brandon Cyr hoist the coveted Del Brown trophy. Courtesy Del Brown Permit Tournament

The task at hand is no easy feat, with angler and guide both deserving equal recognition for every successful release. Permit have an incredible sense of sight, smell and hearing, and inspect prey food with a keen sense of survival. Fooling such a flats fish to take a small fly imitating its food is daunting. To do it successfully over three days of fishing, competing against some of the best fly rod anglers and guides in the world is even more formidable.

“If I could pick the perfect permit weather, I would choose 10 to 15 mph winds,” says Cyr. “Just enough [wind] to hide boat noise and hide the noise of a fly landing, but not enough that it hinders casting. Ninety percent of the time we are permit fishing in the wind, and we had the opposite of that all week for the Del Brown. The first day we left with about 5 to 8 mph of wind, which makes things a lot harder.”

The catch rate during the event was light compared to other Del Brown tournaments, and Cyr says hot weather in the 90s with mild wind made conditions tough. For that reason, he targeted permit places having strong current, which the fish preferred and they’d take a fly.

Fly-rodders in 17 boats caught 19 permit and one bonefish in the event. The tournament is named for the late Del Brown, who pioneered fly fishing for flats permit. Brown’s innovations in flies (like the famed “Merkin”) and other tackle is renown. He is credited with catching 513 permit on fly, plus several IGFA world records, angling accomplishments that may never be matched.

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