Fishermen who love chasing permit wait patiently for March to arrive in the Keys. The increasing daylight and warming water temperatures bring some of the best opportunities for sight fishing permit. Unfortunately, this time of the year invariably also brings periods of persistent gusty winds that can wreak havoc with the best made plans of fishermen and charter captains. Only the hardiest fishermen will tolerate being tossed about by an angry ocean and enduring salt spray blasted off the tops of waves, simply to pursue a trophy fish.
Persistent North winds can turn the normally crystal clear warm shallow waters on the flats into a frenzied mixture resembling cold chocolate milk. The waves stir up the bottom and the winds push cooler Gulf of Mexico waters over the flats, making permit fishing extremely challenging. Even if your fisherman is lucky enough to see a permit in these conditions, he will typically only have seconds to attempt an accurate cast while being buffeted about by strong gusty winds. The blustery weather shows no mercy as waves rock the skiff about wildly, making an accurate presentation frequently nothing more than dumb luck. These conditions also challenge the guide's skills as he attempts to keep his eyes on the quarry, remain on a pitching tower and continuously pole against the wind as it swings the boat about on a whim.
Wind direction can also have an impact on fishing. In the Keys, a west wind is considered a harbinger of poor fishing. This probably has more to do with the impending barometric pressure shift associated with an approaching front than the wind coming out of the west; still, it does usually serve as an indicator of poor fishing conditions.
Guides who pole a flats boat day after day will all agree that the "best wind direction is when it is blowing on your back." A tail wind will help propel your boat across the flats and allow your fisherman to cast down-wind further than he would normally be able to throw a bait. This advantage can be very helpful when fishing for permit, as you rarely have a fisherman on-board with the skills necessary to accurately cast into an unforgiving wind.
The good news is there are some positive aspects to fishing in windy conditions. First, the wind whipped waves increase oxygen in the shallow water, attracting bait fish looking for an easy meal. As the morning sun warms up the surface of the water, persistent winds blowing across the surface can create a thermal zone of warm water on the lee-side of the bay, enticing the entire food chain. Blustery weather can also serve to assist in camouflaging many of the noises which emanate from the boat, as well as the distinct plop created when bait lands near a wary permit. Best of all, it gives the fisherman an excuse for wayward casts that land everywhere but near the fish.
Unfortunately, severe winds can result in cancelled charters. As I wrote this, the wind continued to howl through the trees so I took a break and reluctantly called my fisherman scheduled for the next day and informed him it looked as if the forecasted weather conditions for the following day were going to make fishing very challenging. I advised him, if he still wanted to try fishing for permit, I was more than willing to take him out, and then added the reality was the building winds would probably allow for little more than a very rough and expensive ride. As soon as I got off the phone with my disappointed fisherman, I received an email from Chip Kasper, the senior NOAA meteorologist in Key West, stating that the Florida Straits were forecast to receive gale force winds, consisting of 30 knot constant winds, and gusting to 34-47 knots. Sea-states were predicted to build quickly to 4-6 feet in Hawk's Channel, 8-10 feet at the reef, and 12-15 feet in the Gulf Stream.
In spite of the crazy winds and occasional lost charter, I still love March in the Keys. It is truly one of the best times of the year to get out there and catch one of those elusive permit tailing in the shallow water.
Capt. Pete Peterson welcomes comments and suggestions sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.