It is often true that you don’t want bonefish or especially tarpon to see the fly until they stumble across it. If you use the same strategy with a sinking fly for permit, such as the standard Merkin, it will do more to frighten them than stimulate their feeding behavior. After all, crabs don’t jump up off the bottom when they see a 30-pound permit moseying toward them.
Try to drop the fly far enough away from the fish that the splash will not spook it but close enough that it will first notice the fly when the pattern drops through the water column. This will vary from 2 to 15 feet, depending on the depth and clarity of the water, the speed at which the fish is moving, and whether it is actively feeding or tailing. If you are tempting fish with a floating fly or shrimp-type streamer, which are usually stripped, this rule does not hold, as you typically want the fish to see the fly only after it has been in the water for a second or two. The all-time permit champ, Del Brown, whom I had the pleasure of guiding for almost 200 days over the years, used to say that he threw the fly “right at the fish.” He usually finished by adding, “But I always miss by at least a foot or two.”