The Importance of Eyes in Fly Tying
By Eric Ersch

Before he proved himself to be a highly-skilled permit fly fishing guide, Jesus Martinez fed his family by fishing with his eyes. Born to a family of fishermen who survived for generations by providing food from the sea, his elders recognized his ability at a young age, utilizing Jesus as a fish “spotter” aboard their sea-going vessels.

Permit with yellow eye fly at ESB LodgeRecently, showing me the fly proven most successful over months of guiding anglers to permit after permit on Espiritu Santo Bay, located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Jesus stressed the importance of the eyes on flies. Immediately upon the yellow eyes showing signs of wear, Jesus will cut the fly off the leader and knot on a new one with fresh “yellow eyes.” And his anglers continue to hook crazy numbers of permit.

Juvenile spiny lobsters, mantis shrimp and crabs all have notable eyes. If you have ever watched a permit swim up to your fly, give it a thorough inspection and then reject it, you have had to ask yourself why. Fly design is all about solving problems, and the eyes make a difference. By adding strike-triggers to your flies — and eyes are strike-triggers — you will convince more fish that your fly is alive and worth eating.

Few saltwater flats fish are more difficult to convince than a permit. Serious anglers have spent decades designing and tweaking their permit flies, trying to “break the code.”  The weight and position of the eyes that you place on your fly will affect the sink rate and posture of the fly as it sinks through the fish’s window, making it a critical design component. If it doesn’t look real, you are wasting your time.

Lincoln Westby with a permit at Blue Horizon LodgeA couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fish with permit master Mr. Lincoln Westby. He had worked closely with the late Will Bauer in designing the Bauer’s Flats Crab, a “go to” permit fly in Belize that features prominent burnt mono eyes. It sank level through the water column, with the weight on the bottom of the crab, and the neutrally buoyant eyes looking over the shallow coral flats outside of Dangriga.

Fishing a few days later in the Punta Gorda region, the habitat was completely different.  Instead of the shallow coral flats on which I’d fished crabs with Lincoln, we were fishing in three to five feet of water over turtle grass. The permit were moving erratically in search of food, often changing direction before the crab sank into their window. We needed a different fly that sank faster, and I could animate it more quickly than a crab, hoping to get the permit’s attention at a greater distance. We hooked a couple permit that afternoon, and more the following day, all on the Jesus shrimp with, of course, fresh, yellow eyes.


The Fly Shop Travel Image

The Fly Shop’s Glass Taxi Eyes

These new glass eyes from The Fly Shop® are practically indestructible and won’t blow off your fly like glued-on eyes! These lifelike, translucent glass eyes were developed for taxidermy and will add a new dimension of realism to any streamer pattern. They're permanently molded to a durable, small-diameter wire that can be cut and bent to a 90-degree angle, then tied to the shank of the hook. Gone are the days of having to retire an otherwise perfect fly just because the stick-on eyes fell off. BOOM!

The Fly Shop Travel Image


The tan #2 Squimp with yellow eyes is the #1 permit fly for Espiritu Santo Bay Lodge. In the four years since the lodge has been operating the Squimp has been responsible for 70% of the 1,024 permit landed. Make sure you have some in your fly box or tie your own, they are stupidly simple and easy to tie.

The Fly Shop Travel Image

Flat End Eye Glass Rattles

These new, cool dumbbell eyes incorporate a small steel bead in a hollow chambered set of glass eyes and will add attracting sound to your next fly pattern. They are a great alternative to the bulky standard glass rattles, and you can paint or add eyeball decals to them for a more realistic look. Tie them like a normal dumbbell eye, hit ‘em with a little Zap-A- Gap, and you should be good to go.

The Fly Shop Travel Image

ESB Yellow Eye Spawning Shrimp

Over the course of four years Dane Emerson and the guides at ESB Lodge have been experimenting with eye colors on their proprietary shrimp and crab patterns. With over a 1,000 permit to hand in four seasons, they are 100% convinced yellow eyes make a difference. Make a difference in your next permit trip and get some, you won't be disappointed...

The Fly Shop Travel Image

Double Pupil Lead Eyes

These brightly colored, enamelled lead eyes add more than weight to any fresh or saltwater fly pattern and the highly visible black-on-white pupils will be sure to engage a trigger-response for any hungry predator that swims.