Pompano are possibly the most sought after fine-food fish in the ocean. High-end restaurants offer pompano almandine, and high-end fish markets sell it at a price higher than beef. The most common of the species, the Florida pompano, is one of the pleasant surprises to surf fishermen and pier fishermen all the way around the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
A member of the Carangidae family of fishes that includes jacks and other pompanos, the Florida pompano can be caught from the coast of Massachusetts all the way to Brazil and all points in between. It has a white, flaky meat that is cherished by most fish lovers, and is consequently heavily pursued during the summer months.
Pompano Action. Florida pompano can be found from the coast of Massachusetts down south to Brazil.
Most pompano are only 2 to 3 pounds in weight. A 5-pound fish will give you bragging rights! But, pound for pound, these fish will fight harder than almost any fish of the same size. Long runs followed by a back and forth slug fest are the norm.
Pompano anglers know their stuff. Between March and October of each year, you can find them on the fishing piers or on the beach fishing the surf, looking for pompano. Their angling methods are somewhat specialized, but not difficult to learn.
The first thing anyone who is looking to catch pompano needs to learn is just what these fish eat. Their main diet consists of small crustaceans, like small crabs, shrimp, and mole crabs — more commonly called sand fleas because they look like a big, white, overgrown flea. They sometimes feed on small baitfish, but more fish are caught on sand fleas than possibly any other bait.
Pompano are schooling fish, and if you catch one, you can probably catch more. They move through an area, looking for food. They will move with the current and with the tide, foraging along the bottom just behind and right in the break of the surf. In clear water conditions, a school can sometimes be seen right in the wave before it breaks.
As the wave crashes onto the beach, it disturbs the sand, and the washing action of the returning water exposes sand fleas — their favorite food. They like to feed on an incoming tide all the way up to high and part of the outgoing tide. This is the time that the water is deep enough along the shore to allow them to find and feed on the sand fleas.
For tackle, a medium spinning rod will work just fine. Surf rods also work well, but usually aren't needed for the normal long surf fishing cast. These fish are much closer to shore.
Remember -- these fish don't get really big, so a lighter line and smaller hook is in order. In a normal surf condition, I would fish with a medium-action, seven-foot spinning rod with a reel spooled with no heavier than twelve-pound-test monofilament line. In heavier surf, you will need to go to a longer rod and heavier line. It will be needed to handle the heavier weight required in the heavier surf.
I fish with just enough weight to get my bait out and on the bottom. If it washes into shore, I go to the next heavier weight.
For terminal tackle I use a chicken rig — sometimes called a fish finder rig. These rigs come with multiple circle hooks, although I usually only fish with one of the hooks. I use the 2/0 hook size and a pyramid sinker because it will hold in the sand better. This rig keeps your bait up off the bottom, making it easy for the pompano to see.
The bait I prefer is the mole crab — the good old sand flea. Anyone can catch them. When a wave washes up on the beach, look for an inverted "V" of water as it rushes back to the ocean. That usually means a sand flea was washed up and is digging back into the sand. Kids love digging into the sand and catching them, and you will have a bucket full in short order.
Catching the sand fleas accomplishes two tasks. First, it obviously gives you bait. More importantly, though, it tells you where to fish. Not every stretch of beach has sand fleas, and the pompano know this better than you. Find the sand fleas, and you are likely to find the fish as well.
Plan to fish the back side of any sandbars and right in the break of the surf. This is where the fish will be hunting for food. If you are fishing from a pier, move away from the end of the pier and get back where the surf breaks. Fish the back side of the waves — again with sand fleas or small shrimp.
One last piece of advice: If you have a perfectly calm day, it is likely the pompano fishing will not be good. These fish depend on Mother Nature and the waves to wash their food to them. On a calm day, that simply does not happen.