A big part of pompano fishing is enjoying sunrises and sunsets on the beaches of the Southeast. (Frank Sargeant)
By Frank Sargeant
A lot of us who chase pompano don’t really care if we catch them.
Pompano are primarily fish of the beaches from Texas to the Carolinas, and as spring warms the nearshore waters, they swarm along the near-shore sandbar looking for mole crabs, shrimp and anything else they can eat. If you happen to have a bait or lure in front of them when they come rushing past, they’ll eat that too.
But the big attraction of pompano fishing, I suspect, is that it’s an excuse to spend time on some of our most beautiful beaches, to watch sunrises and sunsets and the ever changing moods of the surf and colors of the water.
Be that as it may, pompano start showing up in the surf when the water temperature gets to about 65. It’s about 64 at St. Pete Beach, half way down the Florida peninsula, as this is written, though closer to 60 in the prime pompano habitat from Panama City west to Dauphin Island, Alabama.
On the Atlantic shore, there’s an even more significant temperature break—water is already in the 70’s at aptly-named Pompano Beach, Florida, while at Cocoa Beach, about 170 miles north, it’s 61. At Hilton Head, S.C., it’s currently in the mid-50’s—a long time from pompano weather.
Finding the right temperature is the first part of the equation. While you might catch an occasional stray in water that’s colder than the preferred range, it’s usually not worth going after them until the warm-up arrives.
Serious pompano anglers carry their essentials in a beach cart and make a comfortable nest for themselves to wait for the action. (Frank Sargeant)
How to Get ‘Em
Pompano are almost constantly on the move, which means you can sit in one spot and let them come to you if you choose.
Bait fishermen prefer peeled shrimp tails or fresh-caught mole crabs—the latter can be caught on the beach with a sifting basket. They’re fished on pompano rigs, which include small colored floats to suspend the baits up slightly off bottom while a heavy lead, 3 to 6 ounces, holds things in place. Most anglers use size 2/0 Kahle style hooks, which pretty much set themselves when a pomp grabs the bait and takes off. Most beach anglers use 12’ to 14’ spinning rods to give them the needed casting distance and keep their line up off the surf.
If you can’t stand to sit still, you’re better off fishing a jig like Doc’s Goofy Jig or any sort of small ¼ to ½ ounce bucktail, usually in yellow or pink. A small strip of Fish Bites clam flavored bait seems to increase the bites. An advantage of fishing artificials is you can keep moving, hitting a number of likely spots over several miles of beach, which gives you a better chance of finding a hot feeding area.
Either way, the fish typically run in either the first trough off the beach, on high water, or the second trough, on lower water, particularly where runouts or “rips” run perpendicular to the beach. This moving water carries bait to the fish, so they hang around these flows regularly.
Pompano are not huge, but they fight hard and are delicious on the table. (Frank Sargeant)
Pompano on the Table
Pompano are great eating, and one of the best ways to cook them is the simplest. Gut the fish but leave it whole, score the skin about every inch diagonally and then brush with butter and thyme. Fill the body cavity with crab meat stuffing if you like. Grill under a hot broiler until the skin starts to curl and turn brown and the meat will be done. It lifts away from the skeleton easily—delicious.