Pompano - how to catch them

When fishing Pompano

Pompano

The best eating fish

The Florida pompano (see photo below), Trachinotus carolinus, ranges from Massachusetts to Brazil and all throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

The pompano has every right to crowned the king of small salt water fishes. Its taking required knowledge, skill, and judgement. When hooked it puts up a fight equaled by few, if any, fish of its size.

You can find small specimens in the Gulf surf in Texas, from Galveston to Padre Island, and Mexico at Barra del Tordo. It's in the jack family and related to thepermit, jack crevalle, and African pompano.

It's been the most memorable fight of '2010 so far. Mostly because it was so surprising. You never know what you're going to catch when you're fishing in the salt.

That's part of the attraction for every angler. You enjoy the bass/sunfish routine and actually wet a line in that endeavor more often than I get salt spray in my hair, but You love saltwater fishing?

"That day in June, I hooked up and had to hold on because something had grabbed my hook and didn't want to let me see him. Three strong runs, up and down the beach. Finally after a few minutes a big silver side flashed in the clear, green water off Mustang Island. Permit? Can't be, they don't live in these parts. Could be a jack, I thought for a moment, but it sure seemed rounder than I'd seen. I could tell my catch was tiring and I backed toward shore, just a little, into shallower water. When it came to hand it turned out to be a pompano, and the biggest one I'd ever personally seen. Nowhere near the 8 lb world record, but still quite a surprise to me. Nineteen inches long and nearly as tall. He had put that broad body to good use in trying to avoid capture. A big pompano - same as a small permit. I had heard they were delicious and a few hours later I was able to confirm that opinion. Best fish I've ever eaten. I had never seen any stories on pompano in the popular literature so I decided to see what I could find."FN

Where to find

You'll find it in the surf when the water is warm. Florida pompano can't survive if the water temperature drops into mid-50's and prefer water temperatures is in the 80's. The picture above doesn't do this very attractive fish justice.

The Pompano

The Pompano is blue-green or blue-gray on top, shiny platinum on the sides and yellow on the bottom. They have big eyes, small mouths and no scutes on the sides of the tail, or caudal peduncle, like a jack crevalle. Spawning takes place from March to September and juveniles are in the surf in large numbers throughout the summer and into the fall. Along the southern coast of the United States, they spawn primarily April-June then again in September & October. Pompano grow rapidly and attain a length of 8-10 inches after one year. Their life expectancy is only believed to be 3 or 4 years.

Preliminary casts

Three preliminary casts should be made. The bait is cast out as far as possible, allowed to sink and slowly dragged back along the sandy bottom. The first cast should be made directly seaward. Then moving a few steps to the left, the second cast should be made toward the right across the line of the first cast.

Then moving to the right, a third cast is made over and to the left of the first cast. These should be so accomplished that the baits thus cross the same points three times and this point should be 15 to 20 feet from shore. It is at this point that the bait is finally tossed, permitted to remain and be rolled about by the subsurface backwash. The angler then unreels some of his line and moves back from the water's edge where hecannot be seen by the fish and waits. He may sit down, but must not put down his rod, for the action, when it comes, takes place very quickly.

The pompano baits

The Pompano will eat small fish, but primarily consume small crustaceans, particularly the sand flea. Clams, Shrimp, and small crabs are on the Pompano's menu and all make good baits.

The small mouth of the pompano-fish means small hooks and bait.

Fish the bottom with a fish-finder rig, or run a line with two or three dropper loops. Allow your bait to rest on the bottom a minute or two before retrieving slowly.

Small yellow and white jigs work also, especially if tipped with small pieces of shrimp. As with most fish in the surf, the best times are in the morning and evening on an incoming tide. While the literature suggests clear surf is optimum, which is generally true for most surf fishing, You have caught them in rough surf that was stirred to a chocolate brown.

The feeding

The feeding pompano swims along slowly, alone or with one or two others until it comes to where the bait has been dragged over during preliminary casts. It is my opinion that the pompano follows the trail, seizes the flea, and is away with it. The next instant the reel is singing and the battle is on. There is no mouthing of the bait, or suspicious reconnoitering. The sand flea is by nature a swift creature and the fish knows that a swift strike is necessary.


This may be an effective way of zeroing in on pompano, since my fishing for them has been a catch as catch can affair, catching many other species while hoping a pompano will happen along.


Broiled with butter seems to be the preferred manner of preparing pompano. In this month's Reader Survey on best fish to eat. Other fish recipes you can find here.
If you're surf fishing anywhere from Virginia to Texas, or from Mexico to Brazil, take a break from wading out to the third bar, rig up a sand flea, and wait for a pompano to come by. If it's a big the fight will be memorable and the dinner will be even more so.