The Often Overlooked Florida Pompano

Todd Neahr | Natural Resource Specialist | Upper Laguna Madre Ecosystem | Corpus Christi
The Often Overlooked Florida Pompano

Have you ever thought of breaking away from the same old fishing trip? Do you want to target something different for a change? Whether you enjoy lightning fast runs or the finished product on your dinner plate the Florida pompano fits the bill.

The range of the Florida pompano, Trachinotus carolinus, or simply "pompano" extends from Massachusetts to southern Brazil. Pompano mostly frequent gulf beaches, but can be found in other habitats such as estuaries and even natural and artificial offshore reefs. Pompano prefer mid to higher salinities as evidenced by high catch rates from West Matagorda Bay to the lower Laguna Madre. There are no regulations pertaining to pompano in Texas state waters. The current state record Florida pompano was caught in June 2006 in the lower Laguna Madre measuring 24.63" and weighing 6.41 pounds.

Pompano are a popular member of the jack family sought by both recreational and commercial fisherman throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers frequently inquire via online fishing forums and at harvest surveys on where and how to catch pompano. By far, the easiest and most accessible locations to target pompano are from the beach or the surf side of a jetty. The surf zone is a series of bars and troughs, also known as guts, running parallel to shore and extending gulfward. The diet of pompano consists of small mollusks and crustaceans. Pompano cruise the sandbars in search of burrowing invertebrates, and anglers should place their baited leaders in the path of pompano schools. Most pompano fisherman cast on either the front or back of a gut as the sandbar is the pompano highway. When spooked, pompano will often jump out of the water on one side. This behavior can be observed many places including the mouth of Baffin Bay and on the sandbars of the surf zone.

Now is the time to chase pompano as anglers often concentrate their efforts in the surf during the fall and winter. In between cold fronts is a great time to target pompano, but they can actually be caught year round when the conditions are optimal. The information age has made it easier for anglers to gauge the pompano activity by browsing fishing forums for recent reports or by monitoring offshore buoy forecasts. Calm offshore seas (zero to two feet) generally translate into prime pompano fishing in the surf zone. Experienced pompano anglers will normally fish clear green to sandy green water, but they can frequently catch pompano in chocolate-milk colored water in mid winter.

Knowing when and where to catch them is important, but knowing what to throw is a different question. Pompano have surprised experienced anglers alike by hitting topwater plugs, suspending plugs, and soft plastics, but most anglers keep it simple with a double drop rig. The mainline of the leader is usually 2 to 3' of 30 to 50# monofilament with a barrel swivel at the top and a large snap swivel at the bottom. Two 8 to 12" sections of 20# monofilament attach circle hooks to the leader. Some anglers keep it extra simple by using a longer section of mainline leader with loop knots placed in the mid section of the leader to allow for hook attachment. A variety of different styles of surf weights are used to keep the leader firmly planted in the pompano highway. Pompano are known for their quick bursts of energy and can easily dislodge an embedded 4 oz surf weight. The double drop leader can be used with bay rods and up to lengthy surf casting rods. Remember to use weights matched to the appropriate rod.

Keeping in line with pompano diet, anglers tend to use fresh dead shrimp. Unpeeled or peeled, keep it small and about the size of a knuckle. It is also common practice to thread fluorescent colored beads just above the circle hooks. Most surf fisherman will attach a small strip of Fish Bites onto the hook before adding a piece of shrimp. The Fish Bite is an impregnated cheese cloth with a dissolving fish attractant, and pompano can be caught on Fish Bites alone.

Being a member of the jack family, pompano have a semi-oily flesh making them a great candidate for the grill or smoker. Anglers often fillet pompano with the skin in tact and cook skin side down just like redfish-on-the-halfshell.

Consider a trip to the surf and target pompano the next time you are in need of change of pace from your normal fishing trip.
You will be surprised by their blistering runs on light tackle and their highly prized table fare.