Biology – Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus)
The Florida Pompano, commonly referred to simply as a pompano or pompos, is one of the most popular and accessible fish to fish from the pier. They are not the biggest fish on the pier, they normally only weigh a few pounds. The pumps are about 24 inches long and 8 pounds in weight, but this is a record-breaking size pompano. They have a deep, compressed body with a small mouth. With a generally dark greenish-gray color on the back with silvery sides running down to a golden belly and throat. Pompanos also have a deeply forked tail, from which they get much of their power.
They feed mainly on shellfish in the surf, a favorite bait for them being sand fleas which carry eggs. Although they are normally found on sandy beaches, they can also be found in bays and even offshore when they go to spawn from March to September. This is a warm water loving species that you won’t see if the water temperature is colder than 60 degrees. The arrival of Pompano usually means that spring has arrived on the pier.
Care must be taken not to confuse them with permit, they look alike but the license gets much larger and although rare on the Emerald Coast, it is not unheard of. You are allowed to keep 6 pompanos in Florida, but only 2 permits, so you don’t want to make that mistake.
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Pompanos are so accessible due to their tackle requirements, you only need a 7 foot medium weight rod with a reel capable of holding 100 yards of 10-15 pound braid. They’re powerful fighters, but they don’t make crazy long runs like mackerel, so line capacity isn’t as much of a concern. If you don’t have a saltwater shore setup, bass tackle can do double duty as long as it has reel capacity. Beware though, salt water is tough on gear and a lot of bass gear wasn’t designed with a corrosive environment in mind. You will want a 15-20lb fluorocarbon leader, they have sharp eyes and can be shy at times.
There are two ways you can rig for pompano fishing, you can make or buy a pompano rig for fishing bait or fishing jigs. For pompano fishing rigs, it’s a leader about 4 feet long with two dropper loops on it. A swivel to attach to your main line at the top, a snap swivel to attach your pyramid weight at the bottom. Each dropper loop should have a float, bead and hook. For bait, I recommend live sand fleas if you can get them, fresh market shrimp, or fish bites. Don’t use the cups of shrimp that tackle stores have in their freezers, you don’t know how old they are or when they were frozen. Find a local fish market and buy fresh local prawns.
For jigging you will need pompano jigs of different weights depending on the current and wind. The jigs themselves are usually a small pink bucktail type jig with a nylon skirt material. Jigs can range from 1/4 oz to 1 1/2 oz. Besides the traditional bucktail style jigs, there is another popular jig called goofy jigs. They are banana-shaped and are usually equipped with a teaser.
There are really only two ways to fish the pompano, either with bait or with jigs. You will fish anywhere between the first sandbar and the “T” end depending on water conditions. But usually that first sandbar and trough before the first “T” is where the majority of pompanos are caught.
Once baited; launch the rig, put some tension on the line and wait. Keep an eye out for bites and hopefully some tasty pumps will come find your bait. There will however be some bycatch, whiting and catfish as well as the same waters as the pompano. The whiting although smaller is good to eat or good bait for redfish. Catfish aren’t really worth keeping and you have to be careful of their poisonous spines. If your rig won’t stay in place, increase the lead size until you can stop the rig from rolling.
So to jig fish you can either cast on sight when you see schools of pompano swimming by, or you can cast blind and hope for the best. Both methods produce fish, but sight casting can have a high success rate. Either way, you choose to tip your jig, with fish bites or a sand flea. Launch the jig either in front of the school or blind, and simply place the jig on the bottom. They will be curious about the sand puff and will come to check it out and hopefully eat the jig.
If you asked people on the pier or surf what fish they prefer to catch and cook. Chances are they say pompano. Recognized for their excellent quality, firm and rich meat, these fish sell very well in the markets. Grilled with butter in the oven is a very popular way to cook pompano. The meat is very versatile for cooking and can be cooked in most methods. It’s hard to spoil unless you under-season or overcook it.
If you’re new to dock fishing or even saltwater fishing, I highly recommend trying to go after the pompano. They are not a technically difficult species to hunt or require specialized equipment to fish. When the bite is one, they are voracious and will strike at just about anything shiny or brightly colored that you put in front of them. These are fun species that can be available in most warmer months that look amazing on the table.