Pompano Surf Fishing Techniques: How to Catch Dinner
Pompano Surf Fishing Techniques
What is better than a day at the beach? Perhaps a day out on the water with a line in your hand? Put the two together, and you’ll find that the result might just exceed the sum of its parts.
While surf fishing on the numerous beautiful beaches of Southern Florida, there’s a strong likelihood that a particular species will eye your lure. Pompano are a large, active, and numerous fish. They also happen to be delicious.
With this post on pompano surf fishing techniques, we’re going to guide you through the process of getting that pompano from the ocean on to your dinner plate.
Did we mention that pompano are one of the tastiest fish that warm Atlantic and Gulf waters have to offer? According to SeafoodSource, “Gourmands describe the Atlantic pompano as ‘the world’s most edible fish.’” This fish has gourmet, if not delicacy status. A fresh caught pompano filet retails for $17 or more today.
Besides a delicious flavor, pompano filets tend to have an even thickness—a great feature for chefs.
Before Pompano Surf Fishing Techniques, Some History
As related by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, legend has it that, back in the 1800s, land surveyors working for the Florida East Coast Railway were checking out a stretch of beach north of Fort Lauderdale. When the work for the day was done, some local Floridians hosted them and served up some freshly caught pompano. So delicious was their meal, that they jotted down the word ‘pompano’ among their notes on their map.
Later, when their documents were put to use, FECR management mistook the word for the name of town. The area has been known as Pompano Beach ever since.
The Pompano Fish
‘Pompano’ is a Spanish word meaning, ‘grape leaf,’ which vaguely resembles the fish’s shape. Sometimes known as ‘jacks’ scientists currently recognize 21 different species of pompano. They’re found in just about every body of warm salt water around the world. Silvery in color with one or several black markings on their side, they bear a flat, wide (some believe grape leaf-ish) shape and are distinguished by their forked tail.
Fishermen who like to expound upon pompano surf fishing techniques (like us) are usually referring to the Florida pompano species—the tastiest iteration. Unless otherwise specified in this article, when we say ‘pompano,’ we mean Florida pompano.
Many other species of pompano are commonly fished and caught in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. Most others, however, can’t hold a candle to that nutty, fatty Florida pompano flavor. Some shady fishmongers might try to pass off permit—a lower-quality tasting pompano species—as the real deal.
Pro tip: if our pompano surf fishing techniques fail you (like they occasionally fail us) and you’re buying pompano at the store or market, make sure you go for a whole fish to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
Pompano grow quickly and get quite large over their short lifespan. In just a year, they can reach a foot in length and weigh over one pound. Leave them to grow for another couple years, and they can attain weights of eight or nine pounds and exceed two feet in length.
Unfortunately, catching a pompano this size is rare. Most live between three and four years, weigh between two and three pounds, and are about a foot and a half in length.
Species Health and Sustainability
In part because of their tasty meat, pompano commercial fishing increased dramatically in the late ‘90s and 2000s. The species overall took a hit. But because they grow quickly, many believe that current pompano fishing practices are sustainable. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, they have their best eco rating, tend to have low mercury, and are “generally resilient to fishing pressure.”
Where Pompano Gather
Pompano swim in schools, so as a general rule of thumb, if you’ve found one, you’ve found many. Despite the name, they can be fished as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Brazil. They like to stick in waters that range between 70º and 89º. This leads them to migrate north in the summer and south as waters begin to cool again the autumn.
To master pompano surf fishing techniques, you will want to know your prey. In general, these fish stay away from the clear waters typically found around the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands. Instead, they prefer high-salt, shallow flat stretches of ocean.
Pompano Diet and Habits
These fish have small mouths with very small teeth. As this might suggest, they’re consummate bottom feeders, and common knowledge states that they have two main favorite types of food: crustaceans and bivalves. For the former, we’re talking mostly crabs, amphipods, and shrimp. For the latter, it’s muscles and clams.
But some evidence suggests this isn’t quite the case. A team of biologists took a deep dive into the pompano diet in three regions around Florida in 1978.
They caught and dissected pompano around the Banana River outlet, the Sebastian Inlet, and Vero Beach. The adult pompano they caught ate exclusively bivalves and no crabs or shrimp. This might have been a product of the time of year or availability of food, but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind.
Whether it’s crustaceans or bivalves, when talking about pompano surf fishing techniques, you’re going to want to imitate those foods with a lure or bait. When close to shore, pompano like to feed in schools by remaining more or less stationary while the surf and tide bring their favorite foods floating their way.
The Joys of Surf Fishing
If you’re new to the sport, you might have been puzzled to see fisherfolk standing on the beach with regular or super long poles and spin reels apparently fishing in waters where you’ve never seen a fish to speak of. Believe it or not, schools of fish regularly come very close to shore to feed.
There are two general styles of surf fishing. The first involves casting just a short distance away from shore, ideally when the tide is heading out (as a general rule of thumb, fishing is generally best two hours before low tide). Ideally, this is among a stretch of ocean where the waves break close to shore and the ocean floor drops off more steeply from the beach.
The second, more active version involves using a longer double hilted fishing rod. Somewhat like a golf or a baseball swing, anglers wind up, maybe take a couple crow steps, and cast using their entire bodies to get their lure or bait as far out as possible. Some consider this a sport in its own right. The record tournament cast was set by Danny Moeskops at 940.5 feet.
Surf Fishing for Pompano
While there are many mainstays of surf fishing, there are a few specific pompano surf fishing techniques that will lead you closer to the prize. These tips are going to give you the best chance at catching these fish. It’s important to remember, however, that if a school of pompano is not in your general vicinity, there are no techniques or technologies known to man that will help you.
What Type Of Gear?
Preparing, feel free to take the rod of your choice. We recommend an eight or nine weight surf rod. When pompano strike, they don’t always strike hard, and they don’t always make a mad dash with your bait in its mouth. Ideally, you want a big enough rod to get past the surf, but also light enough that you can feel the pompano hit.
If you’re heading out with lures, we recommend using a pompano jig. Although, using natural bait for pompano fishing, tends to be more popular in South Florida. As per their diet, we recommend crab, specifically mole crabs, or clams, or mussels, with some squid to give the bait some color.
Another option is to use small dead shrimp to catch these delicious fish. Many anglers also find luck attaching colored beads to imitate fish eggs.
In addition to this setup, many anglers like to take some measures to ensure their bait remains in place or afloat amid the surf. Many have luck with sputnik weights or popping corks.
When You Arrive at the Beach
When you hit the beach, walk into the water and look to see how murky it is. If the water is perfectly clear, you won’t have much luck. Pompano head to murky-ish waters, because they know it will contain some of their favorite food kicked up in it. If it’s too clear, they’ll also more easily be able to see your line.
If the water is really murky, you’re also going to have trouble. Pompano like to be able to see predators coming their way.
The final important step is knowing how to read the surf. Like we mentioned, pompano like to remain in place and let the surf bring food to them.
So they tend to avoid super turbulent waters, but they also stay away from the calmest stretches. The best thing to look for is stretches along the waves where foam accumulates, or where there are lines of foam. Some refer to this as the swash channel.
From there, there’s nothing left to do but bait your line and see what comes biting.
Go Catch Some Pompano!
The best fishermen know that fishing is both an art and a science. These pompano surf fishing techniques will get you far in terms of technical know-how. From there, it’s just a question of honing your craft.