Pompa-know-how: jigging nabs plenty of these tasty sportfish.
A schooling fish, pompano require abundant food sources to satisfy the many mouths competing for meals. Along ocean beaches, they scour the wash for sandfleas and coquina clams. Inshore, pompano forage for small crabs, mollusks and shrimp. Oyster bars, rubble piles and limestone outcroppings see the occasional visit, but anglers consistently do best at bridges where currents funnel through the pilings.
One thing's for sure about these fish: Pompano simply will not sit still. The same can be said for many of today's inshore fishermen. Bottom fishing with sandfleas or bits of cut clam is a traditional tactic for pompano, but that requires patience and either blind faith or a healthy dose of confidence.
As Capt. Paul Hawkins of St. Petersburg notes, tide governs the casting game, with some spots delivering best on either the incoming or outgoing water. Determining the ideal tide stage for a certain bridge or flat is mostly a trial-and-error deal, but take note of key factors such as depth, proximity to a main pass and how structures such as jetties, bridges or piers break or funnel the tide. The dynamics of food availability, current and oxygenation will guide you to the right time to fish each spot.
Pomps will feed directly under a bridge and right next to pilings, but that's not the only place to get them. The structure's influence on water flow creates plenty of feeding opportunities a good distance downcurrent.
During a south Pinellas County trip with Hawkins, we started our drifts about 20 yards from a midsize bridge and hooked up three times that distance downtide. The area was riddled with humps and flats, and as we drifted, a lot of strikes came along the edge of a sandy ridge. Slowing your progress with a drift sock or sea anchor is a good idea, as is watching the fishfinder for bottom contours suggesting feeding lanes.
"When you drift fast, you're more likely to run across a school of fish, but you'll blow through them very quickly," Hawkins said. "On a slower drift, you may not find as many schools, but you'll have more time to work the fish."
Controlled drifts are also wise in coastal passes where pompano forage along channel edges and jetties. The fish tend to find a depth they like and stick with it, so work deep-to-shallow until you find them. Light spinning tackle, 8-to 10-pound-test mono or comparable braid, is best, affording long casts with lures weighing 1/4 ounce or so. A fast-action rod is best, one whose flex under load begins mostly in the tip section and stiffens up toward the grip.
The warmer months see good pompano action in the shallow surf zone of beaches with light traffic, like the tranquil sands adjacent to the Bay and Gulf piers at Pinellas County's Fort DeSoto. Open flats, particularly those near coastal rivers and passes, also see a lot of pompano. The fish seem to favor broken bottom with uneven smatterings of sandy strips and troughs over dense grassbeds with distinct potholes. Unlike bridges and jetties, flats have nothing to hold pomps in one area, so it's more of an eat-and-run thing.
When traversing the flats, have a boat mate watch your wake for "skipping" pompano that bound across the surface when startled. Some fishermen call them "pie plates," which makes complete sense when you see them. Stop and work the spot of last sightings, but if you don't connect, a looping run through the hot zone may revive the opportunity. Just be sure you don't blow out a flat for other boaters.
On the flats and in deeper water, large southern stingrays and tight pods of cownose ("bat") rays often flush out the crustacean meals pompano seek, so keep an eye out for silver shadows in the wakes.
Regardless of where you find pompano, the jigging technique is largely the same. Get it to the bottom and twitch it like a scampering crustacean. Pompano eat plenty of shrimp and patiently working a small soft-plastic shrimp will draw attention. However, pomps spend most of their feeding effort nose down, bumping the bottom and watching/sniffing for crunchy meals. Crabs top the list, but when a caught fish regurgitates recent meals, you'll often notice shell fragments from snails, mussels and other mollusks.
A close look at the bottom will offer a clue to the local forage, while a little habitat sampling may aid your perception in deep spots. During my outing with Hawkins, we fished a bridge channel where I twice snagged chunks of the loose bottom and reeled the rock and shell mass to the boat. When I dropped the chunk on the deck, the impact shook loose several wriggling invertebrates. A closer inspection revealed no less than a half dozen tiny crabs hiding in the crevices.
For Vertical jigging near bridge pilings, the standard leadhead works fine, but for probing active areas with lengthy casts, it's hard to beat the banana-shape jigs with weighted shanks made by Doc's Goofy Jigs and Silly Willy. Available in various sizes, these jigs carry their weight along the shank and that allows them to skim the bottom with the hook point facing up.
Increase your jig size as depth and/or current increases, but the key is presentation. Lower rod work keeps the jig close to the bottom where short hops stir up puffs of sand that resemble scooting crabs. Yellow or yellow/white patterns typically produce best, but the pink ones do well when visibility declines.
On the flats, the Nylure is a popular pompano jig, with its bullet head and nylon skirt trimmed close to the hook bend. Skirts can be yellow, red, chartreuse, or white, and some fishermen believe the chrome head throws just enough glimmer to catch a pomp's eye. At the same time, heavy leader may deter these sometimes shy fish; if you're after pompano primarily, you'll do best using no more than 20-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.
Hungry pomps won't hesitate to grab small grubs, shad or curly tail jigs intended for trout and redfish. Smaller is usually better, so keep it to a 1/4 ounce or less. In fact, freshwater anglers often fare well by putting their crappie jigs into pompano service. Those tiny 1/16-ounce jigs can be deadly, especially when rigged tandem with two different colors.
On the beaches, trim a grub tail to just above the jig's hook bend, throw parallel to the surfline just as a wave slides in and let the receding water roll your lure outward like a tumbling sandflea. Casting and retrieving slowly through the surf affords the same appearance, while allowing you to cover more water.
Sometimes it's a tap-tap-tug, but often the pompano strike feels like a PGA powerhouse just teed off on your bait. Big pompano will take drag, but all will give you a spirited fight with lots of tricky boatside antics. Fluttering leaps and defiant dashes don't end with the capture. For optimal freshness, Hawkins drops his keepers into a livewell until he heads to the dock. Preventing escapes, he said, is a constant concern.
"When you drop a fish into the well," he said, "hold the lid low or your other fish will jump right out--I've seen them do it."
No doubt they're quick, but pompano can also be downright bold. With Hawkins aligning our bridge channel drift, a fellow Tampa angler twice reeled his jig within a couple feet of the surface, only to watch a hostile pomp rise some 20 feet to boil beneath the lure.
As we discovered, a pompano that's fired up enough to chase a lure topside will put the chomp on the next available object that looks edible. My jig lagged about half the distance behind the one my partner threw and my rod flexed within seconds of his second near miss.
Was it the same fish? We'll never know, but it's clear pompano respond to the actions of their brethren. If one makes an aggressive move toward a potential meal, you can bet he'll have a wad of competitive schoolmates following closely.
RELATED ARTICLE: POMPANO PROFILE
Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) are often confused with young permit (Trachinotus falcatus), a similar shaped fish common to coastal shallows. Permit are distinguised by a taller profile, comparatively longer dorsal and anal fins, ink black fins and prominent yellow-orange belly patch. Adult permit grow much larger--up to 50 pounds--than pompano, which usually weigh in at 2 to 4 pounds, but can grow to 8 pounds. Another similar species, the palometa (Trachinotus goodei, aka "banner pompano") has long dorsal and anal fins and four vertical bars on its silver sides. The unmistakable--and only vaguely related--African pompano (Alectis ciliaris) sports a metallic finish and a more blunt head.
Daily aggregate bag limit on Florida pompano and permit is 6 fish between 11 and 20 inches (fork length). Anglers can keep one Florida pompano or permit over 20 inches daily, but no more than two of this size per vessel in any combination.
RELATED ARTICLE: DRESS IT UP
When the bite is tough, consider a few enhancement options:
Double Up The quickest way to enhance an appealing bait is to increase its mass. Do this for pompano jigs by rigging them tandem. Thread the top jig three-quarters of the way onto a 3-foot leader. Form a loop with your jig in the center and tie a double overhand knot, passing the jig through each time. Tie a second jig to the tag end and start fishing.
Variety: With plastic-body jigs, experiment with colors and shapes to determine what the fish like. Sometimes, changing jighead colors (red, black, chartreuse) helps.
Makeup and Makeover: Dip the tails of plastic jigs in dyes like Spike It or Gulp! Bio-Dip for a splash of extra color. With the weighted shank jigs (Doc's and Silly Willy's), modifying the standard paint job by applying spots or stripes with a permanent marker may give the fish a different look that flips their switch.
Smell of success: Scent enhancers such as Lunker Sauce (crab or shrimp formula) will help pompano find your jig in deep water or murky conditions.
Tag-Alongs: Rig a small fly with a nylon or hair skirt to the eye of your jig with either a split ring or 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. This offers a secondary target when a fish rejects the main jig, or multiple fish try to grab the same lure. (Try a tandem rig with a fly in front and on the jig.)
Shine On: The glimmer of light reflecting off a small spinner blade can get the fish looking in the right direction. Premade models are sold commercially, but do-it-yourselfers can alter their standard jigs by sliding a blade onto a split ring and affixing the ring to the jig eye. Avoid tangling by slipping a barrel swivel onto the split ring to keep your line attachment above the blade. Going back to the freshwater gear, the Road Runner--a hybrid jig/spinner design--combines an elongated narrow head that falls quickly in deep water with a flashy blade and tail options of plastic or marabou.
Current-swept channel and bars near coastal bridges are prime foraging areas for winter pompano. Tampa Bay anglers above land solid fish. Small jigs and soft baits, opposite, fool many fish and last a lot longer than natural bait amid the swarms of scavenger fish.
Pompano on the Plate
For pompano recipes and cooking tips, visit www.floridasportsman.com/xtra
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|Author:||Brown, David A.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2010|
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