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Pound sand for pompano.

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My good buddy Tracy and his family have Panhandle pompano fishing down to an art form. He's not much use offshore, but on the beaches, his cooler always has a nice pomp or two for the grill. One of his favorite spots to hit is on Pensacola Beach, but you can apply these techniques to beaches up and down the coastline of Florida.

After you cross the Bob Sikes toll bridge (Hwy. 399 off U.S. 98/30 at Gulf Breeze) onto Santa Rosa Island, turn right onto Fort Pickens Road at the first light. Travel roughly two and a half miles west. You'll see a Tom Thumb convenience store on the right, next door to a Peg Leg Pete's restaurant. Directly across the street, just past the condos, is a nice sand walk-over to the beach. You can park on the shoulder. It's a scant hundred yards or so to the water.

Beach fishing and pier fishing are very similar, with one exception--you generally have access to a smattering of bait and tackle at the pier store. On the beach, you will generally be by yourself, so you need to be a self-contained fishing unit. Most pomp fishermen utilize an aluminum beach cart or wagon; it's not really important what it's made of, just that it has oversize wheels and some rod holders. Skinny wheels dig into the sand and you end up dragging the cart, which is much harder than just carrying the gear down to the beach. Check local tackle stores and Internet fishing message boards such as the FS Forum for different cart ideas. Just make sure you have plenty of room to tack at least four rod holders on the outside of the cart's body. Inside the cart, you need room for a lawn chair, tackle bag, surf spikes, bait bucket, small cooler and a safe place to store a camera, cell phone and snacks.

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It can be very cool this month, particularly at sunrise, so dress warm and take a full thermos of coffee. North winds make it colder and shut the fishing down somewhat. An ideal day on the beach will feature light southeast wind and swell. The swell pushes fish onto the beach and stirs up the bait, and the breeze pushes that warm Gulf air northward, making the day just a bit more comfortable for fishing.

Arriving early is important; if someone beats you to the spot and sets up their spread, you might have to move a half-mile or more to find another suitable washout that isn't taken. Washouts occur where a breaking wave or swell returns offshore from the beach. They do a great job of stirring up sandfleas, shrimp and little mollusks that pompano and other fish feed on. The washouts help concentrate prey into a pool-like area.

Once you arrive, spread your rods out. This means setting them about 15 to 25 feet apart. Start by putting your surf spikes, which can be simple 30- to 42-inch lengths of 2-inch PVC pipes, firmly into the sand. You can buy these or make them very simply by cutting the PVC at an angle to dig into the sand. Medium-action spinning gear is perfect. Most folks use 7- to 9-foot rods. Reels are increasingly being loaded with braided PE line, not because you need the strength to fight pompano, but because the sensitivity is better and you can cast braided line a lot farther than conventional monofilament.

Fluorocarbon leaders are standard and usually consist of a 4- to 5-foot leader, anchored by a pyramid sinker weighing several ounces. How heavy the sinker is (2 to 6 ounces) depends on how far you want to cast it and how rough the surf is. It's important to keep your baits on or close to the bottom. Tie two to four dropper loops into the leader. Use small circle hooks to hold sandfleas, shrimp or the scented synthetic equivalent. They all produce, though fresh sandfleas are usually the first choice. You can get the fleas at your local tackle store or rake them up yourself with an inexpensive, but invaluable sandflea rake. Many anglers actually rake for fleas before ever unloading the car. Following the "no bait, no fish" adage, if they don't find fleas, they move on to another washout.

Best Bet: PANHANDLE

Don't be surprised if you pull redfish, whiting, catfish, stingrays and even cobia out of the surf. The big brown ling start their annual migration this month. Some diehard beach anglers wade, swim or kayak a live or dead bait out a little deeper, float it on a balloon and try to catch one of these beach bruisers.
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Title Annotation:ACTION SPOTTER: PANHANDLE
Author:Hall, Buck
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Words:784
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