They’re not just for beaches anymore.
Pompano have a small mouth, and they dine mostly on sandfleas and small crabs. Thus the traditional pompano jig is appropriately bite sized—a small head, with a shortshank hook and a short nylon skirt. There is also a banana-shaped jig that works, as well as a variety of small plastic crabs and sandflea imitations.
To find pompano from a skiff, begin by idling the boat through shallow water, steering clear of areas where poling skiffs are sight-fishing reds or tarpon. My friend Billy likes to bog the boat down so that it displaces more water. Pompano leap, or skip, out of the water sideways, looking like silver saucers as they launch from the wake or off to the side of the boat. If your engine is quiet enough, you can usually hear them skipping. Sometimes I skip them on plane, and when I do, I always make a mental note of that spot and come back to it rigged and ready. Why they skip is anyone’s guess. I’ve also seen them fly out of the water on the closing of a hatch.
Once we’ve skipped a few, we stop the boat and start casting jigs. If it’s calm enough, we will drift, but if the wind is blowing it’s best to anchor or stake out. If we don’t catch any fish in 15 minutes, we will resume idling until we skip some more fish. If you try running to skip fish, beware of running too shallow over fragile seagrass beds and too close to anglers already fishing. Either practice will make you plenty of enemies, quick. Respect.
My custom-built flats rods are ideally suited to pompano. Eight and a half feet long with a limber tip and a short butt, they toss a pompano jig like they were built with the task in mind. I rig the rod with a small spinning reel and 10-pound-test monofilament, tipped with 18 inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon. I also carry spare spools loaded with microfilament lines, which are super sensitive, but prone to those nasty little wind knots when it’s blowing. The leader is not actually necessary, as pompano have no teeth to speak of, but it makes hauling the fish into the boat easier—pompano fishing is seldom a catch and release endeavor. I jack the fish directly into a well-iced cooler, popping the jig out with a hook remover.
The retrieve of the pompano jig is slower than what you might use for redfish or snook. You want to make contact with the bottom, and hop the lure with short jerks of the rodtip. Pompano generally hit the jig on the downstroke. And speaking of redfish and snook, I have caught both on the little jigs while fishing for pompano—another reason to use a leader.
Livebait fishermen prefer sandfleas for pompano above all other baits. You can buy them in most baitshops, fresh and frozen. Fiddler crabs and small shrimp will also catch pompano, but sandfleas rule. Rig the baits on No. 1 circle hooks with a little weight added to aid in casting.
I’ve had good success with egg-shaped, chrome-plated jigheads, between 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 ounce, with nylon skirts—white, yellow and chartreuse seem to produce the best results. Even the 1⁄4-ounce jig casts like a rifle bullet and it catches pompano. But the banana-shaped Doc’s Goofy Jig also has its adherents, as do those who prefer sandfleas and crabs. Personally, I prefer the artificials, because they keep me busy. But the determined pompano addict is apt to carry all of the above, trying them all on skippers until finding the one that works. FS
First published Florida Sportsman May 2008