Stealthy hunts, visual fishing and great fights are what we enjoy, right? Pompano on their annual migration offer great opportunities for fly fishermen.
In the lower Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast, once a few cold fronts have rolled through, and the water temperature has cooled, it’s time to start looking. These fish are coming from the north and pushing down the beaches and Intracoastal. Fly fishing for pompano is typically done inshore in Southeast Florida, due to the wintertime swell on the beach.
Throughout the Intracoastal, sandbars and spoils 1 to 3 feet deep are hotspots. Fish push onto these bars looking for food and if you can intercept them, it’s almost a guaranteed eat.
Pompano are tide sensitive and always on the move. I prefer a strong incoming, which flushes clean, clear ocean water onto the flats.
I stake out on a spot when it is a relatively small area, allowing me to scan the whole bar. But if I don’t feel confident I can see everything, I will pole the back edge of the bar, facing into the current. These fish are moving with the tide, so facing upcurrent allows for the easiest shots at cruising fish.
My favorite way to catch pompano is wading for them, especially on the really shallow spots under 18 inches or so. This way, I’m as quiet as I can be and don’t have to worry about hull slap or casting a large shadow. Watching a pompano push up on a shallow bar and begin to tail is one of my favorite sights to see, whether I blow the shot or not.
I usually bring two, 8-weight outfits with me, one with a floating line and one with a sink tip. The floating works most of the time, but it doesn’t hurt to have the sink tip handy. A 7-foot strip of 20-pound fluorocarbon is perfect for leader.
Fly fishing for pompano in the Florida Panhandle can be great later in the season. Although similar to the east coast fishery, it does have its differences. Good numbers of fish show up from March to May in this region and tend to taper off as the water warms. Captain Nathan Donahoe (850-323-0659), of Apalachicola, has been pompano fishing the northern Gulf Coast for over 20 years and filled me in on the fishery.
In contrast to the east coast, a big majority of this fishing is done along barrier island beaches, such as St. George and Dog Island. These pompano can be caught from a boat or from the beach. Schools run the trough and when the water is right, double-digit days are possible. Donahoe will look for shallow bars, where these troughs end. This is an easy intercepting point. “Although it’s typically 6 to 10 in a pack, I’ve seen schools of hundreds and had days where I got tired of catching them,” says Donahoe. He prefers an 8-weight with a sink tip or intermediate line, along with an 8- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader. FS
Some days, any sinking pattern you put in front of a pompano will get eaten. Their diet consists of shrimp, other crustaceans and even small baitfish, so anything mimicking these will catch fish. Nathan Donahoe prefers a chartreuse Clouser minnow or raghead crab. Nick Vlahos, of Sandbarflies.com, ties an incredibly realistic sand flea fly for pompano. It even took second place in the Orvis fly tying contest last year. Once you get your fly in front of the fish, you must convince it to eat. David Mangum of Shallow Water Expeditions says, “Quick strips, giving the fly an erratic action works great, similar to how you work a pompano jig on conventional tackle.”
First published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2016