February 03, 2023
By Mike Conner
Surf fishing for pompano, whiting and croakers for the most part is a baitfishing drill with surf rods set in sand spikes.
The top baits include shrimp, clam, crab and sand flea. Many anglers also use synthetic strips such as Berkley Gulp!, Fishgum and Fishbites, which come in a variety of colors, but natural baits still rule the roost for the most part. Pompano and whiting fans have long depended on live sand fleas (mole crabs), "blanched" sand fleas, clams and fresh shrimp.
Trouble with sand fleas is, they get scarce along many beaches once cold weather sets in. Most anglers do their flea raking in fall or late spring when temperatures moderate and the flea "colonies" are more common. The live fleas cannot be simply frozen for later use—this tends to make them brittle and they fall off the hook easily. The trick is to “cook" the fleas. That not only colors them but makes them more durable.
COOK 'EM RIGHT
As you rake live fleas, carry your bounty in a bucket with drainage holes if possible. Once caught they will secrete urine, and if you let them sit in a bucket of water/urine for any length of time, that can soften them. They will live for hours as long as they are kept wet and drained.
Once at home, transfer them to a mesh chum bag. Rinse them a few times with a garden hose while you heat up a big pot of water. Once the water is near boiling, dunk the chum bag of fleas for 15 seconds or so. They will turn orange much in the way that shrimp or lobsters do. Once they color, remove them and rinse and cool them thoroughly with the hose water. Some anglers dunk the cooked fleas in ice water, but I never found that to be necessary. At this point place them in quart freezer bags, squeeze out the air, and freeze them. I have used a vacuum sealer with great results. If you make a big haul, you might have ample fleas for many trips.
Clams are terrific baits, but you cannot just buy a frozen bag at the bait shop, defrost it and fish. The meat is softer than it appears. Whole Atlantic surf clams (the common variety sold) are big, and you have to separate the cream-colored meat from the dark entrails. I buy a couple bags, empty the contents into a big bowl, and then cut the meat from the guts with kitchen shears. Cut the meat into quarter-sized pieces and discard the soft spongy parts which are too soft to stay on the hook.
The salt will toughen the meat within a couple hours to fish the same day.
Line the bottom of a plastic re-sealable food container with table salt, add a layer of the cut clam baits (about the size of a quarter) then cover with more salt, and repeat the process to fill the container. The salt will toughen the meat within a couple of hours to fish the same day. I freeze the containers and defrost one as needed to fish. I've discovered that I can refreeze them with little change in their toughness. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2022