Florida Pompano Fishing
Visiting anglers very much enjoy Florida Pompano fishing. Pompano are very beautiful fish that fight incredibly hard for their size and taste great. What more can an angler ask for!
Pompano are found along the entire coast of Florida. Statewide, most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Here in Sarasota, we catch them both off of the beaches and in the inshore waters of Sarasota Bay. Pompano may be encountered at any time of year. Cooler months are generally the most productive times of year to catch pompano.
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Pompano look very similar to juvenile permit. They also tend to live in the same environments. Permit have longer fins with a bit of black on the tips. If anglers have any doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and release the fish.
Florida pompano fishing with jigs
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Jigs produce most of the Pompano landed by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. A close look at a Pompano will reveal a small, inferior mouth. The term inferior mouth refers to the fact that the opening of the mouth is on the underside of the head. This will indicate the method by which a Pompano feeds. It swims with its head down and tail up scatter in the bottom for crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.
This explains why jigs are so productive when targeting Pompano. A jig that is bounced off the bottom kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This very closely mimics the action of a fleeing crab or shrimp. Jigs produce on the beach, in the passes, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns. I use them often on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Many anglers land Pompano while casting 3 inch to 4 inch jigs while drifting over the deep grass flats. The same Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits that work so well for speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats in Sarasota Bay, those between 8 feet and 10 feet deep, produce more pompano. However, they can be encountered over sandbars in as little as 2 feet of water.
Small jigs are best for pompano fishing
While the larger jigs will catch the occasional pompano, when specifically targeting pompano, smaller lures are often used. Not surprisingly, these are called “pompano jigs”. As noted earlier, pompano have a quite small mouth, so a smaller bite-size jig works well. These jigs are very plain looking. There simply a round jig head with a little bit of dressing, usually synthetic care. Combinations of white, yellow, chartreuse, and red have proven to be effective colors.
There is another type of lure specifically designed to for anglers Florida pompano fishing. They are called “banana jigs”. They are long and slender, and shaped like a banana, thus the name. When jerked up sharply, they fall in a very erratic manner. Pompano find this action irresistible. Some also have a little fly near the hook. Often times pompano will be hooked under the chin with the second little teaser hook.
Florida pompano fishing techniques
Anglers drifting the deep grass flats simply cast the jig out ahead of the drifting boat, allow it to sink, and work it back in using short hops. The same technique works for those fishing for pompano off the beaches. When the bite is tough or when the water is a bit off-color, tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can really make a difference.
If I had to pick one spot to fish for pompano, it would be Big Sarasota Pass. “Big Pass” as we call it has everything a pompano needs. There is an expansive bar at the mouth which will hold schools of pompano at times. Miles of rocky structure on the north end of Siesta Key hold the crustaceans that pompano feed on. Large areas of sand flats in 10 to 12 feet of water have good current flow and also attract pompano.
Jigging for Florida pompano in passes
Jigs work extremely well in the passes. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be very productive spots. For those who don’t know, a pass is basically an inlet. “Pass” is the term used on the Gulf Coast. As the current flows in and out of the passes, pompano will cruise the bottom in search of food. Pompano tend to school up in the passes. Once a productive area is located, that area should be drifted several times. Anglers can catch quite a few in a short period of time.
New Pass can also be a very productive spot to catch pompano. This pass is a bit different. It is shorter and narrow with deeper water. Most of the fishing is done west of the bridge. Pompano can be found in the channel in the deep water. Bouncing a jig as the boat drifts along is the best approach on a Sarasota fishing charter.
Most of the pompano landed in New Pass are caught on the shallow bars at the mouth of the pass. This is a unique area that is really more like a large saltwater flat. Yet, it has excellent current flow. Anglers need to be careful as the water can go from ten feet deep to very shallow quickly. The best area is from the markers to the south. The outside bars may produce a few fish as well.
Florida pompano fishing with live bait
Many pompano are caught using live bait as well. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They are readily available at every Florida bait shop. While live shrimp or fresh dead shrimp are best, pompano will certainly take a frozen shrimp as well.
There is another bait that’s very effective when targeting pompano, though using it can be a bit more involved. These are called mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. Very few shops keep these, though some do have frozen sand fleas available. Live sand fleas are much preferred to frozen baits. Anglers can purchase a special rake which they use in the surf line to catch the sand fleas. Obtaining sand fleas requires more effort, but many anglers swear by them.
Surf fishing for Florida pompano
One great thing about Florida pompano fishing is that anglers without a boat catch more than their fair share. Surf fishing for pompano is very popular throughout the state. Pompano Beach is even named after this special fish! Surf fishing tactics very a bit on each coast, so I will go into the difference and techniques.
The surf along the Gulf Coast of Florida is generally a bit more gentle than out of the ocean. Starting from the beach and moving out to sea, beaches will have several troughs and bars. Many times the pompano will be in the first trough 10 to 15 feet from shore. This means that long casts are not required.
West coast pompano surf fishing
The best approach for targeting pompano on the West Coast of Florida beaches is to use fairly light spinning tackle, in the 10 pound class. Anglers can then choose to use a quarter ounce jig and cast and retrieve, or to fish with live bait. As stated above, putting a piece of fresh shrimp on a jig head can be the best of both worlds. As an added benefit, other species such as whiting, sheepshead, flounder, ladyfish, and more will take a shrimp-tipped jig.
Anglers choosing to fish with live bait will do well by keeping it simple. A small #4 hook and a split shot or two will get the job done. By using as little weight as possible, anglers will achieve a very natural presentation. It is best if the shrimp is slowly moving along the bottom with the current.
Florida pompano fishing, East Coast
The surf on the East Coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean tends to be a bit rougher. Also, tide differences are more extreme. Lastly, anglers are often have to cast into a stiff breeze. For these reasons, angler surf fishing for pompano on the East Coast use the more traditional style.
Surf rods are spinning rods that are 10 to 13 feet or even longer. They have large spinning reels with high-capacity spools. These long rods allow anglers to make a very long cast and keep the line up out of the crashing waves. After the cast rods are placed into sand spikes. These are simply pieces of PCV tubing that hold the rod upright.
Florida pompano surf fishing rigs
There are several rigs that can be used for this type of surf fishing. The most common when targeting pompano is the “high low” rig. This is simply two different hooks where one is close to the bottom and the other about a foot or so above. A heavy pyramid style weight is at the very bottom. It is not uncommon to catch two fish at a time with this rig.
The other commonly used rig off of the surf is the fish finder rig. This is a device that has a clip to hold on the pyramid sinker with a hollow tube allowing the line to run freely through it. The biggest advantage of this rig is that fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. However, because the bait lies on the bottom it tends to attract more sharks and other undesirable species.
Baits for catching pompano in the surf
Shrimp and sand fleas are two most popular baits for surf anglers targeting pompano. Shrimp have an advantage in that they will catch many other species. Hard core pompano anglers do not want these other species and will opt for sand fleas. They are a bit more of a specialized bait. In some areas, clams and mussels are also used.
The fishing technique with both rigs is basically the same and quite simple. The hooks are baited up, and the rig is cast out as far as possible. Once the bait settles, the rod is placed in the sense bite with the line taught. Once the rod tip indicates that a fish is biting the rod is removed from the spike in the hook is set. Click HERE for current Florida pompano regulations.
Fishing for pompano
Many anglers enjoy fishing for pompano. They are found along the Gulf of Mexico coast and up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina. They fight very hard for their size and are fantastic eating!
Pompano average a couple of pounds. However, they put up a terrific fight for their size. These smaller cousins to the permit use their broad sides and forked tails to pull very hard. Pompano feed on the bottom, normally on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. They range from Texas along the US coast as far north as Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Pompano are prized as table fare by anglers. Jigs, live shrimp and sand fleas are the top baits.
One look at a pompano will clue anglers as to their feeding habits. The mouth is small and “inferior”, meaning it is behind the nose. It feeds by using that hard nose to root in the bottom in search of crabs and shrimp. It then vacuums up the prey. Pompano will be found over sandy bottoms, grassy bottoms and around rocky structure. All of these areas hold the forage that they feed on.
Pompano fishing tackle
As in most inshore saltwater applications, the same rod and reel used to target speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species will work fine when targeting pompano. As these fish do not grow too large, a light spinning outfit is perfect. A 6 1/2 foot medium action rod with a 2500-3000 series reel and 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line is perfect.
Angler surf fishing will also do well with standard surf fishing tackle. A 10 foot surf rod with matching reel will do fine in most situations. Experienced anglers will often step up to a 13 foot rod when the surf is high. This allows them to cast further and get the line up out of the breaking waves.
Best pompano baits
Anglers fishing for pompano do well using both artificial lures and live and natural bait. Shrimp are an excellent bait used either live or fresh dead. They are available at just about every coastal bait shop. Sand fleas (also known as mole crabs), are prized as a pompano bait and many experienced anglers consider them to be the most productive bait to use when fishing for pompano. Fiddler crabs and oyster crabs will catch fish as well.
Jig fishing for pompano
The top artificial lure by far is the jig. A jig is a hook with a piece of lead molded near the eye. The hook is then dressed with either natural or synthetic hair or a plastic grub body of some sort. Anglers fishing for pompano work the jig right on the bottom. Each time it hits the bottom it kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This mimics a fleeing crab or shrimp and is a very effective presentation.
Pompano have fairly small mouths. Anglers drifting the flats and inlets and passes will catch pompano on the larger jigs meant for speckled trout and other species. Therefore, anglers fishing for pompano specifically generally scale down the size of the lure.
Special pompano jigs are productive
There are several types of jigs on the market specifically designed for pompano. There are two types, the ball head jig and the banana jig. Ball head jigs are basically smaller versions of a buck tail jig. It will have a round head with a smaller hook, around a size #4. The dressing will normally be synthetic and will be trimmed close, just beyond the bend of the hook. These jig sink very quickly and are great choice when fishing passes and inlets. They can also be cast out by anglers fishing for pompano on the flats.
Banana jigs are odd looking little lures. As the name implies, they are long and slender with a bend in them, looking a bit like a banana. Some also have a little fly attached to add some flash. They have a very erratic action when falling. Anglers can work them either vertically or casting out by jerking the rod tip up and letting the jig falls sharply to the bottom.
Fishing for pompano with natural bait
Shrimp are probably the most popular live bait for anglers fishing for pompano. They are very effective and easily obtained at most bait shops. This availability is certainly one of the keys to their popularity and productivity. Fresh dead shrimp can be quite effective as well, especially for anglers surf fishing. Frozen shrimp can produce in fresh shrimp are not available.
Shrimp will also catch just about every other species and saltwater. For some anglers this is a great thing as it results in more action. Anglers specifically targeting pompano sometimes find these other fish to be a nuisance. This is not the worst problem in the world to have!
There is no doubt that among serious pompano fisherman that the best bait to use as a sand flea, also known as a mole crabs. These little critters are about the size of your thumbnail and are found in the sand right at the edge of the surf. In prime pompano areas, they may be available at bait shops. However, most anglers catch them along the surf line using special rakes. Serious anglers fishing for pompano will often times spend more time catching bait than they will catching the fish.
Pompano locations and seasons
Pompano are found along the beaches, in passes and inlets, and on the flats. Generally speaking, the flats closest to the open waters of the Gulf and Atlantic are best. Inlets on the East Coast and passes on the West Coast are also prime spots for anglers fishing for pompano. Many fish are caught by anglers surf fishing as well.
Pompano are found in Florida all year long. The cooler months are best, but the occasional fish can be caught at any time. As it warms up, the fish will move north along the east coast. Summer is the best time to catch them off of the Carolina beaches. Pompano are landed along the Gulf Coast with the exception of really cold weather in the northern portion of the Florida panhandle area.
Passes and inlets
Inlets are veritable fish highways that pompano and other species use to travel from the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean into the back bays. The current is always stronger in these areas due to the natural constricting of the land masses. The result is a natural spot for fish to congregate and feed, especially when structure is present.
Inlets and passes are virtually the same thing. In the Gulf of Mexico, they are called “passes”. And Atlantic Ocean, they are called “inlets”. While they are similar in most cases, they are actually fished a bit differently. This is mainly due to the fact that on the East Coast tides are stronger and boat traffic can be significantly heavier.
Pompano fishing in passes
The best technique to use when fishing for pompano and passes is to drift using a vertical presentation. Jigs work really well in this application and can be tipped with a small piece of shrimp to increase the chances of success. The jig is simply lower to the bottom and twitched sharply using short 1 foot movements. The jig stays in the strikes on the entire time and as the boat drifts a lot of water can be covered in a short amount of time. Once a school is located, anglers will re-drift that area until the bite slows.
Pompano will often times get up into very shallow water on the sandbars in the passes. As the drifting boat will spook them in this skinny water, it is best to make long casts and work the lure back to the boat. Jigs are effective in this situation as well, though anglers can certainly catch fish using live shrimp or sand fleas.
Inlets on the Atlantic Ocean side can be a bit tricky. Tides are often times quite swift, resulting in a potentially dangerous boating situation. It also requires a lot of weight to get down to the bottom. Finally, boat traffic, especially on weekends, can be quite heavy. Often times, the best way to fish for Pompano in inlets is from the jetty. Anglers can cast out live bait or jigs and thoroughly work the rocks.
Often times, the best spots in the inlets are little eddies or edges where the rocks transition to sand. These are prime spots for pompano to hold in and feet. The Eddie on the backside of the jetty on the Atlantic Ocean side is a prime spot for anglers fishing for pompano and the inlets.
Surf fishing for pompano
One of the great things about fishing for pompano is that anglers do not need a boat to catch them. All things considered, more Pompano are probably landed by anglers surf fishing than they are by anglers in boats. The entire coastline from South Texas around the tip of Florida and up to Cape Hatteras can produce pompano at one time or another.
Most anglers fishing for pompano in the surf use natural bait, with shrimp and sand fleas being the top to baits by far. Techniques for surf fishing for pompano on both coasts are similar, however anglers fishing on the Atlantic Ocean side will often times have to deal with a higher surf.
There are two basic rigs that are most often used by anglers surf fishing for pompano. These are the fish finder rig and the dropper rig (also known as spreader rig, high low rig, and chicken rig). Both can be effective and often times anglers use two different rods, each rigged differently, to see what the fish want that day.
Surf fishing rigs
A fish finder rig sits right on the bottom. It includes a clever little device that is plastic with a hole through the center and a clip. The main line slides through this hole and is attached to a swivel. A leader is then tied between the other end of the swivel and the hook. Anglers can include a small float near the hook to lift the bait up off the bottom. The clip allows for easy weight change to adjust to the current conditions.
The dropper rig has the sinker at the bottom of the running line with several hooks tied in line at various intervals above the weight. These rigs can be purchased already made up. However, many anglers tie their own. This rig has the advantage of presenting multiple baits at different depths in the water column.
Most anglers surf fishing for pompano opt for the spreader rig. It has several advantages over the fish finder rig. Anglers can present multiple baits on one rod. These baits can also be presented right on the bottom or a few feet above. Finally, it keeps the baits up off the bottom when sharks, skates, crabs and other life that feeds on the bottom become a nuisance.
Using lures for pompano in the surf
While most anglers target pompano in the surf using natural bait, they can certainly be caught on artificial lures as well. This is particularly true when the tide is high in the seas are flat. Pompano will cruise the first trough, quite close to shore, in search of sand fleas and other forage. Anglers casting jigs and working at through this area will catch fish under these conditions.
Fishing for pompano on the flats
Pompano are also caught on the flats in the inshore bays. Often times, there are an incidental catch for anglers fishing for speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species. They are a most welcome intrusion! Pompano generally swim around in small bunches, so once one is landed anglers can be fairly certain that others are nearby.
Flats close to the inlets and passes are generally the most productive ones for anglers fishing for pompano. They tend to be a bit deeper and have good current flow. The best flats are generally those that have a nice mix of grass and sand. Pompano will often times hold in the transition area where it changes from grass to sand.
Drifting is the best technique to use when targeting pompano on the flats. As with the passes, it allows anglers to cover a large amount of water fairly quickly. The best approach is to set up a drift where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. This will result in a nice efficient drift.
Jigs and live shrimp produce on the flats
Both jigs and live bait work well in this situation. Generally speaking, anglers will cast jigs out in front of the drifting boat and work it back in. As with fishing in the passes, the jig will work best when presented right on the bottom. The lure is worked back using short, sharp twitches of the rod tip and then allowing the jig to fall to the bottom.
Live shrimp can also work well when drifting the flats. It will also catch a variety of other species as well. Free lining the shrimp works well on flats with water deeper than 6 feet. Anglers simply hook the shrimp through the horn and allow it to drift out behind the boat. A small split shot may be required when it is breezy or the current is strong. In shallower water, shrimp can be fished under a popping cork to keep it up out of the grass.
Pompano are excellent table fare
One of the best aspects of fishing for pompano is the opportunity for a fresh dinner. Some of the best chefs in the world consider Pompano to be the best eating fish of all species that swim! Pompano have a very fine, moist, buttery flavor. However, they really do not freeze all that well and angler should only keep enough for a fresh meal or two. There are several different ways to prepare them. Anglers can see current Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.
Pompano are excellent when sautéed in a pan. A 50-50 mixture of butter and olive oil is heated in a pan. Pompano is covered in a tire breadcrumbs on both sides then placed into the hot skillet. The fishes allowed to cook for two minutes on each side and then is finished off in a 400° oven for five minutes or so depending on the thickness of the fillets.
Marinades work very well with Pompano as they absorb the flavor. However, it is best not to use one that is too strong that will mass the delicate flavor of the pompano. An easy marinade is one that is 1/4 cup light soy sauce, three-quarter cup olive oil, with some honey, ginger, and parsley mixed in. The fillets are allowed to set for 1 to 2 hours they can be baked, broiled, or grilled.
While Pompano are great fun to catch, anglers prize them for their incredible table fare. I am a proponent of catch and release, however I don’t mind if clients keep a fish or two for dinner, and these are really a treat. Pompano are one fish that I usually cook with the skin on. It peels right off after cooking.
Pompano are delicious with a very delicate white flesh. The meat has a kind of “buttery” flavor with a unique texture. They are a tad bit oily but in a good way. This means that they are best baked, broiled, or grilled. Pompano do not freeze all that well. Keep a couple for dinner and release the rest to please other anglers!
Baked Pompano; this is a very simple way to prepare Pompano. The oven is heated to 400°. The fillets are laid on a greased sheet pan and covered with a tire breadcrumbs. They are then bake for 8 to 10 minutes and can be served with a sauce such as lemon dill or teriyaki. This is very simple and the fish are delicious!
More pompano recipes
Broiled Pompano; broiling is another simple and easy way to enjoy Pompano. I like to prepare a marinade that consists of olive oil, light soy sauce, ginger, and honey or sugar. This gives it that Oriental sweet and sour flavor. The fillet should be marinated for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The fillets are then put on a sheet pan and broiled under high heat 5 inches away from the heat for 6 to 8 minutes.
Grilled Pompano; Pompano are fantastic when grilled as well. I do like to keep the skin on when grilling Pompano. The fillets are seasoned to taste with a homemade or prepared grilling seasoning. Some olive oil or melted butter can be drizzled over top. The fillet is then put on a grill pan and grilled for eight minutes or so. As with the baked Pompano, a sauce can be served on the side.
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236