Spring is one of the best times to pompano fish the Emerald Coast, but knowing how and where to target them is key. Pompano prefer the Gulf waters to be between 70 and 80 degrees and can be caught in numbers from March until the end of May. You can easily catch your limit of six per person per day and stock your freezer full of this Florida delicacy.
The best place to target pompano is in the surf. Finding the sand bar is key to success for pompano fishing. Pensacola Beach has two sand bars. One not too far from shore, and another where the water color changes. Fishing on either of these sand bars or the drop offs behind the sand bars catches the most fish. You never know what’s hanging around looking for its next meal.
What Rigs do I Need?
Knowing what rigs to tie when pompano fishing is key. Luckily there are several options available. The most commonly used rig is a pompano rig, and there are many different kinds to choose from. Some have one hook, some have two hooks, and some rigs have three hooks. I prefer the double rig setup. It gets tangled a lot less and is easier to manage two baits instead of three.
You also need to pair the rig with the right weight. A 3-4 ounce pyramid weight works best to hold your line in place. If the current is really ripping hard, you can opt for a sputnik weight (link), which has metal spokes sticking out of it that anchors the weight into the sand, making it very hard to come loose and keep your bait exactly where you want it.
One of the best parts about pompano fishing is the bait you can use to target them. Pompano mainly feed on crustaceans so you have a wide variety of bait to pick from. Live shrimp will do the trick, but sometimes that’s not what they are feeding on. A little variety on the menu goes a long way, so switch up your baits until you figure out what they are chewing on.
Another great bait to try is sand fleas. Sand fleas can be caught with your hands in the surf where the water meets the sand. You can also catch them using a sand flea rake (link), or buy some at your local bait shop. Sand fleas are at the top of the pompano’s menu.
But sometimes they can be finicky, so having a bag of FishGum or FishBites on hand(link) is also a good idea. These baits are mesh strips of crab, shrimp, and sand fleas all mixed into one and make for a great bait when nothing else is working. One great bait presentation is a small sand flea tipped with a small piece of fish gum on the same hook. The pompano can’t resist it!
You can also try your luck with a pompano jig. Pompano jigs come in many different sizes and colors, and will get the job done just as well if not better than a weighted rig on the bottom.
Pompano offer one the best fights for inshore fishing and pack quite a punch for their size. When fighting the fish, make sure your drag is set loose so the pompano can run. They typically make two or three good runs during a fight and don’t take too long to catch. The trickiest part is when you have the pompano close to shore. Right when you think you have it landed, they can get off, so make care to reel smooth and steady, and always keep your rod tip up.
Clean and Cook
After catching your first pompano, or a limit of six, it’s important to know how to clean and cook them to get the best tasting meal possible. Make sure to put them on ice right after catching to keep the meat from spoiling and away from birds like egrets and cranes who are happy to steal your catch.
Some anglers also like to bleed the fish after catching it and swear they can taste a difference in the quality of the meat. All you have to do is make a small incision right behind the gills and it will bleed out.
After landing and storing your catch properly, it’s time to clean it. Pompano are one of the easiest fish to clean since they have no scales. You can opt for filleting it with a fillet knife or just cutting the head off, taking the guts out, and cooking it whole. I like preparing my pompano this way so I keep all the juices and flavors of the fish, and don’t lose any meat in the process.
Once that is done, you have many options for cooking up your catch and they are all so delicious! Whether you like fried, grilled or blackened, you won’t be disappointed. Just add a little garlic, lemon, salt and pepper, and you will have one of the best testing inshore table fares Florida offers.