December 4, 2023

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The Angler’s Guide to Surf Fishing For Pompano

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Anglers fish for many reasons – the excitement, challenge, to bond with nature, to be with family and friends. But a lot of the time, you just want to ice down a fresh fish dinner. For me, I’d say the anticipation is the “hook.” Not knowing exactly where and when that target species will arrive is a big rush, especially with migratory fish such as Pompano. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Pompano surf fishing is on the rise.

These fish are never taken for granted by Pompano aficionados because they’re not on Florida beaches in fishable numbers year-round. They migrate south to follow their preferred water temperature, as the days shorten and fall and winter winds chill the coastal waters. Again, it’s that anticipation factor that stokes the fire.

Photo courtesy of Native Guided Fishing Charters

Other migratory fish, such as Bluefish and Spanish Mackerel, follow migratory bait fish to the Sunshine State. But, for Pomps, it’s mostly a comfort thing. Nice warm water, preferably in the 70–78ºF range is to their liking. But they also tolerate fluctuations on either end of that.

By late October on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches, the anticipation skyrockets for dedicated surf fishers, who have grown exponentially over the past 10 years. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say there are twice to three times the number of anglers surf fishing for Pompano now than when I started hitting the Florida Treasure Coast beaches close to my Stuart home back in 1998!

And there are now more guides who specialize in traditional Pompano surf fishing on foot. The demand for this delicious fish has skyrocketed, so the commercial hook-and-line market has grown, too, supplying retail fish markets and restaurants. There are numerous Facebook pages concerning this fish and the fanatical anglers who love them. Simply, Pompano surf fishing is all the rage in Florida.

The Starting Gun: Pompano Surf Fishing Seasons

The first serious efforts to target Pompano on Atlantic beaches are from between the Florida–Georgia line to Daytona. This usually takes place in early October, as the first of the smaller Pomps (just over the legal size of 11 inches) arrive. But, as these juveniles continue south, larger fish are in the mix by early November.

A man in sunglasses and a brown jacket holds up his large Pompano, caught while fishing inshore in Florida
Photo courtesy of MisStress Sportfishing Charters

This fish’s growth rate is impressive. A sub-legal 10-incher will be an 11- or 12-incher within weeks in most cases! But the bigger fish, those 14–16-inch long and larger “Chunks” are what you can expect by Christmas. At that juncture, a good percentage of the fish will also duck into inlets and move into coastal bays to forage over grass flats.

However, in the Indian River Lagoon and on Florida’s Gulf coast – in areas such as Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor – the seagrasses have declined due to poor water quality from storm runoff. Veteran anglers have reported fewer Pompano there as a result. But the bite has been better on the beaches, and 2022-23 was very strong on the Atlantic coast.

The spring run can be the best of all, with ideal water temperatures dependable from late February through late April – and even into May some years. This run sees Pomps moving back north for summer. Cold fronts are weaker, and many days see east-to-southeast winds that deliver “pretty water.” That means productive Pompano surf fishing.

How to Go Pompano Surf Fishing

Read the Water

A view across the calm, clear flats of the Florida Keys on a sunny day, with trees visible in the distance and some sticking out of the water mid-frame
Photo courtesy of Florida Backcountry Fishing

By “pretty water,” Pompano anglers are referring to that milky green or blueish (but not muddy) water color. Strong cold fronts with north-to-northeast winds can ruin things for a few days on end. It seems the fish move farther out to better water, but anglers on foot can’t reach them. Those muddy waters don’t allow Pompano to see predators such as Sharks.

Saltwater Catfish and Bluefish seem to move in when muddy conditions prevail. Pompano anglers learn to pack up and head home, and wait until the wind direction swings to south or southeast, or comes off the land prior to the next cold front. That helps let the water settle out and clear up.

Tools of the Trade

Newcomers to Pompano surf fishing are usually surprised by the heavy tackle used by veteran surf anglers. Though you can certainly catch Pompano on light tackle such as 6–10 lb class gear (2500 series reels) and 7′ spinning rods, you’ll be limited to reaching Pompano that come into the surf wash close to the sand. That’s the exception, not the rule.

Light tackle cannot efficiently cast heavy sinkers (4–6 ounces), which are mandatory when the surf conditions are rough, the longshore current is strong, and the fish are a distance from the beach. 11–14′ spinning and conventional casting rods allow for long casts with heavy sinkers and multiple hook-dropper bait rigs (two or three).

Three fishing lines set up on a beach in Florida, casting lines into the ocean on a cloudy day, with clear waters crashing into the beach

You aren’t going to hold the rod anyway – the drill is to place it in a sandspike once the sinker and bait are on the bottom. Then it’s a matter of watching the rod for a bite. Most anglers fish two or three rods at once. They space them out enough to cut down on the chance of crossing lines once a fish is hooked.

The long rods also keep your fishing line higher above the surface, a decided plus when seaweed is in the water, close to the beach. It can allow you to fish in those conditions, while shorter rods will allow for seaweed fouling the line.

My favorite Pompano surf fishing outfits are 13 glass or composite spinning rods with enough tip flex to allow you to keep a bend in the rod while in the sandspike, with a sinker and bait on the bottom. Rods should have a rating for a 14–20 lb test line, and the most popular spinning reels are series 5500 or 6500 with a fast retrieve ratio. If using conventional rods and reels, again, a rod-line rating of 14–20 lb test is perfect. Rods should be able to cast typical 3–6-oz lead sinkers over a long distance when the fish are well off the beach.

A view from behind of an angler walking into the sea in front of his surf fishing rod that's set up in the sand, while birds fly above the crashing waves on a clear day in Florida

I spool my spinning reels with a 12 lb test, high-visibility monofilament to eke out maximum casting distance and to see where my bait lands. Not only that but pelicans don’t fly into the bright light as readily as clear lines. Solid black mono, if you can find it, is also better for the birds to avoid. I spool conventional baitcasting reels with a 15 lb line to decrease the chance of backlashes. Lines exceeding 20 pounds test will cut down on your casting distance.

There’s much debate among surf anglers over monofilament versus braided lines for Pompano. Braided lines (officially Dyneema or Spectra) allow for a bit more distance but I prefer mono because it stretches well. When the surf is rough or there’s some groundswell, the turbulence tends to dislodge a sinker laying on the bottom. This, in effect, allows your baits to move downshore. The mono stretches and absorbs that shock, and results in the sinker staying put on the bottom.

The Hookup and Fight

When a Pompano makes a “grab” and you’re using a circle hook, it sets itself against the taut line in the corner of the mouth. The rod bends deeply, signaling the strike. But if the fish takes the bait and swims toward you, the tip straightens due to the slack.

A smiling angler holds aloft his Pompano catch aboard a fishing boat, with the waters behind him on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Grand Slam Charters

I would say that half of the Pompano bites I’ve had were signaled by a straight tip. Or, I see one deep bend of the rod followed by the straight tip as the hooked fish reverses course. Either way, it’s time to walk (or run!) to the rod, take it out of the spike, and reel until you feel the fish. And then, play it accordingly to land it.

Don’t mistakenly “horse” a hooked Pompano in just because the rod and reel are relatively heavy. The fish will fight sideways to the beach, using the current to its advantage. You should set your drag light enough to allow a bit of slippage, particularly on days when the surf is rough and the current is strong.

Though a circle hook normally finds purchase in the corner of this fish’s tough lips, too much pressure on your end can cause the hook to twist out. Most big fish are lost right in the wash close to the beach. I normally walk down the slope of the beach into the water to shorten the distance to the fish as it gets close. Anglers who stay high on the beach and drag their catch across dry sand lose more of them.

Pro Tips: Put It in Play

When it’s game day, I don’t simply pull up to a public beach, take my gear out of the truck, and head to the water. I like to walk to the dune overlook and get a read on the water. First, if there are other anglers already parked, I make sure I can either find fishing space among them – and not have to walk a half-mile in either direction to find space! Keep in mind that beaches with the most Pompano anglers are likely where the fish are. I have less confidence in a beach that’s devoid of anglers during the season.

After 2 years of lugging rods and a cooler, I finally got smart and bought a quality aluminum surf cart with big, low-inflation balloon tires. This allows me to load a few rods, a cooler with ice, a tackle bag, and perhaps a beach chair. I can carry the stuff over soft sand with little effort. It’s an investment – the cart and two tires ran me $600 – but it’s well worth it if you’re serious about Pompano surf fishing. I can move farther down a beach to get out of the crowd without too much struggle.

Three fishing rods spaced out along the surf in Florida on a cloudy day, with lines in the clear water and a pier in the distance

If the water color is good (not muddy) and seaweed is not too prevalent, I set up. If not, I drive to another access until I find better conditions. I routinely fish two or three rods at a time, setting my PVC sandspikes about 60–75 feet apart to decrease the chance of my hooked fish crossing my lines. I bait up my two-hook dropper rigs, attach a 4–5 oz sinker to the bottom snap, and make casts of varying distance…

One rod short (50 yards from where the nearest sandbar is). One medium (75 yards). And one long (as much as 100 yards). This allows me to find out at what distance from the beach the Pomps are at. Most Florida beaches have two to three sandbars separating the shore from the open sea. On low tides, I tend to “throw bombs” that exceed 100 yards because the fish can be concentrated farther off the beach. Then, anglers with light, 7, or 8′ rods aren’t even in the game! It’s that simple.

Pompano Surf Fishing Rigs, Baits, and Sinkers

Most Pompano anglers fish with a so-called dropper rig. The rig is comprised of an approximately 34–40-inch-long strand of either monofilament or fluorocarbon. These are tied to two or three dropper loops to which hooks are attached. The loops are 3–4 inches long and distance the hook and bait away from the main line while the rig sinker holds the bottom.

A woman in a baseball cap and turquoise shirt holds a Pompano aboard a fishing charter in Florida, with waters behind her matching the color of her shirt and blue skies above
Photo courtesy of Florida Backcountry Fishing

The baits are held up in the water column for maximum visibility. Most anglers use a circle hook – either an Eagle Claw L197 circle Sea offset hook or Eagle Claw L7228 Circle Octopus. A size 1/0 or 2/0 is useful for the mostly small baits we use. A Mustad Kahle (wide gap hook) is still popular in some circles, but the Eagle Claw offerings are more popular.

For added attraction colorful foam ball-shaped floats are threaded on the loops ahead of the hook. This also suspends the baited hook in the water. Colors run the gamut, from white to hot pink, and there’s much debate over which is best for which water condition. Another option is a clear, red plastic bead as an attractor.

Or, you can opt to not use a float attractor above the baited hook. Tie a small swivel to the top of the rig to attach to the fishing line, and a quality Duo-lock or similar snap to the bottom, to which you attach your sinker.

Sinkers are chosen according to surf conditions, primarily. In a calm surf, you may hold the bottom with as little as 3 ounces, and a flat bank sinker will suffice. The average used is 4 ounces, with 5- and 6-ouncers coming into play if a groundswell or windy conditions produce higher waves.

A closeup of two Pompanos being held by Mike Conner on the surf, with a fishing rod and the water crashing into the beach visible behind them

And that’s when it’s time to use a four-sided pyramid. Its sharp corners help dig into the sand. A more effective sinker is the “storm sinker,” typically called the Sputnik, due to its resemblance to the Sputnik 1 satellite. This sinker has four stainless steel retractable arms that dig into the sand, effectively keeping your rig from moving. When it’s time to reel up to check or change baits, pressure from your rod causes the arms to unlock and fold back, releasing from the bottom. Many anglers use this sinker exclusively, though they cost two to three times what the pyramids do.

There’s an array of good baits for Pompano surf fishing. Traditionally, sand fleas (mole crabs) get the nod, and can be caught in the sand in the surf wash in a metal “cage-rake.” Lacking live sand fleas, you can buy blanched, frozen fleas at most coastal bait shops.

Surf anglers can also catch enough fleas when most plentiful (September through November) to freeze them for the season. They must be blanched (quickly immersed in boiling water) for 10 seconds to kill them. They turn orange just as a lobster or crab does. And this process makes them tougher on the hook when defrosted. You can store them for months for future trips.

A shirtless man and teenager stand either side of a young boy behind the deck of a fishing boat on a dock and display their "mixed bag" of catches from the day's fishing, including a number of Pompano
Photo courtesy of MisStress Sportfishing Charters

Fresh shrimp are good baits, as are clams. You can buy clam meat at bait shops, but it’s best to salt them liberally the day before fishing to toughen the meat. You can also cut small pieces and salt them in layers in a food storage container. Then, freeze them straight out of the package. Clam meat is too soft and falls off the hook easily.

Synthetic bait strips are increasingly popular and many anglers are now using them exclusively, or in combination with natural baits. Leading brands include Fishbites and Fishgum. Both are biodegradable and come in a handful of colors, releasing scents such as clam, sand flea, and shrimp.

Last Tip: Don’t Feed Jaws!

Before I let you go, there’s time for one more tip! It’s no secret that – in Florida especially – Shark depredation is on the rise. Sharks have learned to congregate where anglers routinely fish and can take your hooked fish off the line – or at least kill a tired fish that you choose to release. It happens most often over reefs and wrecks, and on the flats. It’s a big problem along beaches, too, where Bull Sharks, Blacktip Sharks, and others hone in on Pompano schools. It’s not surprising if you consider dozens and dozens of anglers set up multiple rods along a stretch of beach. The sight of flashing hooked Pompano, and the vibrations they give off is a calling card Sharks can’t resist.

When they move in, they don’t leave, and it can be nearly impossible to reel in a hooked Pompano. You’ll get a bite, run to the rod, and will then feel a limp line or the Shark itself before it cuts you off. The problem is, too many anglers stubbornly stay and lose fish after fish in order to land one or two. That’s wasting a valuable resource. It’s wiser to pack up and relocate a few miles down the coast.

Pompano Surf Fishing: Hours of Endless Fun – If You Know What to Do

A woman wearing sunglasses, holding a Pompano caught in calm inshore waters with some land visible behind her on a sunny day

So there you have it! That’s my guide to surf fishing for Pompano in Florida. If you follow my advice, there’s a good chance of getting multiple hookups when the season comes. Remember, there’s more to it than just heading out there and casting a line. But once you’ve mastered the craft, you’ll be coming back for more after more.

Have you ever been surf fishing for Pompano in Florida? How was your experience? Any tips or tricks to share with your fellow anglers? Drop us a line in the comments below!

The post How to Go Surf Fishing for Pompano: An Angler’s Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Mike Conner
Title: How to Go Surf Fishing for Pompano: An Angler’s Guide
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Published Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2023 16:25:20 +0000

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