Every angler who has ever thrown their bait into the Gulf of Mexico likes to catch Pompano. They are the best tasting fish in the gulf, bar none. They are also fairly easy to catch from June through mid-December. The winter and spring months are fair because they are spread out and are generally smaller than those caught in the summer and fall. The Pompano was racing up and down the Gulf of Mexico this beautiful 4th of July weekend. This is a fish that really loves warmer water, with a preferred water temperature between 82 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
Walking on the beach just after first light with the smell of the ocean and the spray of the waves leaving the taste of salt on your lips is an absolutely wonderful way to start the day. The sun, barely peeking through the fog, will soon burn off any remaining fog on the beach. Seabirds fighting over the remains of a mysterious marine object that has washed ashore reminds me to protect the shrimp I had stored in a bucket next to my beach chair. A lone pelican just glided by within 15 yards of me and is looking at the bait bucket as if he can see inside. He must have heard the shrimp move.
This beautiful morning I was fishing the beautiful sugar white sand of Mexico Beach, just east of Port St. Jo and just down the road from Panama City, Florida. One of the few areas that is not overly populated either by local fishermen or tourists, it was a surprise to find myself relatively alone. Looking up and down the beach, only the occasional walker could be seen searching the sand to see what secrets the sea had washed ashore with the morning tide.
Pompano does not eat fish, so the first thing to do when fishing is to secure your bait. In addition to the shrimp I had already bought, it had to have sand fleas. They are on the menu of any Pompano and tend to be abundant on most beaches. The easiest and cheapest way to get them is to catch them yourself! They are found at the water’s edge as it recedes into the sea. As the water returns from the beach, you will see small holes appear at the edge of the water. Those holes are where a sand flea is digging. Immediately dig and you will find them.
For my sand flea hunting, I simply use a sturdy bucket that I have drilled many holes in the bottom and sides. This allows the water to drain out of your container and leave the sand fleas at the bottom when I dig for them. There are several types of sand flea rakes you can buy, but making your own is more fun. I’ve even seen kids at the beach digging for themselves with a stiff toy beach bucket. Just use what is useful. After you catch a dozen or more, place them in your bait bucket with some sand and water and you’re ready to start fishing. You can always catch more fleas when you run out of the ones you’ve already caught.
Pompano run in schools. Where you find one, you will usually find many, so remember that when you are catching sand fleas. Pompano also eats shrimp with the live ones being the best bait, but the dead ones will work if your shrimp bait is not alive.
I use a 5′ weight rod and a light reel with 8-10 pound test line. I use this because I know that most pompanos weigh between 1 pound and 3 ½ pounds. I also keep a 7′ surf rod and surf reel with 15lb test line in the other line holder in case I hang a bigger fish.
The gear that has worked well for me starts with a barrel pivot at the end of my lane. I will then tie a 3′ to 4′ foot 30 pound leader to the kneecap. After that comes the two 8″ guide pieces on which I will tie the 1/0 circle hooks. I will tie them 12″ apart. After that, all that’s left is to tie a 2-ounce egg sinker to the bottom of the leader. So all I have to do is bait my hooks and cast the rig as far out into the gulf as I can. That’s usually around 30 to 40 yards.
There are other more sophisticated and expensive ways to catch both pompano and sand fleas, but I choose to keep it simple and as cheap as possible. Vacations are expensive enough without spending a lot of money on bait and the fish you’ll catch on them. For most of us, if we add up the cost of a fishing trip and divide it by the amount of fish we catch, we’d be much better off going to a good restaurant. I calculate that counting gas for the trip to the beach, lodging, food, bait and some souvenirs, each fish I caught that day cost me approximately $438.00 each.