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The beginning of August is usually a time for local anglers to look toward the cooler weather of fall, which will bring a sharp increase in the number of fish and their readiness to strike a baited hook. One fish, however, that is already very active is the pompano.
Pompano are a warm-water fish that strike throughout the summer and provide a tasty catch for fishermen when other fish either aren’t present or aren’t feeding.
Pompano are a fish of the surf that actually turn their streamlined bodies sideways to dart into very shallow water and gobble up sand fleas. Sand fleas are the number one prey for pompano, although they feed on any small shellfish they can find. Because they stay near places where sand fleas reside, pompano are most often caught by pier and surf anglers fishing in or just behind the white-water breakers.
Pompano and sand fleas go together, and due to their love for them, these small crustaceans are the best pompano bait. Few people go to the trouble of gathering sand fleas to use as pompano bait, however, those who do are rewarded. Anglers using sand fleas as bait can often catch pompano when those around them aren’t even getting strikes.
Most of the pompano caught from the surf and piers locally are pulled in by anglers using shrimp for bait. Pompano hit shrimp very well, especially if it is fresh. They also occasionally strike other offerings, like bloodworms and earthworms, squid and even cut bait such as pinfish. Pompano are often caught by anglers seeking other fish, such as spot.
There is a great deal of angling lore that surrounds pompano. Some folks say if you are able to gather the pregnant sand fleas, the ones with the orange roe on them, you will have the very best pompano bait that can be found. I don’t know how much difference orange roe makes on a sand flea when fishing for pompano, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Another popular bit of lore surrounding pompano is their fondness for gold hooks. Some anglers won’t use anything else when fishing for them. I’ve caught enough pompano on regular hooks to know you don’t need gold hooks on your rig, but again it doesn’t hurt your chances and may help.
Your hooks should not be too large when fishing for pompano, as the fish often grab and run. Pompano are made to dart into the shallow surf and grab sand fleas before they can bury themselves, so they are a quick, hard-striking fish. Large hooks will lead to missed bites, so sizes 2 or 4 are about right.
Another simple “trick” to catching pompano is to hold onto your rod. Due to their quick striking ways, pompano don’t often hook themselves, so anglers that keep their rods in their hands and not resting on planks or in rod holders hook more pompano.
Although pompano are known as a summer fish it is not necessarily true that summer is the best time around here to catch them. It simply seems that way because they continue to bite in the hot weather when other species turn off. Pompano, however, stage a strong run in the fall before they disappear for warmer waters. So many other fish are running in the fall, however, that pompano are often regarded as an incidental catch.
One place where pompano stand out, however, is on the dinner table. They are among the best locally caught fish to eat, although you might not know it if you fry them. While pompano can be fried, they are best enjoyed when baked or broiled whole.
Often thought of as a panfish, pompano can actually get quite large. Pompano in the 2- to 4-pound size are not uncommon in our area. Sometimes Carolina anglers will catch a permit, a large southern fish that occasionally wanders up into our waters, and think they have caught a giant pompano.
Pompano are available right now in the surf, and they will stage that fall run when the weather begins to turn. They won’t linger into late fall, however, and don’t stay in our waters for winter. They will reappear next spring at the same time the sand fleas show up.
If you want to catch pompano, they are waiting for you right now, and a little digging for sand fleas can reward you with a hard-fighting and truly tasty prize in this undervalued fish.