When people come to me for help with improving their fishing skills, I usually steer the conversation toward their goals. Finding out what they really want to do and why is key to determining what skills they need to work on and in what areas they should focus their efforts.
However, this also frequently puts me in the position of having to burst bubbles. For example, when a local angler recently told me that he wanted to target pompano but also want to fish mostly in the canals of Punta Gorda Isles, I had to tell him it wasn’t a realistic plan. Sure, you might catch a pompano in PGI. I once caught a 22-inch gag in 2 feet of water from a Palm Island dock. But I don’t expect it to happen again, and I don’t expect you to hook more than a handful of pompano in many years of fishing in PGI.
So then I asked him which he wanted more: To catch pomps, or to stay in the canals. After thinking for a moment, he decided he was willing to travel a bit in pursuit of pompano. We sat down and built a strategy for him, much of which I’m now going to share with the rest of you.
Where to go
Pompano might show up anywhere, but some places are much more likely. These fish generally prefer hard-packed sand and shell to soft mud, are more comfortable in higher-salinity waters, and are particularly drawn to steep dropoffs. Looking for areas that meet all of these specifications leads us to the Gulf passes, which are often pompano hotspots.
There are also certain inshore areas that regularly host pompano. One of the most widely known is the Cape Haze bar. You can find your own smaller spots as well. Just cruise along slowly on deeper flats or along the outer edge of the bar in 4 to 6 feet of water. This time of year, the water is clear enough that you can spot shelly areas and dropoffs.
There are a few spots on the lower east side that pompano like, but there are a lot more in Pine Island Sound. Yes, that’s a long haul, especially if you’re putting your boat in at Laishley or Port Charlotte Beach. But this is a “go to where the fish are” situation. Plus, it’s a good thing for you to have a wider knowledge of fishing spots.
Baits to use
Many fishermen seem to think that pompano feed mostly on shrimp. While shrimp are on the menu, adult pompano eat them only occasionally. As juveniles, their diet is primarily small bivalves (clams, coquinas, etc), sand fleas and other small crustaceans. As they grow into adulthood, they focus more on larger bivalves, such as calico clams, sunray venus and tellins (which goes far in explaining their preferred habitat).
So does that mean you should be using clams for bait? You can, but most anglers prefer to offer them their childhood favorites: Sand fleas and shrimp. Even as grownups, they’ll still eat what they liked as kids.
Pompano also eat smaller fish as the opportunity presents itself. More than one beach snook fishermen has been surprised by a pompano grabbing his snook lure. Spoons retrieved slowly just over the bottom can be very effective, and soft plastic shad work also.
The best choice, though, is a silly jig. These lures are very simple, just lead molded onto a hook and painted. But they are deadly on pompano when fished right: Let it sink to the bottom, then lift it several feet up and let it fall rapidly. The sound of the heavy bait thumping on the sand, the sediment that puffs up, and the bright colors (pink, orange or chartreuse) are all attractive to pompano.
To make a good lure better, you can add a piece of cut shrimp or Fish Bites attractant. This is called tipping, and it can really help fish find your lure when visibility is low due to heavy surf or murky conditions.
Tips and tricks
Pompano are hard fighters but don’t usually go for cover, so there’s no need for heavy tackle. Lighter gear (something in the 8- to 15-pound class) is more sporting and will put a bigger smile on your face.
Although pompano don’t school as tightly as jack crevalle or ladyfish, they do form loose aggregations. Where you find one pompano, there are almost certainly others nearby. Keep fishing that spot — work it very thoroughly.
Because of what pompano eat, they spend most of their time looking downward. No matter what your using to catch them, keep it near the bottom. If it’s not within a foot or so of the sand, it’s probably going to be ignored.
You may have heard about pompano “skipping” in boat wakes. A passing boat will often disturb pompano and cause them to jump out of the water. Sometimes you can turn around and successfully cast to those fish. However, here’s the important bit that many anglers miss: If pompano were there once, they’ll probably be there again. Treat any spot where you skip pompano as a potential honeyhole for later.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.