Every fisherman who has ever thrown his bait into the Gulf of Mexico likes to fish for Pompano. They’re the best tasting fish in the gulf, bar none. They’re also fairly easy to catch from June until the middle of December. Winter and spring months are only fair because they are scattered and generally smaller than the one’s caught in the summer and fall. The Pompano were running up and down the Gulf of Mexico this fine Fourth of July weekend. This is a fish that truly loves warmer water, with their preferred water temperature being between 82 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
Walking along the beach just after first light with the smell of the ocean and the spray from the surf leaving the taste of salt on your lips is an absolutely wonderful way to start the day. The sun, just peeking through the mist, will soon burn away any lingering wisps of fog remaining on the beach. Seabirds fighting over remnants of a mysterious sea object that has washed ashore, reminds me to protect the shrimp I had stored in a bucket next to my beach chair. A solitary pelican has just crept within 15 yards of me and is staring at the bait bucket as though he can see inside. He must have heard the shrimp moving around.
This beautiful morning I was fishing off 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 by tourists, it was a surprise to find myself relatively alone. Looking up and down the beach you could only see an occasional beach walker searching the sand to see what secrets the sea had washed ashore on the early morning tide.
Pompano are not fish eaters so the first thing you have to do when fishing is to secure your bait. Besides the shrimp I had already bought, I had to have sand fleas. They’re on any Pompano’s menu and they’re usually plentiful along most beaches. The easiest and cheapest way to obtain these them is to catch them yourself! They’re found at the waters edge as it recedes back into the sea. As the water rushes back from the beach, you’ll see small holes appear at the water’s edge. Those holes are where a sand flea is burrowing. Immediately dig down and you’ll find them.
For my sand flea hunting I simply use a sturdy bucket that I’ve drilled many holes in the bottom and sides. This allows the water to flush out of its container and leave the sand fleas on the bottom when I dig for them. There are several types of sand flea rakes you could buy, but making your own is more fun. I’ve even seen kids on the beach digging for them with a stiff toy beach bucket. Just use whatever is handy. After you catch a dozen or more, put them into your bait bucket with a little 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’re catching sand fleas. Pompano also eat shrimp with live ones being the better bait but dead ones will work if your bait shrimp is not alive.
I use a weight 5′ rod and a light reel with 8 to 10 lb test line. I use this because I know that most pompano are between 1 pound and 3 pounds. I also keep a 7′ surf rod and surf reel with 15 lb test line in the other line holder just in case I hang a bigger fish.
The rig that has worked well for me starts with a barrel swivel on the end of my line. I’ll then tie a 3′ to 4′ foot of 30 lb leader to the swivel. After that comes the two 8″ lengths of leader on which I will tie 1/0 circle hooks. I’ll tie those about 12″ apart. After that, all that remains is tying a 2 ounce egg sinker to the bottom of the leader. Then all I have to so is bait my hooks and throw the rig as far out on the gulf as I can. That’s usually about 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 I can. Vacations are costly enough without spending a lot of money on bait and the fish you will catch with them. Most of us, if we add up the cost of a fishing trip and divide that into the amount of fish we catch, would be much better off going to a good restaurant. I figure that counting the gas for the trip to the beach, lodging, food, bait and a few souvenirs, each fish I caught that day cost me approximately $438.00 each.
Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, holiday eating and leisure living.
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