Pompano run begins
Capt. Alex Crawford
March 26, 2008
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
A few pompano have been caught on the Gulf beaches of Saint George Island, but the big run of fish has not happened yet. When the water warms a few degrees, we will see the bigger schools of Florida pompano arrive around the barrier islands of the Forgotten Coast.
By Capt. Alex Crawford
In spring on Florida's panhandle coast, when the inshore water temperature reaches the magic 68 degree number, Florida pompano show up. And close behind are the passionate anglers who have waited all winter for their arrival. Cabin-weary, but dedicated pompano chasers are always ready when the first schools are reported. The news travels at the speed of light. Pompano are one of the most highly-prized species, primarily because they are one of the very best of all saltwater fish to eat. Once a school has been located, the fun begins. A few scattered fish have been caught around Saint George Island, but the bigger schools have not arrived. A few degrees of warming water and stay tuned for the news that the pompano are here.
Finding the fish is always the hardest part of the endeavor. Some avid pompano fishermen have learned a creative technique. They run their boats randomly along the beaches in an attempt to spook a school. Pompano exhibit an unusual behavior referred to as skipping. In the boat engine's prop wash, you can see the silvery sides of a school, as they skip on the surface. Why pompano do this is another mystery of fishing, as other species do not exhibit this strange behavior.
Assessments of the health of pompano stocks in Florida are disappointing. Fisheries biologists tell us that the species is overfished. For recreational anglers the pompano aggregate bag limit is 6 per person per day, with a total fork length not less than 11 inches. One fish in the bag can exceed 20 inches. Permit look very much like Florida pompano, but permit don't visit the cooler Panhandle waters.
The number one tip shared by panhandle pompano pros is to always invest time to find or buy live bait, especially crustaceans. Small live shrimp, fiddler crabs, oyster crabs and especially mole crabs (sand fleas) are first class pompano baits. Get a quality sand flea rake, available at panhandle tackle stores, like Half Hitch and Fisherman's Choice. Walk the beaches on an incoming tide and look where the last wave breaks up on the beach. Where the water recedes or in the trough created by the last wave, you may see the miniature flea antennae sticking out of the wet sand.
The real trick is keeping your super baits alive. Keep them cool over night. An old bait cooler works fine with block ice in the bottom and newspapers on top with a mesh oyster bag. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun. Another tip on keeping your hard-earned bait fresh is to mist them with saltwater periodically. If you keep your fleas in a bucket with sand over night, they may die from the ammonia in their urine. Of course, it is optimal to catch your sand fleas fresh on the beach and use them immediately.
Only as a backup plan, one can purchase frozen fleas. Having some fresh shrimp is a good idea. For a more sporting challenge, try some of the artificial rubber sand fleas that are relatively new to the sport. The under belly of these rubber artificial lures is painted orange to match the color of a female flea's egg sack
Target your efforts in areas with troughs or dropoffs around passes. Crustaceans get washed into these troughs and attract schools of hungry pomps. Look for spots around flats and bars where rips have created feeding channels. Always watch for holes and channels that are deeper than the surrounding water.
Around the Apalachicola Bay area there are several prime spots to target spring pompano. It is important to note here that the hurricanes of 2005 had a major impact on the passes, beaches, sand bars and oyster bars across the panhandle coast of Florida. Examples of these changes include how the storm surge from hurricane Dennis "rearranged" the southeast jetties of the Government Cut and the shallow sand bars that not exist offshore of the West pass. Captains are urged to use extreme caution navigating areas that were deep and safe prior to storms, but now are skinny and dangerous.
There are several "pompano hot spots" that hold fish. In the East Pass close to Saint George Island there is a long trough that runs parallel to the beach. When the fish arrive, you will see many anglers lined up casting bait into the hole along the beach. Land access to the east end of Saint George Island is permitted only through the state park. Water access is from the Saint George Sound.
The corner of the southeast jetties of the Government Cut has always been a well-known pompano hole. Since the granite boulders have been moved considerably by the storms, the jury is out on how well this spot will produce in the future. Access by land is from the beach of Saint George Island. The jetties are wet, slippery and dangerous. The Cut is located seven miles south of the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Small boats need to exercise caution running across the bay with shallow oyster bars. Also, be careful of wind and seas where the Gulf meets the Cut, it gets very bumpy when tide and winds oppose each other. Anchoring on the southeast corner requires a stout anchor and lots of scope. The water depth goes to about 26 feet in this area and the water rips in and out, especially at low tide.
Another prime area is "Bird" island, just 2 miles southwest of the West pass that separates Cape Saint George Island from Saint Vincent Island. Again, the storms have moved this shallow island around, but the troughs and channels are ideal feeding zones. Redfish, bluefish and spanish mackerel are targets of opportunity here around April.
The surf on the Gulf side of Little Saint George from the Cut to the remnants of the lighthouse is great at times. Motor along slowly until you find a depression deeper than the surrounding and mark it on your bottom machine.
Successful pompano anglers are the ones that get up early and stay out late. The best fishing days will be around the full moons of March, April and May. Look for incoming tides, particularly the tide stage with slower current.
Another target of opportunity in early spring is the hard-fighting cobia. It is not unusual to see cobia swim around your boat. Be prepared with a pre-rigged 30 pound class spinning outfit and a 4 ounce white or chartreuse turtle jig.
One of the simple pleasures of catching a pompano dinner is you only need light basic tackle. Eight pound spinning combinations with seven foot graphite rods are ideal for making long casts. Probably the most effective terminal rig is a one quarter ounce chartreuse jig tipped with a sand flea sweetener. Jigging slowly allows your offering to emulate a sand flea puffing up sand as it buries itself. Another tip that is successful is to add a 12 inch leader of fluorocarbon behind the jig with an orange bead and a number 2 light wire hook with a flea pinned to it. Small barrel swivels work best. Like all members of the jack family, pomps have large eyes to be effective sight feeders.
The real thrill of spring pompano fishing is not how many fish go in the box. It is the opportunity to get outside after a cold winter to enjoy the warm sun and the pure natural beauty of the environs.
Captain Alex Crawford
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