Species spotlight: Florida pompano

Florida pompano are a surf fisherman’s dream fish: aggressive, hungry and a good test on light tackle. Just don’t cast too far. (Photo by Brian Cope)
Florida pompano are a surf fisherman’s dream fish: aggressive, hungry and a good test on light tackle. Just don’t cast too far. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Smallest member of pompano family is surf-fisherman’s delight

Despite their name, Florida pompano, Trachinotus carolinus, are found in many areas outside of Florida. They are part of the jack family and are the smallest of pompanos, being dwarfed by African and Cayenne pompanos.

Florida pompano have very flattened or compressed bodies and very short snouts. Their bodies vary in color from silver to yellow, and their dorsal areas can be any combination of blue, green or silver. Their bellies are usually yellowish. They are found all along the Atlantic Ocean and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida pompano spend most of the late summer months very close to shore, so close that many anglers fishing from the beach cast far beyond their reach. They primarily feed on mole crabs, which are often referred to as sand fleas or sand crabs.

Anglers sometimes catch them “by mistake” when reeling in their surf-fishing rigs and letting them rest in extremely shallow water while preparing other rigs for the next cast. The white, foamy suds that form after a wave crashes are prime areas to find Florida pompano. This water is usually not much more than ankle deep, so inexperienced surf anglers overlook it. But those targeting these fish are keen to make short casts with small hooks baited with mole crabs, small pieces of shrimp, and commercially available Fishbites. Very small, split-shot weights are added to get the bait on the bottom while allowing it to wash around in the surf.

Fast swimmers

Most Florida pompano caught in the surf weigh less than 3 pounds and are between 12 and 17 inches long, but fish heavier than 8 pounds and longer than 26 inches are sometimes caught.

These fish are fun to catch on light tackle. Many anglers who fish with bigger rods and cast past the breakers for other species also keep a smaller rod handy just to target these fish.

Nicknames for Florida pompano include pompano, pomp, little pompano and surf pompano. They are sometimes confused with permit, which have a similar shape but generally grow much larger.

Florida pompano are schooling fish, so when an angler catches one in the surf zone, it’s a sure bet that more are nearby. They are fast swimmers and have sharp teeth. They will often pick at one piece of bait for an extended time before fully eating it. During winter, they leave the surf zone and head offshore.

Mississippi’s state record weighed 4 pounds, 15.7 ounces. Jack Alexander caught this fish on Feb. 9, 2002.

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