Late April time pompano fishermen dream about
Maybe there should be a new saying around here “April showers bring May pompano?’’ Because the weather has been extremely wet and stormy the past couple of weeks. Persistent rain showers, even with thunder and lightening at times (including that historic hail storm), along with some fairly rough surf and dingy water have plagued pier and shore anglers recently.
But that trend appears to be changing for the better, with much less rain and calmer seas forecast as the more violent aspects of April weather tend to become less frequent and move farther northward toward the end of the month. We can expect coastal water temperatures, now in the upper 60s, to tip into the low 70s over the coming weeks. All that bodes well for anglers intent on catching Florida pompano before they head offshore to spawn after the next full moon on April 27. That event comes at the end of a three-day NEAP tide cycle which could slow the bite. But it probably won’t have as much an effect on fishing as the local weather and wave conditions during that period.
Late April is THE time of year pompano fishermen dream about, and live for. Large spawning aggregations gather in the surf zone all long the Alabama/ Northwest Florida coast in anticipation of their spawn next month. Thousands of these fish move into the warming near shore water to feed, seek refuge and make new friends. Of coarse, many of those ‘friends’ are surf and pier anglers intent on inviting a few home for dinner. Yes, as the main course 😉 A lot of new anglers catch their first pompano ever, and many new personal bests are posted on social media this month.
Pompano or pompa-YES?
Surf angling to target pompano this time of year can be about as simple as fishing gets. Though conditions vary from day to day, and even during the course of each day, there are usually so many pompano moving through the area within casting distance from shore that most anglers have little problem catching their Alabama limit of 3 pompano (12 inch Total Length), or even the 6 that Florida allows (11 inch Fork Length). Often it doesn’t take long when you are in the right place at the right time with the right setup. Just look for points along the beach with nearby sandbar drop-offs or cuts through the beach sandbar. Or if you have longer rods to cast farther out and over the longshore sandbar.
The double drop pompano rigs with small, brightly colored styrofoam floats have been performing well for beach anglers lately. And lime green or hot pink seem to be the colors of Fishbites and Fishgum most preferred by the pompano. Many anglers tip their rigs with pieces of fresh shrimp or live sandfleas, which are becoming more prevalent in the swash zone. The hook is a circle or kahle style which do a great job of keeping the fish on after the bite. The weight can range from less than an ounce (in calm conditions), 1 to 3 ounce pyramids in moderate surf, to heavy storm or sputnik type sinkers in rough surf and strong winds.
Baits range from bio-synthetic strips like Fishbites and Fishgum to natural types like shrimp, sandfleas and ghost shrimp. The later may help tempt fish that may be a bit more skittish, though more and more pompano anglers are fishing primarily with the synthetic strips alone. Especially when making long casts with heavy weights that would tear the hook from soft natural baits. The trick is to judge the conditions to know how to approach the situation. Or try a variety of baits and styles until you can establish a pattern the pompano respond to. Most beach anglers are content to cast out several double drop rigs, put the rod in a sand spike, and wait for a bite. Meanwhile, patrons on the Gulf State Park Pier are restricted to using one rod at a time to ease the crowding out there. Also, those fishing “the nub” south of the middle platform are strongly encouraged to cast underhanded whenever the pier gets crowded. And it can get so quickly when the spanish mackerel or pompano are ‘running’.
Recent pompano catches have been sprinkled with some large “whiting” (Gulf kingfish) and redfish of double digit weight, and even some sheepshead, bluefish and spanish mackerel. It seems like most of the hardhead catfish are staying farther west toward Mobile Bay which has been extremely fresh. Once the water gets calmer and clearer pompano jigs, Goofy jigs and Silly Willy rigs will work better to locate the fast-moving schools of pompano. Watch out for ladyfish though, as they should be appearing in greater numbers over the coming weeks. As well, we should see an influx of Scaled and False sardines (called “LYs”) within a couple of weeks, as water temperatures sustain in the low 70s. That will make jig fishing from the Perdido Pass seawall and west jetty even more productive. In addition to many of the parking lot lights having been repaired (by the Town of Orange Beach). Many spanish mackerel and bluefish have been caught there recently. Using live shrimp, even a few sheepshead are still available along with occasional flounder and mangrove snapper. Remember though, you must have a $10 Reef Fish Endorsement in addition to your Alabama saltwater fishing license to retain mangrove snapper.
Even in ‘good times’ pompano fishing is often a waiting game that may take hours between bites. My advice is to get there early, set up and fish for a while. Then take a break and maybe return later in the afternoon. By mid day the beaches get crowded with folks intent on swimming. Everybody has rights to be on the beach, so as a representative of the fishing community, please keep things respectable. Sometimes you may be able to ‘stand your ground’, or relocate a little farther from large groups. But you may need to yield to those other folks to prevent any incidences. Main thing is for everyone to have a good time. So, be respectful of other fishermen, beach walkers, or swimmers. Also, NEVER trespass. And by all means, catch some pompano while you and they are here!
(Pictured) Robert Thornton with his personal best pompano (3.35 pounds) and Linda and Jack Goodwin with their first pompano. All were caught from Gulf State Park Pier. (Below-Full Story On Page 48) On Sunday April 18, Jason Mote caught a 24.5 inch pompano that certainly threatens Trish Cluck’s record caught from the GSP Pier 11 years ago. For sure, he is currently leading the Sam’s B&T ‘Pomp Stomp” at 6.940 pounds.