Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
The Florida Pompano is one of the most popular and sought after species on the Gulf Coast, and it is religiously targeted by surf anglers.
 Surf Fishing For Pompano On Pensacola Beach

If you see someone fishing on Pensacola Beach, or any other beach along Florida's coast for that matter, chances are pretty high they have at least one rod rigged up for Pompano.  While being a relatively small species, this delicious fish has a tendency to drive anglers crazy during their spring and fall runs, a time when they can be caught in large numbers when the fish school up and cruise the coast.  Since Pompano are generally under 3 pounds they do not require heavy specialized tackle, and they are a blast to catch for anglers of all ages and skill levels, especially when the action is hot.

About Pompano

Pompano are a schooling fish found in warm coastal waters of the Southeast Coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Pompano is technically the name for the species commonly sought after in Florida, but it's presence is not limited to the state.  Pompano are very similar in appearance to the Permit although they are much smaller, typically weighing less than 3 pounds, although significantly larger fish have been caught.  Tournament-winning fish are often in the 5 pound range. The 2021 Minimum Size Limit for Pompano caught in Florida is 11" from the tip of the jaw to the center of the fork in the tail. A fish of this size will be approximately one year old, and weigh right around 1 pound.  Pompano are primarily bottom feeders with a diet that consists of small crustaceans and shellfish.  They are a coastal species that prefer relatively warm waters, and will migrate in schools along the coastline in order to stay within comfortable water temperatures.  These migrations are what results in the infamous Pompano Runs.

Timing The Pompano Runs

Pompano prefer to stay in waters right in the middle of the 70 to 80 degree range, and migrate in the spring and fall in order to locate their comfort zone.  In the springtime the fish will migrate north along the coast as the waters warm, and will typically hit the Pensacola area around April.  If you want to catch Pompano, the spring run is prime-time to hit the surf.  Once the water warms too much during the dog days of summer, some fish will head for deeper water or backwater bays, and out of the surf anglers reach.  There will still be fish to catch, but their ranks will be a little thinner until the fall run begins some time around late September or October when the fish turn around and head south for the Winter.  The timing of the runs is very weather and temperature dependent, so there is no steadfast rule as to when they will occur, however.  The best way to find schooling Pompano is to find water in the 75 degree temperature range.

Gearing Up For Pompano

Truthfully, you don't need any special equipment to catch Pompano (other than a basic rod and reel, of course!).  As we've mentioned they are a small fish, although they can fight rather hard for their size due to their wide bodies and powerful tails. 

If you do plan to get into it and take things to the next level, then you'll probably want to invest in some heavier surf fishing gear for a few reasons.  For one, you'll be able to cast a larger weight to keep your bait put, and for another, you'll probably end up catching things other than Pompano such as Redfish.  Many species will bite on the same baits, and you'll want to be ready when that happens.  You can read our intro to surf fishing gear here:  Surf Fishing Gear 101.

Pompano Rigs

A Pompano Rig is really just a high low rig with two small hooks tied on.  Hooks in the 2 to 2/0 range work well, with circle hooks being preferred by most anglers. Some anglers prefer to have a small bright colored float near each hook to help the fish find the bait, others omit the float for a more natural presentation.  A lot of anglers say an orange float or bead near the hook resembles the orange eggs of a Mole Crab (Sand Flea), but the fish have never told us specifically what they think. Both versions work, but the rig with the float has a few advantages.

Using floats as part of your Pompano Rig is not required, but it has proven to be advantageous.  This Pompano chose to hit the hook with the float instead of the more natural presentation.
 Pompano Caught From the Surf on Pompano Rig

The first advantage to using a float is that it can keep your bait slightly off the bottom (if the float is big enough).  Keeping your bait off the bottom has two purposes. For one, it will help to prevent your bait from being stolen by crabs, Whiting (Gulf Kingfish), and other bottom feeders such as catfish. Another reason to keep your bait suspended slightly off the bottom is that while Pompano are primarily bottom feeders, they are not strictly bottom feeders, they generally cruise the surf two feet or so off the bottom (sometimes more, sometimes less) looking for their next meal and keeping your bait in this area makes it just that much easier for Pompano to locate your presentation.  Finally, even though Pompano have tremendous eyesight (as evidenced by their large eyes comparative to their body size), using a bright colored float and/or bead next to your bait will make your offering stand out that much more.

One advantage to tying your own rigs over store-bought rigs is that you can use higher quality hooks and fluorocarbon leader line.  Fluorocarbon seems to result in higher hookup ratios for us, likely a result of being less visible in the water.  We generally make our rigs out of 20 or 30 pound fluorocarbon line, with a dropper loop tied 8 to 10 inches from the end, and another loop 8 to 10 inches away from the first. 30 pound test may seem like a lot for a little fish, but going this route will help prevent a heavier weight from snapping your line during the cast and also prevent bite offs from larger or toothier species. When it comes to the leader line itself, we used Seaguar Fluorocarbon Leader Line for years, but recently switched to a lower cost alternative in plain old Berkley Vanish without a real noticeable difference.

We like to use 1/0 or 2/0 Mustad UltraPoint Demon Inline Circle Hooks, just in case something a little larger takes the bait.  Since Pompano have pretty small mouths, going much larger than this will result in missing some fish since they can't fit the hook in their mouth.

The overall length of the rig isn't that important, we keep it around 3 or 4 feet, and we use heavy swivels and snaps (100 pound) on each end of the rig since the fish don't care, and we don't have to worry about them failing.

Pompano Jigs

Another popular way to catch Pompano is with appropriately named "Pompano Jigs".  Pompano Jigs are small brightly colored jigs, generally under 1 ounce, with their skirts trimmed just past the end of the hook.  Just about any spinning or casting rod can be used to cast these out and gently bounce them off the bottom while walking along the beach.  Sometimes tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp or artificial bait such as Fishbites or Fish Gum will help entice the bite, other times a plain jig works just as well.

Best Baits For Pompano

Mole Crabs (a.k.a. Sand Fleas) are pretty much hands down the preferred bait for Pompano.  You can catch your own Sand Fleas utilizing a tool called a "Sand Flea Rake", of which the Exact Design Sand Flea Rake works well.  The teeth on the unit make it easier to pull through the sand, and the curved handle is a a bonus.  When Sand Fleas aren't available, small pieces of fresh peeled shrimp are next up, in fact some anglers actually prefer pieces of shrimp over the Sand Fleas. Small strips of cut squid work as well, but shrimp and sand fleas are generally preferred. 

In terms of live, fresh, and frozen baits - live Sand Fleas will almost always be preferred.  When these are not available, "freshly dead" shrimp and Sand Fleas tend to produce more bites and also stay on the hook better than previously frozen baits.  Frozen shrimp and Sand Fleas should not be looked down upon however, since they do work well, but they can be tricky to get to stay on the hook on occasion.  Squid is pretty much as good frozen or fresh.

One of the more recent trends is to either replace or supplement natural bait with Fishbites, an artificial bait that has kind of a leather-like texture and stays on the hook well.  This product comes in different flavors / scents such as Sand Flea and Shrimp, and some anglers actually prefer this over natural bait.  We cannot confirm nor deny if it actually tastes like Sand Fleas, but it does work.

No matter your selection, just make sure you keep your bait on the small side since Pompano don't have large mouths.

When To Fish For Pompano

The spring run is hands down the best time to fish for Pompano.  Depending on where you are this may happen a little sooner or later in the springtime, but it is a reliable fishing event.  The fall run is second best, but Pompano can be caught year round in many places.  In the Pensacola and Destin areas the spring Pompano run generally comes through around the middle of April, and around late September through October we'll usually see the fall Pompano run. Fish are present throughout the summer as well but the action might not be quite as hot.  You can catch fish any time of the day, but the early morning hours almost always bring the hottest action. 

The Florida Pompano Season is open year-round, so right about now sounds like a good time!