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How to Surf Fish for Pompano

How to Surf Fish for Pompano

by David FitzGibbon April 3, 2002


This article describes how to surf fish for Pompano. It’s intended audience is the novice fisherman. The information for it has been researched from many articles on the Internet and from my own experiences. While the primary fish targeted is Pompano, many other fish such as Sheepshead and Snook can also be caught surf fishing using this basic surf fishing technique.

My own situation was one where I was in Southwest Florida on the Gulf, and had to take all my gear for fishing to the beach and carry it as I moved around looking for the Pompano. So the basic idea is to carry as little gear as necessary while staying fairly comfortable for hours of fishing.

Whatever your specific plan use the Internet to research it, and be informed and prepared when you execute it. For Pompano fishing search the Internet using the key words “pompano fishing”.

Why Pompano?

Pompano are one of the most delicious fish to eat (they fetch the highest market price of any saltwater fish from the commercial fish houses in the continental U.S.), they can be caught from the surf on light tackle, and they put up a tenacious fight making numerous, long runs.

Tom McEwen, The Tampa Tribune, July 31, 1993:
“Pompano is the richest of Florida saltwater delicacies, so often the most expensive item on the menus of gourmet restaurants. They are hard to find, hard to catch, (and) glorious to eat... .”

Pompano Characteristics
They average between 1 to 2 pounds in size and have no teeth. They are beautifully colored with a slightly yellow under belly. Pompano are bottom feeders. They eat the small shell crustations that inhabit the sand bottoms. Pompano have flaky white meat that has a delicate flavor reminiscent of mahi-mahi. Their meat is oily like a trout, though less so, and they don’t have all the little bones that a trout has.

Surf Fishing Gear
K-Mart and Wal-Mart are excellent places to purchase fishing gear, and the Publics grocery store (in Florida) has most everything as well (though the rods and reels are of lower quality, and sand flea rakes are not there). Quantum and Zebco make good rods and reels. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, probably about $100 - $125 if starting from scratch.

fishing license
6’ medium action rod (bigger is too heavy and unnecessary)
reel (spinning) (saltwater) (light weight) with 10 Lb. monofilament test line
sand spike (a PVC tube to hold rod and reel in the sand while you tie the line)
sand flea rake (a square shaped metal wire basket on a long metal handle for sifting through the sand for sand fleas to use as bait) (slip sand spike over flea rake handle to make carrying easier)
5-gallon lightweight bucket (with a moist cloth for cover to keep bait shaded and cool in sun) (5 gallon size to hold multiple big fish)
beach chair (light weight) with shoulder strap (chair’s shadow can also be used to shade bait bucket)
small, light tackle box:
in small plastic zip lock bags (they come in these bags when purchased):
½ Oz. egg sinkers
#7 black swivels
#6 bronze hooks (small enough to hook pomps, large enough to easily handle)
DOA ¼ Oz. artificial shrimp: yellow and while color, or Doc’s Goofy Jigs
leader line

pocket knife
needle nose pliers fish gloves (for some of the harder to handle fish that may be caught, but not necessary for Pomps)
stringer (rope) (with a weight to hold fish in surf)
reel oil
dark swimsuit (to use as backdrop for tying monofilament line)
shirt with pocket (to hold extra sand fleas in while out in surf) (and for protection from the sun)
water shoes (walk with toe first shuffle to avoid sting rays) (balance yourself on heel while putting on after washing out sand that surf washes into shoe)
fillet knife (6” minimum) (very sharp) (not to be carried but in car/condo)
bottle water
sports bars (i.e., Luna Bars)

Set up for Pompano/Sheepshead/Snook

Keep it as simple as possible.

For all knots use the “simple clinch knot” (go to for instructions (see the Useful Website section below)). Take care to tie each knot properly because it is very disappointing to loose a fish to an improperly or poorly tied knot.

Use 10 Lb. monofilament test line. Tie a black #7 swivel (swivel keeps the line from twisting in the surf) to the line with the ½ Oz. egg sinker (the ½ Oz. is ideal for a long cast) above (on the rod side of the line). Attach a 12” to 18” leader of #10 Lb. monofilament line to the swivel with a #6 (or smaller) bronze hook (bronze hooks and black swivel attracts less trash fish). This set up worked perfectly for me.

Make sure that the drag on the reel has been properly set and is turned on for it will be needed.

Hook a sand flea (see Bait section below) on the hook such that the sand flea will be pulled side ways by the line.
Hook the sand flea toward the head such that its orange belly (egg pouch) will not be kept shut by the hook. Make sure that the flea’s shell is hard and that the hook’s barb is just barley through the shell. Keeping the hook minimally through the flea will reduce the hook getting caught up in seaweed and rocks.

The following is from a discussion forum (key word search “pompano”) off the saltwater fishing home page link “SW Fishing” on the following web site:

The other guys are right on track with their suggestions - the Kahle hooks you're presently using are supposed to allow the pomps to hook themselves in much the same manner as the circle hooks Greg recommends - just make sure they're SHARP! Pomps will eat shrimp just as quickly as they will sand fleas, but you'll have to re-bait much more frequently because a lot of "trash" fishes - such as those you've already encountered - will also eat the shrimp. Adding bright plastic mackerel beads above your hook(s) can help - their bright orange hue mimics the color of a sand flea's egg mass. Additionally, some pomp fishermen have found that placing small, round, fluorescent foam floats above their hooks helps; the floats not only serve as attractants but also help keep the fleas or shrimp slightly above the bottom. (Note: I did not have to do any of these addition rigging suggestions to catch Pompano.) One other point - when the water clears, try fishing various distances from shore - sometimes the pompano stay out a bit, but there are times that you'll find them right next to the beach.

Ideal Pompano Fishing Conditions

The last 2 hours of a rising tide are best, and the first hour of a falling tide can be good. The surf should be heavy-light to light-medium so as to stir up the sand fleas. White caps are probably too much surf. A calm or light wind is usually present in these conditions. The water should be somewhat clear and its temperature should be at or above 65 degrees F. A steady and/or rising barometer is ideal.

Where to Fish

Pompano usually feed on the beach side of the outer sand bars during the incoming tide. Wade out as far as possible (waist deep) and cast from there. Have extras sand fleas in your shirt pocket so that if the hook needs to be re-baited it can be done while in the surf. A reef can be an excellent spot to find them and the rocks provide a great platform to stand on while fishing.

Pompano are schooling fish. Where there is one there are many. And once they are know to be in a given location they are likely to be in that some location in the future. Have plenty of sand fleas ready so that once the pompano are located maximum time can be devoted to catching the fish.

Move up and down the beach in search of other fisherman catching them. Talk to the beach walkers as they go by and inquire if they have observed anyone catching fish. Talk to the local fisherman and ask them where Pompano have been previously caught.


Sand fleas are an excellent bait to use for pompano. You can find colonies of them as the wave recedes. You'll see a lot of V-shaped ripples where they have dug into the sand. Get a sand flea rake. K-Mart sells them, but they can be hard to find. If you have a rake and you find a colony of sand fleas just pull the rake along in the sand when the wave is going back out and you'll fill it up with sand fleas.

Artificial bait may be required at times when sand fleas can’t be found. For artificial bait ask the local fisherman what works for them (i.e., DOA’s ¼ - ½ Oz. artificial shrimp (in the yellow/white color but ask the locals), and Doc’s Goofy Jigs are excellent choices).

Keep Sand Fleas Cool and Moist

Live sand fleas, fiddlers crabs, small blue crabs and mole crabs are not only excellent bait for certain kinds of fishing, but are by far the easiest bait to keep alive. Only two precautions must be taken. First, keep the animals moist so their gills do not dry out. (It's not only unnecessary to submerge them in water, it's not recommended because they will drown. Put moist sand in the bucket for them to borough into. If the bucket is left out over night cover it so some critter doesn’t eat them.) Second keep them cool and out of the sun. Almost any bucket, bait well or box is an adequate container. In extremely hot weather cover the animals with a damp cloth and keep them cool by sprinkling ice on top of the cloth. They will keep for days in a cup on ice inside a cooler. Just keep them dry and remember to drain the yellow waste out of it everyday.

In the early morning the tide action may be non-existent and sand fleas are almost impossible to find. If you fish the very early morning it is a good idea to save a dozen or so sand fleas from the previous day to use as bait.

Casting for Pompano

Cast the line out and let it settle to the bottom. Then from time to time pick up the rod pulling the bait off the bottom a few inches and letting it bump the bottom again. The bait bumping the bottom will kick up a small puff of sand, which will help attract the Pompano.

Pompano are very light biters. You just feel a small tick and the hook has to be set immediately (by quickly pulling up on the rod and also reeling in some line). If you don’t and you are using live bail you might as well reel it in because the bait will most likely be gone.

Reeling in the Hooked Pompano

The Pompano is a strong fighter and will fight hard to earn its freedom. Make sure that the drag on the reel has been properly set and is turned on for it will be needed. Once the fish has been hooked keep the line tight by letting the rod do its job bending and bowing. Pull the rod up slowly to pull the fish in and then lower the rod and reel in the line. The Pompano will fight very hard as it comes into the surf near the shore. Use the action of the surf waves to help bring the fish in and up onto the beach. Once on the beach put your finger through its gill to pick the fish up. Once pick up in this manner the hook can be removed and the fish can be placed on the stringer.

Keeping Fish Alive on Beach

To keep the caught fish alive and fresh while you continue to fish put them on a rope stringer (metal stringers tangle quickly) with a weight and place them in the surf just beyond the breaking waves. Be careful that some predator doesn’t eat them or that people in the water don’t step on them. I used my sand flea rake as a weight as I was unprepared after catching the Pompano.

Proper Way to Filet Pompano

See the How to Clean Fish Article on Captain Mel Burman’s Online Florida Fishing Magazine (see Useful Website section below).

Do it like almost all fish. Gut the fish, then cut deep just behind the pectoral fin, and 'roll' the knife to follow the backbone down to the tail. They yield nice big fillets. Cook with the skin on.

True connoisseurs of pompano will fillet the fish all the way through the head. "Split in half" there is a gland in the skull that makes the fillet taste even better when cooked. Gut them and run the fillet knife along the backbone to the head on both sides of the fish you will fillet both sides and end up removing all bones then split the head. Cook it skin side down and baste the fillet with butter and make sure to drag the basting brush over the head part.

End of the Day Reel Maintenance

Because salt water is corrosive, at the end of each hose off all your gear with fresh water and oil the reel according to the manufacture’s specifications.

Useful Web Sites:

Captain Mel Burman’s Online Florida Fishing Magazine: - Tide charts, solunar tables, How to Clean Fish article, and much more.

Pompano Fishing Article featuring Captain James Wisner: - excellent article on Pompano fishing.

Florida Sportsman Online: - good forums on fishing.

The Weather Channel: - 10 day forecast for specific locations, map of sea surface temperatures in the Gulf/Caribbean .

Custom Pompano Lures:

Florida Saltwater Fisherman: - great section on fish identification. - online fishing license purchase (Florida and North Carolina), how to tie knots (on left hand side of table of contents under “References”).

Recipes: These recipes don’t have to be followed to the letter. They give a general idea on how to properly prepare and cook Pompano.

Simple and Basic: Cut into fillets with skin on.. Season with salt, pepper, lemon, butter and lightly with garlic. Bake in over at 475 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes (until opaque in color).

Classic: Classic recipe is to sauté' fillets in a fry pan with butter and almond slices. A light dusting of flour is all you need

Whole, Stuffed and Baked:

Our favorite meal is to stuff whole pompano with crab and bake it seasoned with garlic and oregano.

Sautéed Pompano:

1½ lbs. Pompano fillets
White pepper
1 cup macadamia nuts
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
Egg wash (equal parts egg and milk)

Mix nuts and breadcrumbs together and using blender, grind into a fine powder. Coat fish with egg wash then roll in nut and breadcrumb mixture. Sauté in butter in a sauté pan. Serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Poached Pompano Fillet:

Yield: 1 servings
2 ea Cobia fillets, medium
3 ea Lemons, juice of
1 ea Bay leaf
1/2 lb Butter
1 T Flour
2 ea Egg yolks
1/2 pt Cream
1/2 c Wine, dry white
1 x Salt & pepper to taste

The fillets should be about 1/2 inch thick. Marinate them for 1 hour in the juice of two lemons and 1 bay leaf. Sprinkle well with salt and coarse black pepper. Now roll the fillets, fasten with a toothpick to hold the roll, and place them in a deep frying pan. Cover with water and poach for 5 minutes. Strain water from fish; save. Melt butter, are fully mixing in flour until the whole thing is smooth and golden. Add strained fish stock. Boil for 15 minutes and strain the sauce. Season to taste with white wine and lemon juice. Keep sauce hot and blend in the cream into which has been stirred the 2 well-beaten egg yolks. Remove toothpicks from fillets & Cover w/sauce. Also for Grouper, red snapper, Amberjack, Dolphin, and Cobia.

Pompano en Papillote: Recipe Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

1 small whole pompano, dressed, about 1 pound
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 pound crab meat, picked for cartilage
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 piece of parchment
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/2 pound cubed butter, cold
5 sprigs fried parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the fish with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. In a sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil is hot, sauté the fish for 2 minutes on each side. Remove the fish from the pan. In a mixing bowl, toss the crab meat with the garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the crab meat mixture over the fish. Fold the parchment in half lengthwise, and place the fish on one half of the paper. Fold the remaining half over the fish and roll the edges of the paper up to seal the fish tightly in the bag. The parchment bag should form the shape of the fish. Place the parchment bag on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. In a sauce pan, combine the parsley, lemon juice and shallots. Bring the liquid up to a simmer and reduce the liquid by half, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the cold butter until all the butter is incorporated. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. To assemble, using a knife, cut the top of the bag to expose the fish. Spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with fried parsley and Essence

Potato Crusted Gulf Fish with a Grilled Mushroom Relish: Recipe Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup small diced yellow onions
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups sliced assorted Exotic mushrooms (such as shiitakes, chantrelles, black trumpets, oyster, lobster etc.)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 pound prosciutto ham, julienne
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Drizzle of White Truffle Oil
4 fillets (about 6 to 8 ounces) pompano
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and passed through the potato threader, soaking in cool water
1 1/2 cups Lemon Butter Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a sauté pan, over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 1 minute, or until slightly wilted. Add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, prosciutto and parsley. Continue to sauté for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and drizzle the relish with the truffle oil. Set aside. Season the fillets with Essence. Rub 1 teaspoon of the mustard over each fillet, covering completely. Drain the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the potatoes into 4 equal piles. Wrap each fillet with one pile of the potatoes, tightly. Cover the potatoes with a damp cloth until ready to use. Repeat the process until all of the potatoes are crusted. In a large oven-proof sauté pan, heat the remaining oil. When the oil is hot, carefully lay the fillets in the hot oil. Pan-fry for 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, or until the crust is golden. Flip the fillets over and place the pan in the oven. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven. To serve, spoon the sauce in the center of each plate. Place the crusted fillets in the center of the sauce. Spoon the relish over the fillets. Serve immediately.

1 cup dry white wine
3 lemons, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon salt
3 turns freshly ground black pepper
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 dash hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut up, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat a large nonreactive skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the wine, lemons, garlic, and shallots. Cook for 3 minutes, breaking up and mashing the lemons with a wire whisk. Stir in the salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and hot sauce and cook until the mixture is somewhat syrupy, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and cook for 1 minute.

Over low heat, whisk in the butter a few pats at a time. When all of the butter has been added, remove from the heat, but continue whisking until all of the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Strain the sauce, pressing all of the liquid into a bowl. Stir in the parsley. Serve immediately, or keep warm for a few minutes until ready to use

Onion Crusted Pompano with Chervil Jus: Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

2 large Vidalia onions, shaved into 1/4-inch rings
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Essence
4 (6-ounce) pompano fillets
1/4 cup bacon fat
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh chervil
1 teaspoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper
3 cups mashed potatoes, hot
1/2 cup red pepper paint, hot
Fresh chervil sprigs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season each filet with Essence. Lightly rub each fillet with the Dijon mustard. Using a cloth napkin, folded in half, cover the bottom half of the napkin with a fourth of the shaved onion. Place the fillet directly on top of the shaved onions. Roll the fish up tightly to the end. This will secure the crust around the fish. In a sauté pan, heat the bacon fat. When the fat is hot, sauté the fish for 3 minutes on one side, or until the onions are seared and crispy. Flip the fish over and finish cooking in the oven. Roast the fish for 8 to 10 minutes or until the fish is done. In a sauce pot combine the chicken stock, chervil, shallots, and garlic. Bring the liquid up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the liquid for 25 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat. Remove the fish from the oven. Mound the potatoes in the center of the plate. Place the crusted fish directly on top. Spoon the sauce around the fish. Garnish with the red pepper paint on the rim and fresh chervil.

Crabmeat Stuffed Pompano with Roasted Baby Leeks and a Parsley Garlic Butter Sauce: Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse

1 pound baby leeks, cleaned
Drizzle olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (4 to 6 ounces) pompano fillets
Creole seasoning, recipe follows
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup chopped green onions, green part only
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup fine dried bread crumbs

For the Sauce:

1 tablespoon chopped shallots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound butter, cold and cubed
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the leeks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Season both sides of the pompano fillets with Creole seasoning. In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the fillets. Cook on 1 side, flip over and remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl, combine the crabmeat, green onions, garlic, mayonnaise, and bread crumbs. Season with Creole seasoning and mix well. Spread a quarter of the crab filling over each fillet. Place in the oven and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

For the sauce:

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine the shallots, garlic and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Whisk in the butter, 1 cube at a time, until all of the butter is incorporated and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and mix well. To serve, lay the fillets in the center of each serving plate. Place the baby leeks around the fillets. Drizzle the sauce over the entire plate. Garnish with parsley.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Yield: 2/3 cup

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