2018-03-01 / Fish Stories

Something fishy going on:

Pompanos making a run for it
By Escambia County Marine Resources Manager Robert Turpin

Robert Turpin Robert Turpin Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus)

As we transition from winter to spring and the Gulf waters along Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key begin to warm, fishing rods seem to sprout from the sand to announce the arrival of the Florida pompano.

Although it is possible to catch pompano year-round, most Gulf of Mexico pompano overwinter in southern waters. Pompano migrate along the coast as the water reaches 60 degrees, and their abundance increases with water temperature into the 70s and higher.

For many anglers, pompano are the harbingers of spring and the beginning of the fishing season. Pompano are also excellent table fare. Baked, broiled, fried or grilled, pompano are the tastiest members of the “Jacks” family.

Pompano feed in the surf, and their diet consists primarily of crustaceans and mollusks. Young pompano grow quickly, about 1-2 inches per month for the first 6-12 months. At the age of about one year, 50 percent of pompano attain a length of 12-14 inches and are reproductively mature. By age three, all pompano are mature and are 18-24 inches long.

Mara & Celia Mara & Celia Pompano spawn in the nearshore Gulf waters in the spring, summer and early fall. Pompano can live as long as seven years; however, the average lifespan is only about 3-4 years. Although their common name is Florida pompano, their actual range is from Massachusetts to Venezuela.

Pompano support important recreational and commercial fisheries along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Annual harvest rates have been tracked since the early 1980s and average about 500,000 pounds per year. The commercial fishery supports seafood markets and restaurants.

Pompano’s excellent flavor commands a high price, and it is prized among Florida’s top chefs.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates fishing and harvest of pompano in Florida state waters. Those regulations and fishing license requirements may be found at www.myfwc.com. According to the January 2018 edition of FWC Fishing Regulations, anglers may harvest six pompano per day. The minimum harvest length is 11 inches, measured as “fork length” from the snout to the inside of the V-shaped tail. Other restrictions also apply; therefore, anglers are encouraged to thoroughly review and understand the most recently-published fishing regulations.

Because mole crabs – also known as sand fleas – are a pompano’s favorite prey, they are the best bait when fishing for pompano. If sand fleas are not available, fresh or fresh-frozen shrimp is a good substitute. Small colorful jigs are the best artificial baits. Local fishing tackle shops can assist novice anglers in selecting the appropriate fishing gear and bait.

Pompano fishing looks deceptively simple to the casual observer. Pompano anglers can be found fishing from local Gulf beaches. After the baited hooks are cast out into the surf, the fishing rods are placed into rod holders inserted into the sand. What is less apparent to the observer is the amount of scouting and skill required to find the best specific place to target pompano. Expert pompano anglers know how to read the surf and sandbars, and they often arrive at their selected spots well before dawn.

Pompano fishing doesn’t have to be serious and demanding. It can be done much more casually and relaxed. When our daughters were young, our favorite “Family Beach Day” consisted of packing a couple of pompano rods along with the chairs, surfboards, snorkeling gear and ice chests. After the kids and all the gear were transported to the beach, I cast our fishing lines, sat down with my wife and enjoyed another day in paradise. If you are using circle hooks, you will find the fish hook themselves when they take the bait. Pompano are among the strongest fighters of any fish their size. Some of our best memories are of the girls reeling in nice pompano for dinner.

As with all seafood, pompano should be carefully handled to maintain safety and quality. Fish should be immediately placed in drained ice and cleaned as soon as possible. Be aware that FWC fishing regulations require pompano to “remain in whole condition” while anglers are fishing and present at the fishing site. These regulations are intended to ensure future generations have opportunities to enjoy pompano and other species.

Regardless of the recipe, Florida pompano are among the best tasting fish that can be caught in our local waters. rechristened Spring Fest to coincide with the annual Rotary Club of Gulf Breeze Gumbo Cook-off. The day of fun and feasting will be centered at Shoreline Park near the softball complex March 24 and will be capped with a spectacular fireworks show at 8 p.m., when 3,480 shells explode in a sizzling spectacular lasting eight or nine minutes.

Those attending are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or quilts and to plan to spend the day having fun. Events will kick off at 2 p.m. and will include bounce houses, a climbing wall, a car show, live music, skateboard and Corn Hole contests, a farmers’ market and demonstrations by K9 teams and bomb squads. Rotary Club members will begin sharing samples from the on-site “kitchens” of more than 20 professional and amateur gumbo cooking teams beginning at 11 a.m., with the contest winding up around 3 p.m.

There will also be an opportunity to enjoy craft beer tasting from several local craft breweries from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for a $15 fee, plus admission to the Gumbo cook-off, which is $15, with children 10 years old and younger admitted free.

Hamburgers, hot dogs, soft drinks and beer and wine ($3 per glass) will also be available.

A silent auction is planned from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., with winners of such items as overnight stays and get-a-ways, gift baskets, sports equipment, gift certificates, services and art announced at 4.

For a $5 ticket, those attending can get in on a Big Green Egg raffle, as well.

Proceeds raised from this annual tasty event will be used to fund college scholarships, with Rotary Club members hoping to surpass last year’s $30,000 figure.

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