It’s spring, a magic time for Big Bend fishermen.
Inshore waters that have been devoid of fish for months have suddenly come alive. First to arrive were redfish, followed soon after by spotted seatrout. Then came Spanish mackerel and bluefish. Now the pompano are here. When the water temperature hit about 68 degrees the first of the pompano showed up. Their ideal temperature range is 75-80 degrees, and they will stay until the water hits 85 degrees.
Most likely the pomps first showed around Keaton Beach, worked their way up through Apalachee Bayâs sandy shallows, into Apalachicola bay and river, out around Saint George Island and west to Mexico Beach, Panama City Beach and points beyond.
Pompano have a curious habit of jumping or âskippingâ in the wake of a speeding boat. Smart pompano fishermen will have someone facing backward looking for the flyers as they speed along the beach, bays or rivers. When pompano are spotted, turn around and go back over the area while casting pompano jigs.
Another way to determine where to cast is to look for sandbars, cuts and channels, and cast to the deep edges. Also, there might be a trough right at your feet if youâre on the beach. Many pompano have been taken just a few feet from shore. To reach some of the offshore troughs, however, you might need a long surf rod. Expert surf pompano fishermen routinely cast 50-75 yards to reach their targets.
If youâre fishing the surf zone from a boat, look for the same type of sandy bottom structure. Pompano prefer sand bottoms because thatâs where the sand fleas (mole crabs) and other crustaceans live. Fish those areas with fleas, shrimp or jigs. Also keep a sharp eye on the waves so your boat doesn’t flip.
Some of the best catches can be made by bouncing a pink pompano jig tipped with fresh shrimp or a sand flea along the bottom. If the school of fish is big enough, you donât even need the shrimp. The more fish competing for the same morsel usually results in them throwing caution to the wind and eating anything that remotely resembles food.
Traditionalists maintain that the only proper way to fish for pompano is with a live sand flea. Thereâs nothing wrong with that, if you donât mind digging your own, or can find a tackle shop that sells them alive. But if you donât want to fool with smelly, dead shrimp or âfleas, use plastics with imbedded scent. By using Berkley Gulp! or DOA standard shrimp cut into small pieces, youâll get the same results as if you were using actual bait, but without the mess. Gulp! even comes in a sand flea shape for an enhanced visual effect. The downside is that the artificial baits arenât cheap.
Fishing for pompano can be as passive or active as you want. You can choose to hike along the beach while casting a jig into the troughs and backwash, thereby getting a good workout while walking in the sand. This method also relaxes you as warm saltwater gently washes up around your ankles. But donât walk in the water. That will scare away any pompano that might be lurking right in the shore break. Itâs not stinky feet that scares them off. Itâs because you create pressure waves through the sand that pompano can sense. Itâs that way with all fish. If you must wade in the water, stand still for a few minutes, then cast. This will give fish a chance to settle down, come back and feed again.
Or, you can set up a folding chair, pound a couple of sand spikes into the beach (sink them deep so a hard-hitting pompano doesnât pull your rod in), and just chill while you wait for pompano to take your offering. This technique is where the artificial fleas shine.
The usual pompano bait-rig consists of two pompano hooks (wide-gapped, designed to hold a sand flea), one above the other, about a foot apart. Tie them with dropper knot loops so the line doesnât pull down when you fight a fish, and make sure the loops arenât so big that the hooks tangle. Add a brightly colored plastic bead (orange is good) to the line next to the hookâs eye, and a bank or pyramid sinker to the end of the line. Heavy weights cast farther and hold bottom better. Use a good barrel swivel to keep the fishing line from twisting as you reel in to change baits. You also can buy pre-made pompano rigs.
When you have your limit of six fish (11-inch minimum), your fun isn’t over. A pompano is one of the best tasting fish in the sea, readily taking on the flavors of whatever itâs cooked with. Pompano almandine is a prime example. Either filleted or whole, there are many ways to fix pompano. Any good seafood cookbook should have several.
Kathy Robinson at Robinson Bros. Guide Service (Robinson@FlaRedfish.com (850) 653-8896) in Apalachicola said the pompano bite has started. Capt. Nathan Donahoe led a party to 16 of them Tuesday. Tripletail also are biting.
St. George Island
Captain Russ Knapp on St. George Island (firstname.lastname@example.org) said: “Spring must be here because there are pompano everywhere (East Pass, off the beach and in the Bob Sykes Cut). Sand fleas and fresh shrimp always work well, but a Sand Flea Fish Bite is a close second. East Pass is still boat only, with the road closed. Off the beach most anywhere should be good. If you go to the cut be ready for major traffic issues. Remember, it is illegal, not to mention VERY unpopular, to anchor in the cut. If you can’t find the pompano there you still should be able to catch redfish and sheepshead.Capt. Randy Peart is looking for the trout to move back onto the flats as the water warms back up. DOA and Gulp! artificial shrimp under a Cajun Thunder is a good place to start. If the water is calm try a top water lure first, or last thing in the day.
“Offshore, Capt Clint Taylor says things are getting hot. Fishing 30 miles plus offshore on live bottom should reward you with nice red grouper and also some scamp. Use big live baits for the grouper, small for the scamp. If you can get past the red snapper there are majorly large mangrove snapper on the wrecks. In state waters its gag grouper time. Fishing live bottom or trolling is a good bet. If you’re trolling and get a bite mark the spot and than bottom fish it. As with the red grouper, a nice large live bait can’t be a bad idea. Capt. Clint expects the kingfish any day, so have a flat line ready.”
Capt. Dave Lear of Tallahassee said: âNow that the calendar has flipped to April, maybe the winds will slack off, the temperatures will stabilize and weâll get into a more typical spring season. Fishing certainly hasnât been bad, but it would be much more enjoyable if the winds werenât blowing a gale most days. The usual staples, trout and redfish, are cooperating for anglers all across the Forgotten Coast. Water temperatures are nudging into the upper 60s and toying with 70 by late afternoon. The fish are responding to a variety of bait and lures. Pinfish arenât thick yet, but live shrimp, soaked solo or under popping/Clacker corks, top the menu. Shrimp or mud minnows pinned on a light jig head will also produce some tasty flounder when dredged through pot holes or around oyster bars.
“The topwater bite continues to pick up as the water warms. Rapala Skitter Walks, Heddon Super Spooks and MirrOlure Top Dogs danced over broken bottom or in pinch points like creek mouths will draw explosive surface strikes. If the fish hit the plug repeatedly without a hook-up, follow it up with a cast using a soft-plastic fluke or jig. Gold variations are working well right now, although silver and white/pearl combos donât lag far behind. For redfish, a weedless spoon like the Aqua Dream or Capt. Mikeâs willow blade style, will help pinpoint the cruising drum. Once a fish is hooked, fan-cast the area thoroughly to entice any remaining school mates.
“Spanish mackerel are scattered, along with bluefish. Small casting spoons with a trace of wire leader tossed to the edges of bait schools will draw solid strikes and blistering runs. Trolling colorful Christmas tree rigs or Gotcha lures and Clarke spoons with a small egg sinker is another productive tactic for these speedsters. Use speeds of 1,100-1,200 rpm (5 to 7 mph, depending on the seas) to get into the zone. A few pompano have been reported off the barrier islands. The large sand troughs off the St. Marks River channel beyond the Lighthouse will also hold pompano at times. Nylure and bucktail jigs, sand fleas and fresh peeled shrimp on a jig head will all fool these tasty members of the jack family.
“The long-range weekend forecast is calling for some scattered showers. The tides, coming off the mid-week new moon are very conducive to good trips, however. Expect more than 3 feet of incoming water after the mid-morning lows before it peaks 6 hours later. Two excellent solunar feeding periods will occur, too. The first will be shortly after daylight until the tide bottoms out, followed by a 2-hour window after the tide crests in the afternoon.”
Otto Hough at Myhometownfishing.com (email@example.com) said: “April came in cold, dreary and dank, but don’t tell that to the fish, as I can state emphatically they bit and bit well. Inside and outside the bite has been on for the trout and reds in skinny water, with the gags feeding voraciously in the newly opened State waters of the four county area of the Big Bend. The trout have been absolutely loving the softbaits like the Saltwater Assassin, Z-man and Gulp! glow/chartreuse jerk shads worked just under the surface, as well as slamming the gold Redfins. Also, the silver/black back Redfin has been a hot commodity when the mullet have been hanging around the bars and rocks . Working the softbaits and stickbaits with a sort of “twitch, twitch retrieve slack and repeat” pattern is a most productive technique with these types lures. Plus, down in the water column the MirrOdine XL with a tinge of chartreuse coloration has been garnered a goodly amount of attention from number of fine fish.
“Cooler nighttime air temps have kept both the skinny water and outside shallow water temps in the low 60s overnight, warming slightly towards the mid 60s as the day moves along. All the friskiness and aggression in the pre-new moon bite has been most pronounced during the last couple of hours of the rising tide plus an hour or so into the fall. This three day stretch ahead will likely see a relatively breezy Friday with some wet stuff as another small frontal system pushes across Apalachee Bay, but all-in-all there really ought to be some dang fine fishing and catching happening over the new moon weekend. Just have some rain gear handy Friday as this frontal system isn’t likely to produce lightning, just showers here and there. Still, it’s April so breezes will be a definite part of the equation when chasing ’em as southeast winds are forecasted be in the 10 to 15 knots range for most of the weekend into Monday. Low tides will be happening in the nine o’clock hour this three day stretch, with pretty good amounts of water coming back during the rising tide into the middle of the afternoon.
“Inside, in the skinny waters it will pay dividends to work close to and around submerged oysters, in the creek mouths, and over rocky bottoms found to the east of the Lighthouse, beginning at the Rock Garden all the way to the Econfina River and points beyond. The rocky areas around Grey Mare and east about a half mile or so have been producing good, fat trout. The big gator trout are in a pre-spawn hunger mode, so the bite has been aggressively strong to say the least. These girls are the “catch and release” type as they are all loaded with roe and almost ready to drop. Some really good 19 to 20 inch males are attentive to them and hanging close by to do their own springtime thing. It’s easy to identify those males as they will normally be croaking up a storm while getting unhooked prior to sliding into the livewell. To the west of the Lighthouse, similar dividends are being paid to those anglers working the submerged oyster bars in Dickerson and Oyster bays that are holding mullet. On the flats proper, the grass beds are just beginning to spring back to life. Slowly, baitfish are returning to the flats accompanied by a whole lot of hungry trout in the 15 to 18 inch range, mostly males that aren’t participating in the spawn as of yet.
“Outside, April Fool’s Day saw the opening of gag grouper return to the four county Big Bend waters. The gags haven’t been shy about feeding prior to the new moon. While chasing the shallow water gags in 14 to 18 feet of water this week, I found fish that were really fond of the Rapala Mag14s on just about every rock pile. If any indication of good things to come, most of thirty plus gags we boated Tuesday were just over 23 inches. Not keepers, but future stock. So, with a little more growth these fish will be more than keeper size before the fall gag season returns in September. To say the gags were hungry during the periods of tidal movement would be an understatement. Further outside in 20 to 30 feet of water, anglers dropping baits over live bottom were all rewarded as well with some quality limits of gags. With the water temps over twelve degrees cooler than this time last year when the season opened, more post spawn gags are still hanging around the rock piles while enjoying the cool waters. Once the shallow water temps bust the 70 degree mark the shallow water rock pile gag population will diminish as the fish seek cooler, deeper waters. For now, the gags are here. Slow trolling is my technique of choice. With the fish holding in shallow (14′ – 18′) waters, the Rapala Mag14s pulled long and Mag18s pulled short have been attention grabbers when it comes to the lure passing over a live bottom rock pile. Of note, the pods of baitfish over the rockpiles are beginning to the increase.
“As water temps bust the upper 60s, there will be Spanish mackerel and blues beginning to slash into the pods. And that bonus fish, the cobia, well they will be here soon as the eastward migration is well underway with good reports of some fine catches to the west near Destin. Soon, very soon they will be prowling the waters of Apalachee Bay.
Captain Pat McGriff of One More Cast Guide Service (www.onemorecast.net, firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 584-9145) reported: “Up and down, up and down, so goes the yo-yo, so goes the trout bite. Sunday Billy (Pillow) and I caught a limit of trout in under an hour. Monday my charter struggled against the wind and rain to get 3 keeper trout in the boat. Cold. Cold. Cold.
“Tuesday morning still cold and the water temps had dropped to 63 degrees, down from 73 degrees Sunday afternoon. Yikes! But after 4 + hours we had only two trout and a flounder in the boat. But when the water hit 65 degrees that afternoon (4:00 p.m.) the trout turned on for us all. We brought in 16 trout in under an hour and a half. We caught 12 on plugs and Assassin Sea Shads under a Cajun Thunder, with four on live pinfish under a Back Bay Thunder.”
Chaeli Norwood at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee (352-498-3008) sent photos of huge offshore fish. There were gag grouper, amberjack and red snapper. The red snapper and amberjack had to be released because they were out of season. The gags should be biting well for the next 3 months. Also in the pix mix were redfish, spotted sea trout, and limits of decent sheepshead.
Paul Tyre on Lake Seminole (PaulTyreFishing@yahoo.com (850) 264-7534) said: “The bass fishing on Lake Seminole has been great this week. Even with this past cold front we had some great catches. As we enter into the month of April, the top water action will be outstanding! Lake Seminole is known for exciting topwater action and lures like buzzbaits and frogs should trigger some explosive strikes. The Shellcracker will start bedding this month and they can be found around the numerous sandbars on the lake.”
Captain Cliff âJRâ Mundinger, Jr. of Lake Talquin Trophy Guide Service (email@example.com www.fishtallahassee.com said: “Bass fishing on Lake Jackson has gotten better as waters have warmed. Lots of fry guarding male bass near the shoreline. They’ll hit fast moving topwater baits or floating worms fished slowly where they’re keeping watch on the babies. Still lots of spawning left to be done as cold fronts have slowed that process over the past several weeks. Crowder area of Lake Jackson is a hot spot right now for not just bass fishermen, but also bream and shellcracker chasers too. Lots of bedding bream can be found with the right electronics. Some prefer a cane pole with crickets or wigglers, but to cover more water and chase the real bigguns’ you may want to use a whole nightcrawler hooked through the collar with a #4 hook. Use a split shot about 10 inches above that. Drag through the areas suspected of holding those big yellow belly beauties and get the grease ready!