As I was sitting down and thinking about where to start with writing this piece, I was reminded about how we, as Florida fisherman can sometimes appear to be a bit jaded. Instead of our heads continually exploding at just the sheer amount of world class fishing we have at our fingertips, we sometimes completely ignore or even turn our noses up at some aspects of our sport. For example, I can’t remember the last time I did any jetty fishing or nighttime bridge fishing (which were staples of my youth) and it’s been quite a while since I’ve strictly stalked or waded for fish beyond getting out of the kayak and stretching my legs.
Such is the case with me and surf fishing. I do still love to surf fish, however for me it’s usually a winter pastime, or at least it's during the cooler times of the year when I find myself fishing the local beaches anywhere between St. Augustine - south down along US 1 and onto A1A until about the Canaveral National Seashore.
I'm lucky enough that I can be on or in the water – fishing, within about 15 minutes after leaving the house. What I often overlook however is just how much prime, pristine fishing I drive by in just those 15 minutes as I make my way up A1A to Highbridge Park where I’d normally launch my skiff or drop my kayak in. To get to the park I drive by five miles of (north) Volusia County beaches with light beachgoer traffic, just pull off to the side of the road along A1A in north Volusia or south Flagler counties and there's spectacular fishing access that’s around 20 or 30 yards from your parked vehicle. Honestly these beaches literally scream “fish me!” with their light traffic and gentle slopes and run outs, but on most days anglers are relatively few and far between.
Now, if you’re thinking to yourself…well, I don’t know, 10 or 20 yards might just be too far to drag this surf fishing cart, well you can drive 10 or 15 miles north - just past the Matanzas Bridge and you can drive right onto the beach, back your vehicle up and fish right from your tailgate. Drive 10 miles south into Daytona and you can do the same thing, pretty much all the way down to New Smyrna Beach.
Where I live in northeast (-ish) Florida among the most sought-after catches from the beach is the Pompano. I’m fortunate enough to have this little delicacy flirting in the surf pretty much year round, and although I’m always fishing for them, they are a most worthy adversary and will not always co-operate with our carefully rigged plans. Fortunately, there are several other species that often show up to save the day from the finicky pompano, with whiting and bluefish being common, along with redfish and flounder showing up more and more as you make your way out of Volusia County and continue following the beach up the road, north, into (or onto) Flagler County’s beaches.
As I’ve mentioned we’re lucky to have have pompano pretty much all year around – during the winter if the water temperature really drops off, like into the 50’s, the pompano might drift south for a while, but I’ve caught them regularly throughout the year. I’ve caught them during winter breaks, and I’ve caught them on the hottest of dog days.
The books say the best time to fish for pompano is either in the early morning or late afternoon/evenings and this may also be a plus, since you might have the beach pretty much to yourself except for a few power walkers and perhaps an angler or two further on down the beach. The calmer onshore/offshore breezes during these times along with locating some clear water runouts and troughs will also increase your chances of hooking up with a pompano.
Surf fishing for pompano can be as minimalist or as complex as you would like to make it. A sand spike or two, with surf rods anywhere from 12 to 16 feet, a spinning reel with 10-15 pound test, stout terminal tackle, a nice swivel, or three-way, a couple or three ounces of pyramid or a sputnik lead weight and a dropper rig and you’re all set to kick back and relax while keeping an eye on your rods - either sitting on a cooler, relaxing in a beach chair or chilling from your tailgate, shoot, even if the fish aren't cooperating – look around, where are you? You really can’t complain, can you?
It goes without saying that the bait of choice for pompano rigs is a nice fat sand flea. They can easily be sourced with a sand flea rake, or by turning over the sand by shovel or by hand, try just under the shore breaks and runouts just before the surf line. Reports regarding the efficacy of artificials and soft baits on pompano have been a mixed bag. As with many aspects of angling there are the hard-core supporters that claim the big artificials are the reason for their consistently bigger catches (which they back up with plenty of photographic evidence) and there are those anglers who wouldn’t touch an artificial until every strip of squid and finger mullet is completely unrecognizable. Here's my observation - I have fished a dropper rig with a live sand flea on one hook and a shrimp or mullet tipped artificial on the other for over 20 years. I haven’t noticed one out fishing the other by any great margin, and occasionally there are doubles, usually with the whiting or blues, so that tells me that the soft baits do work somewhat consistently.
There are those anglers that specialize in the larger, more migratory pompano, these folks network amongst themselves through either social media sites or simply through good ‘ol word of mouth, they are willing to travel north or south to wherever the hot action is, and there are enough of them that once it is evident that there’s a good pompano bite going on the beaches might get a little crowded in certain spots for a couple of hours!
If you need to have as much intel as possible before you head out, I've listed some of the most active web pages and social media sites (below) that report on the central/northeast surf fishing activity with a focus on the current pompano action. If your like me, surf fishing is more of a break from the usual fishing routine and occasionally I need an excuse, or at least a reminder that there is a lot of different kinds of fish and fishing to be enjoyed within minutes of the house and I need to take advantage of that.
Min size – 11” fork length
Season – year round
Limit – 6 per harvester
Jacksonville Fishing Report
The East Coast Pompano Report
Florida Pier n Surf Fishing
Florida Surf Fishing
Florida Surf Anglers
Surf Fishing web pages & fishing reports
The Spacefish Report - https://spacefishreport.com/
St. Augustine Fishing Report - http://inshoreadventures.blogspot.com/
Sebastian Inlet District Fishing Report - https://www.sitd.us/the-fishing-report
Coastal Angler Magazine Fishing Report - https://coastalanglermag.com/brevard/fishing-reports/