Some say if a jack crevalle is properly cooked it is rather tasty. I don't buy it, but there is one member of the jack family that appears in our waters this time of year that is superb - the pompano.
These hard-fighting fish are caught on the flats, in rivers, in the surf along the beaches as well as in deep channels. They don't get as big as their tough cousin, the permit, and they are sure hard to tell apart when they are small. For their size they fight just as hard.
I first caught them in the surf up north on Cocoa Beach. There they fish with surf rods when fish are off the beaches using typical small spinning tackle when they frequent the surf zone. The drill was to dig a cupful of sand fleas and cast them out on a small hook. Pompano also love shrimp, and when casting small jigs for them I always tip it with a small morsel.
Capt, George Tunison
I like to target them on the flats where they can be caught on jigs and fly rods. Others bottom fish them in the passes and under bridges. On the flats I typically fish a short-haired jig, usually made of rather stiff nylon.
Pompano are short biters, so a jig that has the hair trimmed so it's not past the hook bend is your best bet. The famous jig "the Nylure" is a classic pompano jig. Pompano experts in our area, such as Capt. Rob Moody, will tell you to use any color jig, as long as it's yellow, and I agree. White, pink, and chartreuse also are good backup colors, but start with yellow.
Look for shell and grass flat bottoms and cast out your jig and retrieve in an erratic, fairly rapid manner back to you, always maintaining bottom contact. In deeper areas anchor and fish bottom rigs, such as a typical fish finder rig with shrimp or sand fleas for bait. Pompano are hard fighting and some say the most delicious table fare in Florida.
Bait stealer tactics
Another wintertime visitor is the "jailbird," or sheepshead. Another rather tough, delicious fish that is generally taken in these parts around docks, bridges, and other such structure. They also are caught on hard bottom flats areas, such as oyster bars. Every year really big sheepies are caught just inside the passes in Boca Grand, Redfish Pass and Captiva Pass. I have also caught some great specimens at the Matlacha Bridge.
The time honored bait for these bait stealers are barnacles scraped from bridge pilings as well as shrimp and fiddler crabs. I like to use a small #1 or #2 hook for these guys on a fluorocarbon leader. A typical setup would be a fish finder rig with a sliding egg sinker or a dropper loop rig with the sinker on the bottom. These fish will humble many experienced Yankee fishermen with their uncanny ability to steal the bait before you can set the hook.
Usually, you will have lost your bait before you feel the bite. It can take several reloads of bait, and angler head shakes, before you get the knack of hooking this bait stealer. My advice to bewildered clients is: when you feel him breathing on it, set the hook!
After they hook their first couple of fish, they understand.
In my opinion, braided line is a huge plus in sheepshead fishing. Power-Pro and the many other braided lines are super sensitive and allow you to feel the jailbird "breathing" on your offering.
Sheepies are hard to clean. An electric fillet knife is my favorite cleaning tool. I always wear gloves when cleaning this fish. The meat is delicious and worth the cleaning effort.
Please drive and boat safely during this wonderful holiday season!
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.