Jigging Tampa Bay for Pompano


By CapMel.com Forum Member “AQUAHOLIK”
 

I’ve been meaning to gather my thoughts and experience and put it on paper and share it with everyone. First of all, I am no expert; I just spend a fair amount of time chasing them. I think most of you have read about catching them with fiddler crabs around the bridges or using sand fleas in the surf, but ever since the first day that the species got me hooked, I was and will always jig for them. It’s not that I am an elitist and think that fooling them with artificial lures is the only way to go; it is because I’m too lazy to gather crabs and my fishing time is limited. It is a rare day that I spend more than 4-5 hours on the water due to family and work commitment. 

I do believe that fooling them with artificial lure will make you a better fisherman overall. The constant casting, jigging, in varying wind and currents whether you are drifting, anchoring or with the trolling motor on, will fine tune your feel for the bottom, where the species feed(most of the time). 

I will be discussing the when, where and how to jigging the Tampa Bay area for those tasty fish, I wish it breaks down as easily as 30% when, 30% where, and 40% how, but you really need 100% when, 100% where, and 100% how to, to constantly succeed at catching them. You can have the best technique and be in the right place and not catch them, IF they are not around AT THAT TIME. 

The two variables you can’t control are the when and where. The Pompano will be somewhere, feeding at any given time. The one thing you can control is the how. 

HOW:

Since we will be jigging for them and they feed mainly on the bottom, you must learn how to keep your jig in the strike zone, often in fast moving current. Yes you can catch them with mono, but it is a whole lot easier with the added sensitivity of braid. 

You don’t need to break the bank either, a $70 Daiwa Exceler with a 7ft medium action Red Bone will catch just as many fish as a Daiwa Certate on Loomis GLX. You can use an ugly stick, and I know a guy that use them very successfully too, but I recommend a fast action graphite stick for the best sensitivity. 

I recommend 10lb braid, unless you constantly run into 15-16 inch fish that loves to hug the pilings. It has been my experience that Pompano bigger than 4 lbs, like their bigger brother the Permit, prefer crabs when they get that big. So since your fish will be the 1-3lbs variety, 10lb braid and 20lb mono leader is all you really need, even around bridges. 10lb braid will also cut through fast running current better than 20lb braid, allowing you to use the lightest jig possible. 

You can find countless discussions on braids and braid to mono knots, use the one that gives you the most confidence. Most 10lbs braids break at least 10lbs with the right combination of knots. 

The jigs that work for me are 3/8 to ½ oz Doc’s jig with teaser, Nylure Chrome head jig, and the new swivel jig which is really a modified buck tail jig with the hook attached to the main lead head by way of a swivel to increase the action. They are pictured below. If you are in a pinch, any yellow buck tail jig will work just fine. Tie them using your favorite loop knot.

You look at the above picture and you wonder why they catch Pompano. I caught 100’s of Pompano in the first couple months that I started jigging for them with Doc’s jig and teaser but I wasn’t able to figure out why they are attracted to a banana shape jig. It certainly doesn’t look like any of the mussels that are attached to the pilings around the Gandy catwalk. It doesn’t look like sand flea or fiddler crab, except for maybe the nylure jig head. I can see how they mistake the chrome head for a sand flea. The only thing that resembles a small shrimp is the teaser flies, AND that is what they hit 80% of the time. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are a curious fish and they come in for a close look when they see a brightly lit jig bounce up and down the bottom, They take a close look and nab the teaser. If the Doc’s jig and teaser work, there is no reason why the swivel jig will not work. It’s the same concept, a brightly lit lead head to get the teaser or flies down into the strike zone.

 It is not so much your choice of jigs but rather your level of confidence in the jigs you choose. It makes a BIG difference since you are either going to jig sloppily or you are going to jig like you think the fish are looking at it. The nylure is popular everywhere except for the Tampa Bay area. Doc’s jig seems to be the most popular choice of jig here because they sink fast around bridges with fast moving water. Personally, when the current slows down, I either drop down to smaller Doc’s jig or my new favorite, a 3/8 oz swivel jig.

The best colors for me are any combination of yellow, white, pink, and chartreuse. You want your jig to be flashy to lure them in and you want your presentation to be right for them to commit. Believe me, they come in for a good look before they commit. I see that all the time observing Pompano fishermen on the bridge and catwalk. Some will catch them while others won’t, and they are standing 3 feet apart. 

Since you will be constantly casting and jigging, buy the best you can afford that will give you the best combination of lightness and sensitivity since you don’t want to wear yourself out. Step up to medium action rod if you are jigging from the bridge and leave the medium light action for the boat. 7ft rod is just perfect for most situations. 

The technique is simple, pick the lightest jig possible for a given situation and throw it up tide and let it sink to the bottom. Now pick up slack and slowly hop it 6-9 inches of the bottom and let it sink back down AND TOUCH the bottom with each hop as you pick up slack as the jig is coming back toward you. Braid makes that job a lot easier. Every time you hop it, you want the jig to FREE FALL toward the bottom. So you will have some slack in the line and often you won’t feel the jig hit the bottom. But you will “SEE” it if you learn to watch your line. It will sink fast and come to a stop before the current starts to sweep and put a bow in your line. Some time you will feel a mosquito tick as your lure free falls toward the bottom, that’s the Pompano on the other end. Hop it again and the hook is set. 

I can not overstress the importance of maintaining contact with the bottom with each hop. I can count in 2 hands the numbers of Pompano that actually chase my jig AND commit as I reel the jig back in to make another cast. 

The other technique popularized by local bridge fishermen is to fish down tide and let the current sweep the jig away from you. This is done by dropping the jig straight down, vertically jigging, while letting line out every now and then to maintain contact with the bottom as the current takes the jig farther and farther out. This is not an easy way to fish and you will need lots of practice before you get good at it. Most people drop the jig down, let it sink toward the bottom, and constantly whip the rod up and down, unaware that the current has swept the line and therefore the jig, off the bottom. Unfortunately when you are shore bound, this is the only productive way to fish since the current can be so fast that casting up current is futile since the jig will be right back at your feet after 3 or 4 short hops. 

WHEN: 

This part is simple. As a general rule, morning is always good, regardless of the tide. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending how you look at it, Pompano rarely follow any general rule for long. You can kill them one morning and it will be absolutely nothing the next morning. They will hit mid morning, mid afternoon, and evening just as well. The one thing you can be sure is that they will be somewhere feeding at any given time. Except for nighttime, I have caught very few except for those rare days that they feed well after the sun set or before the sun rise. 

So get out when you can. 

What about the tide? 

Ingoing or outgoing tide doesn’t really matter, the strength of the associated current does. However, this factor is location dependent. Some place the bite is better on a strong tide, and some place the start or end of an incoming or outgoing tide is better. Start and maintain a log noting time, current and location when you catch them. The time of the year does come in to play too. The pattern you found may work in the Fall and not in the Spring for that particular location. 

Basically, there is no substitute for time on the water, just like any type of fishing. 

Also note that the tide and the size of the bridges that you are fishing matters. Slow tide at a long bridge like the Howard Frankland  equals slower current while the current at narrow bridge like Courtney Campbell Causeway will be just right. The same goes for strong tide. It maybe unfishable at Courtney Campbell Causeway  but ideal at Howard Frankland or Gandy. Again, get out there and fish, it is the only way to really know what I’m talking about. Also note that even on a quarter moon tide, the tide will be moving optimally some where. If you expand your horizon and have different places to fish for them, you can fish for them at almost any tide.

WHERE:

One thing I’ve learn hanging around the various fishing forums is that giving away secret spots will anger some fishermen. Frank Sargeant is still alive not because he gave away a couple of secret spots but because he gave out hundreds of them ;). You give one spot away and the next morning, everyone and their mother show up. You give a hundred spot away and all of them remain untouched. I never see anyone fishing the spots in Frank’s Sargeant's book ;). 

So for the Tampa Bay area, I will start at the northern most barrier islands, mainly Anclote, Three Rooker, Honeymoon Island, and Caladesi Island. Barrier islands and passes are ideal feeding spots for Pompano. You get lots of current movement flushing out tasty debris that Pompano loves. It may be small clam, it may be sand fleas, or it may be small shrimp.

The north and south part of any barrier island is where you want to fish. Current will sweep around the edges and the Pompano will be there waiting for food. The mouth of the pass is not only good for incoming tide. During the outgoing tide, the current will slow down as it opens up into the gulf. The current break is where you definitely want to try. Having said that, some days they are smack dab in the middle of the channel. 

 You can stand on the beach and make long cast, or you can drift thru with your boat. Anchoring is generally a bad idea on a busy weekend, Lower your trolling motor and slow down your drift and use it to get out of the way when other boats travel thru the pass. The only way to learn the nuances of a pass is to fish it. The good thing is that once you learn it, you can apply what you learn thru out the various barrier islands and passes up and down the west  and east coast. My brother took what he learned up here and fished the passes down in the Boca Grande area and was just as successful.  

Next, we’ll move south toward Fort Desoto and Skyway. Along the way there are Clearwater Pass, John’s Pass, Blinds Pass, Pass-a-grill, and Bunces Pass. If there is a bridge near any pass, try that too. Some pass, the fish only flow thru there. Their feeding station might be the nearest bridge or a spoil island with deep nice cut. The only way to know is to put in your time. 

As we move around the southern tip of Pinellas county, we have the Gulf Pier and the Bay Pier at Fort Desoto. These are actually great spring and late fall spot. The fish tend to run big during the fall and they are either 10 inches or 13-15 inches in the spring.  

We move inside the bay and the first stop is the Skyway Piers. It doesn’t matter if you are fishing the North or South Pier. The best spot are no more than 100 yards from where you pay toll. Except for the North Pier, some time they like that area behind the bait shop. 

As we move inside the bay, the first big bridge is the Gandy Bridge. Good old Gandy Bridge is my personal seafood aquarium. Not only does the Pompano moves thru there, the Mangrove Snappers are getting thicker and thicker every year. It is one of the best land based spot. It is free and open 24 hours and the catwalk part of the bridge on both side are actually the deepest part of the bridge aside from the main channel. Some year, it is the only spot you need to visit, other time, it’s hit or miss. 

As we move up further inside the bay, we come up to the longest span, the Howard Franklin. It’s the I 275 span that connects St Petersburg and Tampa. This is the ideal full moon and new moon bridge. Because of the length, it reduces the strong current flow when compared to CCC and Gandy. Normally it’s catfish central but it’s been known to give up Pompano every now and then. 

The last bridge in Upper Tampa Bay is the Courtney Campbell Causeway, or the part of highway 60 that crosses over the bay. Like the Gandy Bridge, there is a nearby ramp so your gas bill is minimal. This bridge is probably almost 20 miles inside Tampa Bay but it stills hold fish every year. I generally avoid this bridge during the full and new moon. The current is just too strong. But it is the best of the three bridges on those slow tide/current day. 

Every bridge is so long, where do I start? I wish I could narrow it down for you but honestly, I’ve caught them thru out the length of the bridge. 

Get out there and fish the area that is most convenient to you is the best advice I can give. There is absolutely no substitute for time on the water. For those of you that lives in this wonderful area, I’ve given you plenty of spots to try. The bay bridges alone will take you several years of casual outing to learn. For those of you that live outside the area, head for the nearest pass and bridges that span those pass. And shoot me an email, I would love to hear your success stories. 

There you have it ladies and gentlemen, 7years x 70 trips/year x 3 hours/trip = 1470 hrs of  jigging and 1000’s of Pompano later, those pea brain size Jacks still have me wondering where they are sometimes.

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