Use lighter tackle if you’re looking to catch whiting.
The recent rain may have made it a little difficult to lounge about on the beach, but it was a blessing in disguise for those who love to fish in the surf.
The rain has subdued the increasing water temperature, which means the surf fish, like pompano, whiting and flounder, are still hanging around in the usual spots in front of the first sand bar.
Sand fleas, ghost shrimp and pompano jigs are going to be your best bets in terms of bait for pompano. You can head to the local tackle stores and find tools to both scoop up sand fleas (mole crabs) and ghost shrimp. The ghost shrimp extruders are devices made out of PVC pipes that suction the crustaceans out of the sand at the surf line. If you’re lucky, about 30 minutes of extruding will yield enough bait for the day’s fishing.
A double-hook rig with the lightest pyramid weight the surf will allow, preferably no more than one ounce, is what works best. The pyramid sinker keeps the bait from being rolled around in the surf. A 1/0 hook size is usually the preferred size for pompano. Go a little lighter on the tackle if you’re after whiting, which rarely exceed two pounds.
Look for spots with the clearest water, where the fish can sometimes be spotted in schools of three to six fish.
However, now that it’s tourist season, the beach can get crowded, especially in the middle of the day. As a common courtesy, avoid areas with high concentrations of swimmers for obvious reasons. Look for low-traffic areas with clear water and low-to-moderate wave action.
Most surf fishermen this time of year will be gone by 10 a.m., about the time the crowd arrives. Then you can slip back out late in the afternoon to take advantage of the smaller crowds when people have gotten enough sun and are getting ready to dine out in one of the many fine restaurants in the area.
If the beach is not crowded and you want to lay back and enjoy the soothing wave action, set out a couple of rods and just sit back in your easy chair until you see your rod tip start to twitch and then bend over.
If you’re one of those people who can’t sit still, grab a bucktail jig made especially for pompano with a heavy lead head from ½-ounce to ¾-ounce and a short skirt in vibrant colors. Make short hops during the retrieve. Forget about using the fish imitation lures that work on trout and redfish. Pompano and whiting are crustacean eaters.
Of course, the surf along the sugar sand beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast has another species to offer. Stick with jigs during the low-light conditions of early morning and dusk to have the best luck on flounder.
Alabama’s length limit on flounder is 12 inches with a daily bag limit of 10 fish per person. The pompano length limit is also 12 inches, but the daily bag limit is three fish per person. There is no limit on whiting.
When the weather gets hot, and the water temperatures start to move up, the pompano will back away from that extremely shallow water in the surf where they spent most of the spring and early summer. Then you’ll have to walk the beach and look for the deeper holes to find the pompano.
Pompano is a mild-flavored fish but it’s best to eat the fish as soon as possible. Bob Shipp, a pompano aficionado, has a favorite recipe that includes mustard and onions. He dredges the filets in flour and sautés in butter until barely brown. Set the filets aside. In the butter mixture, add chopped sweet onions and three to four tablespoons of mustard. When the onions get soft, put the filets back in skillet and smother in the onions and mustard. Enjoy!