Hey Bubba, this pompano rig ain’t just for pompano

Do you really think Mr. Flounder would sniff the sandy bottom of the river, find a tasty snack, then drop it because it’s attached to a pompano platform?

Nope. Just like duct tape isn’t just for conduit, pompano rigs aren’t just for pompano (although, I have to say, you can’t fix your leaky water pipe or tent with a pump platform!).

“When fishing around the rocks on the northern beaches of Flagler County, some of my clients use their pompano rigs to target reds and drums, usually baited with mullet,” says Capt. Mike Vickers (Hammock Bait & Tackle).

Why talk about it? Because you may have had your ears glued to the ground and started hearing about snowbird pompanos heading north to return to their spring and summer waters. Therefore, sensing the opportunity ahead, you might be tempted to buy a few pompano rigs from the bait shop or, Mr. Handyman, make your own.

FISH:The idea for Fishbites started with young Billy Carr in New Smyrna Beach

ACCOMPANIMENT POMPANO:Nobody calls it whiting season, but maybe they should.

Modifications are available, but generally speaking there are two types of pompano rigs around these parts. Most common: two hooks (hell, maybe even three) several inches apart, on top of a sinker, with little colored floats above each hook to hold it above the bottom and dance a little in the flow.

The other: Some call it the goofy jig, some call it the banana jig, and some call it the banana jig. Basics covered! A banana-shaped jig attached at the hip to a smaller bucktail “teaser” jig.

Captain Billy Pettigrew, local rockfish catcher, occasionally takes the goofy route.

“I do best with them in the river right next to the channel swings near the hard bottom,” he says. “Chartreuse, pink and white are the main colors I like to use. I know people who use them on the beach, but I’ve never done any good with them there.

The banana jig, also known as the goofy jig.

The beauty of a traditional pompano rig is the ability to use different types of bait on each hook. And remember the part about attaching the hooks several inches apart? Never underestimate experimenting with different depths.

“Being a two-drop, you fish in different water depths,” says Vickers. “I like to bait a crab on the bottom hook and a baitfish on the top. These are also effective along bridges, seawalls and docks when targeting sheepshead and black drum.

Gene Lytwyn, owner-operator of The Fishin’ Hole in downtown Daytona Beach, calls the pompano rig “a very universal surf rig,” but tones our fire with some negativity for its coastal use.

“The multiple hooks and multiple ends of a pompano rig tend to tangle on anything on the bottom, like rocks, oysters, sticks, etc.,” he says.

Again, we’ve all done this with a single hook under a split shot.

Bottom line: Admit it, you catch surf fishing fever every spring and fall when the pompanos come or go. They are delicious, after all. But maybe the fever drops, you stick to your river and creek routine, and after the race you end up with those pompano rigs you bought or tied yourself.

Do not throw them in the bottom of the drawer. Try them on land. If Mr. Flounder turns up his nose, he probably didn’t deserve to be on your plate anyway.

Indian River/Halifax

One day, Lytwyn transmits chatter about a large black drum school “hanging out” just outside Ponce Inlet. The next day, Captain Jeff Patterson confirms it.

“I was lucky enough to find a school of several hundred black drummers off the beach a few days ago before the wind started blowing,” says Patterson (Charter Pole Dancer). “They were between 15 and 50 pounds, and I was able to find them a few days in a row, actually.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. They’ve come to the surface multiple times and you’re launching and hooking up in seconds.”

Captain Jeff Patterson put this lucky customer on a 35-pound black drum last week.

Inside the entrance and in the channel and coves, Patterson still sees far too many sandbar sharks, while the red and trout bites are “pretty good”.

“Lots of ladybugs and bluefish around the main channel oyster bars,” he adds.

And that’s not all.

“The snappers are starting to move through the river, mingling with the sheep,” says Pettigrew (Charter Come’n’Getit). “Fish around the piers or on some of the deepest oyster bars in the river and creeks. Use live or fresh dead shrimp or fiddler crabs on a one-quarter to three-quarters ounce egg weight, depending on current, and about 12 to 18 inches of fluorocarbon leader.

For residents, the flounder seems to be accelerating.

“Plaice are caught in large numbers on the underside east of the Dunlawton Bridge and Relief Bridge,” says Craig Patterson, whose Donald’s Bait & Tackle is conveniently located nearby. “Mud minnows, live shrimp, and jigs work.”

Brayden Kindt with a couple of flounders he caught with live shrimp.

Sheepshead still plays well, Patterson says, as does some over-slot snook, especially at Spruce Creek. Live shrimp remain the default lure for snook.

Lytwyn may be high up on the west side of the Main Street Bridge, but he’s heard other encouraging reports from Ponce Inlet.

“A few manta rays have started migrating north through our area,” he says.

And you know what appreciates the shadow of a stingray swimming overhead: “A pair of cobia have been found,” Gene says.

Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington sent this photo of a trout he caught last weekend from a dock along the Tomoka River.  He was using a paddle tail lure and caught it on the last cast early in the evening. "Great way to start spring," he said.

More of the same on the north side of the Halifax, where Ike Leary’s bait shop at Grenada Pier feeds sheep, flounder (“the good guys,” he says), black drum and snapper of mangrove on the boards.

Flagler County

Brutal Jacks are starting to flex their jaws, says Vickers. Good size too.

“Like hanging on to a turbocharged hubcap,” he says.

If only they were as good as they look and fight.

If you’re looking for a quality menu item, Vickers suggests flounder and sheepshead hang out, with reds, black drums, mangroves, ladybugs, blues and trout filling out the available list. With warming waters, he is preparing for tarpon, snook and Spanish mackerel to start tightening the lines.

Whiting still dominates Flagler’s surf, with Flagler Pier pointing out the usual suspects, including a few small pompanos.

Surf

Craig Patterson also hears about pompanos, but especially about whiting and those relentless sharks.

Dustin Smith (NSB Shark Hunters) took a break from his routine for a day and it looks like he shouldn’t have cared.

“We only caught catfish,” he says. “One of the other residents of Bethune Beach only caught catfish and whiting, and a few pompanos started coming in.”

Offshore

The Sea Spirit went out last Saturday and brought in a wide variety of fish. A photo from their photo album suggests that the sharks continue to threaten anything coiled up on the boat.

Sharks have to eat too, unfortunately for this Sea Spirit fisherman.  Fighting a fish is only half the battle these days, as predators abound down below.

“The shark problem has been horrendous lately, to say the least,” says captain Michael Mulholland.

St. John’s

With big bass still roaming the central St. Johns area, it was a perfect week for Highland Park Fish Camp to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

It has been operated by the Rawlins family for 60 years and shows no signs of slowing down as it enters its seventh decade.

Happy 60th birthday to Highland Park Fish Camp.

this and that

• A few weeks late, but The Fishin’ Shack has closed. The long-running (really long, actually) game at Daytona Beach Shores closed earlier this month. This saddened many local anglers who went there for lots of great bait, tackle and information.

• We are less than a month away from the annual Lipton Cup regatta, organized by the Smyrna Yacht Club. The two-day event runs from April 23-24, with a launch party on April 22 and early bird registration until April 20.

Competitive racing classes include performance and cruising boats with or without spinnakers.

More information: SmyrnaYachtClub.com.

Hook, line and clicker

We want to see your most recent take. Email your fish photos to ken.willis@news-jrnl.com.

Please include the first and last name of the angler(s), as well as the type of fish (sometimes we are confused). All are included in our online fishing report, and some occasionally make the print edition.


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