Wading Jupiter Inlet, Florida
On The Fly Saltwater
Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs
The coming of fall, with its promise of winter to follow, begins a couple of migrations along the Florida Atlantic Coast. The snowbirds begin to head south from Canada to escape the Great White North.in the southern portion of the Sunshine State is one. The other is the movement of schools of pompano along the beaches.
Pompano start their migration south when water temperatures dip to around 62 degrees. Their preferred range is from 65 to 85 degrees, with 68 being ideal. You can track their movement from the Georgia border down to the Miami area based on the cooler water encroaching farther south.
Capt. Holliday with On The Fly South Associate Editor Polly Dean. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
It was the promise of this latter migration that found the On The Fly South crew climbing out of Capt. Mike Holliday’s skiff onto a sandbar in Jupiter Inlet. Most anglers target pompano from the beaches, using surf-fishing gear and live or dead bait. On the other hand, we were about to embark on the captain’s favorite way to target these fish – wading and casting flies on the flooded bars in the mouth of the St. Lucie River.
Pompano are highly sought because they are prolific and make excellent table fare. These fish have firm flesh that offers a light, deliciously sweet flavor. With an average life span of four years, most top out at about 4 pounds and 25 inches in length. Larger pompano do show up, with the Florida state record standing at 8 pounds, 4 ounces.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
This early fall day was turning off quite mild, making the wading conditions pleasant. The mid-60-degree water was not too cold, especially since we were only calf deep in the it. Plus, we had the morning sun warming our backs. As the day worn on, the clear weather did add a lot of boat traffic and wave action from the nearby channel.
The prime time for this fishing is from November into April, with some fish of up to 6 pounds appearing. Though schools of smaller fish make their way north into the Indian River Lagoon, the bigger ones rarely stray more than a mile inside the inlet. A tactic for targeting those schooled fish, is called “skipping” them. If a running boat comes near the school, you can see the fish skipping away on the surface. Having located their general location, it is time to cut the motor and fan cast to try to pin point the pompano. But, to the captain’s way of thinking, that is a tactic for when you can’t find them in the inlet.
The harmful effects of run off from the Lake Okeechobee area has eliminated seagrass in Jupiter Inlet, which has basically killed the seatrout fishing there. That has left barren sand flats long the boat channels, where cruising pompano can be sight-cast. In fact, in warmer months, even bonefish are showing up in these shallow waters.
The incoming tide is the best for targeting pompano in the inlet. We started our search walking up on the dry top of the exposed bars. When the tide rises, the pompano come with it, as they search the shallows for crustaceans. One of their favorite forms of forage is mole crabs, commonly known as sand fleas. Those critters ,often have a patch of orange eggs on their underside. For that reason, Capt. Holliday is a fan of tying in a bit of orange on any fly he uses for pompano.
Small Clouser Minnow also can turn the trick on pompano. Ties featuring yellow or chartreuse hues are good choices.
Once out of the boat, the technique is to walk (or wade once the tide gets higher) with the sun at your back, scanning the shallows ahead of you. It is virtually identical to looking for bonefish in the Tropics. Expect to see mullet, catfish and other species moving around: the trick is to pick out the pompano. Once you get accustomed to spotting the fish, the whole process becomes easier. Next drop your fly in the path the fish is traveling. As the pompano approaches make your offering look like a fleeing prey species.
Placing the fly in the path of the moving pompano. Photo by Polly Dean.
Although the flats at Jupiter Inlet are spacious, they do require the use of a boat to reach them. But, timing your trip to begin a bit before low tide and extended through the first half of the rise can provide a half-day or more of fishing.
ABOUT THE CAPTAIN
Capt. Mike Holliday. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Capt. Mike Holliday is a veteran of chasing pompano and other game species in southeast Florida. After guiding in the Stuart area for many years, he now has cut back to only about 60 days annually. That’s because he also is the Outreach & Engagement Manager for the Captains for Clean Water program. It is a grass-roots, non-profit group working to protect and restore Florida’s water resources.