Fishing for African Pompano in Key West
The dramatic-looking African Pompano is a hard-fighting fish and is considered to be one of the strongest of the Jack family.
African Pompano (Alectis ciliaris) Introduction
(Florida Record 50lbs. 8oz.) The African Pompano is not a true member of the Pompano family (genus Trachinotus), the most famous of which is the Permit prized by Key West Flats fishermen. Although both fish are in the Jack and Horse Mackerel family Carangidae, the African Pompano is considered to be one of the three members of the Diamond Trevally genus. The African Pompano is a dramatic-looking fish with a deep and horizontally flattened body that is widest between the dorsal and anal fins and sloping to the head and tail. The head is curved and angular, and together with the smooth, silvery skin and jutting lower jaw, it gives the fish a bulldog tough appearance. African pompanos are silvery-metallic blue to blue-green above, darker on the head and upper shoulders and more silvery on the underside. The skin appears scaleless but is covered with minute, embedded scales. Juvenile fish have 5 dark chevron-shaped bars on their body and a black blotch at the base of the third to sixth soft dorsal fin rays. Juvenile fish are also distinguished by thread-like filamentous anal and dorsal fin rays that disappear as the fish matures.
African Pompano Habitat and Behavior
The African Pompano ranges in tropical to temperate oceans worldwide, seeking out water temperatures from 65° to 80°F. The species has been documented on both coasts of the USA and, in the Western Atlantic, they may be found as far north as Cape Cod, but are more common from the Carolinas south. Juveniles appear to be pelagic and reliant on ocean currents, which may account for the fact that African Pompano can suddenly be abundant in an area after being absent for a long period of time. Adults tend to inhabit coastal waters, preferring wrecks and reefs throughout the water column to depths of about 350 feet. Young fish prefer shallow reefs, and adults may be found over shallow reefs as well, but generally move into deeper water as they grow. Around the Keys, deep wrecks will often hold big African Pompano.
African Pompano are schooling predators that hunt a variety of crustaceans including zooplankton like sand fleas and shrimps, along with squid, octopi, and small fish. They are also known to eat Moray Eels, and these are a traditional bait used for Trevally species in Hawaii and other Pacific island waters.
The reproductive habits and maturation processes of the African Pompano are largely unknown. Research carried out in Indian waters revealed that the abundance of African Pompano larvae peaked in April, and the eggs were found to be spherical and pelagic, with a yolk and globule of oil present. It is thought that African Pompano populations off of Mexico spawn in spring over sandy bottoms. Juvenile fish will often be found in estuarine waters, perhaps carried there by ocean currents.
Fishing for African Pompano
Large African Pompano are highly rated as game fish, swift and powerful on the strike and very tough in the fight. The angler will be challenged to keep the fish from heading immediately to the bottom or into a structure and breaking off the line on the first run. To handle big African Pompano tackle must be in the 50 lb. range, with a heavy rod and large reel needed to keep the fish out of its shelter, particularly when fishing a wreck or reef. Smaller fish can be taken on light tackle, but skill will be required to land the fish.
The African Pompano can be found almost anywhere, from rocky outcrops to open flats and estuary waters. Around Key West, they are most often caught on the deep wrecks to the south of the island. African Pompano are fished with techniques similar to those used on other Jacks. They have very good eyesight, making the choice of leader and bait presentation critical. A favorite bait for small African Pompano is 2 or 3 fresh shrimp rigged on light tackle – a size 4/0 hook on a 30lb. leader attached to 15lb. monofilament. Larger fish respond well to live bait like shad or herring hooked just in front of the eye socket. Drop the bait to the depth at which the fish appear on the fish finder. African Pompano are also occasionally taken on small trolled lures, poppers, jigs, and even wet flies. Besides being hard fighters, African Pompano are prized around the world as good table fish.