African pompano are an unusual but welcome visitor to the waters off the end of Frying Pan Shoals at North Carolina’s Cape Fear.
These big jacks are primarily summer visitors, but they are occasionally caught in the spring and fall. A few had been caught in the area before 1996, but there was a surge that July associated with the passing of Hurricane Bertha, and a fishable population has showed up every summer since. The numbers fluctuate, and nothing has matched that first year, but they return each summer to pilfer baits, stretch fishing lines and test fishermen’s mettle.
African pompano, Alectis ciliaris, are large, flat-bodied jacks more common in southern waters that occasionally venture northward in warmer, offshore waters near the Gulf Stream. Like most jacks, they are dogged fighters, but they have the gift of speed for moderately long runs. In addition to being a prized quarry, they also taste great, which further endears them to fishermen.
Bob Black of the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association (www.longbayara.com) said during the first big push of 1996, many African pompano were caught by fishermen slow-trolling live baits for king mackerel, and they still occasionally surprise fishermen targeting kings. Their first run is usually fast like a king, but after that first run, the fight become more like tangling with an amberjack. It’s a pleasant surprise when silver begins to show through the water, alerting anglers that it’s an African pompano and not an amberjack.
They also respond well to jigging vertically through the water column. Jigging allows the use of heavier equipment, but it seems big fish also step up their game to match. Either way, they put up a heck of a fight and are a prized catch.
African pompano are attracted to vertical structure. The first ones off the end of Frying Pan Shoals were caught around the base of Frying Pan Light Tower (33.29.100N/077.35.390W), and they still return there, just not in the numbers of the late 1990s. They also gather on area shipwrecks and artificial reefs. AR 400, the Bob Black Tower reef is the closest high-relief structure to Frying Pan Tower, approximately a quarter-mile to the northeast, featuring a 166-foot former menhaden boat, the Capt. Greg MicKey.
Other wrecks in the area that often hold African pompano are the City of Houston, the 18-Fathom wreck, a wreck south of the Horseshoe southwest of Frying Pan Tower, a wreck Northeast of Frying Pan and the Esso Nashville northeast of the tower. These wrecks are all in approximately 90 to 110 feet of water inshore of the Gulf Stream, but influenced by it.