Species spotlight – African pompano

African pompano
CT Babcock caught this 44-pound, 3-ounce African pompano out of Hilton Head Island in 2011.

Fish is actually a part of the jack family

African pompano (alectis ciliaris) are saltwater fish that typically live in deep, offshore water around wrecks and artificial reefs. Anglers catch them in warmer oceans throughout the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific Ocean.

The name of this species is deceiving. Though the fish bears a slight resemblance to Florida pompano, the African pompano is actually a member of the jack family, along with jack crevalle and amberjacks.

These fish have flattened bodies similar to those of mahi mahi. They are silvery in color with shimmering sides and a pattern of chevrons that range from very faint to quite dark. These fish have very blunt, steeply-sloped heads. They appear to have smooth skin with no scales. However, they actually have many tiny, tightly-packed scales.

African pompano change fairly drastically as they age. When young, these fish have very long, thin, hair-like filaments growing from their dorsal and anal fins. These filaments are often longer than the fish itself, and when flared, they give off an appearance similar to a jellyfish. Fisheries biologists believe this is to ward off predators until the fish is large enough to survive on its own. As the fish grows older, those filaments disappear completely.

Juvenile African pompano sometimes live in estuaries along the coast. They usually leave these areas at a fairly young age and move into deeper water offshore.

Anglers rarely target these fish, but enjoy them as a by-catch

These fish seem heavily influenced by adverse weather conditions. An example is when a major hurricane built off the coast of North Carolina in the mid 1990s. Before that storm, African pompano where considered a rare catch off the North Carolina coast. But a huge influx of the species was observed directly after that storm. And ever since then, these fish continue to show up in much bigger numbers than they ever did prior to the hurricane.

Anglers very rarely target African pompano specifically. However, they are welcomed by-catches of fishermen seeking snapper and grouper. And for anglers targeting those bottom species, African pompano are not a huge surprise, though anglers are usually happy to catch them.

Their diets mostly consist of crab, shrimp, and smaller fish species. They are known to turn away food that is dead, seeming to prefer live food more strongly than most other fish species.

Other names for this fish include threadfin trevally, pennant-fish and Cuban jack.

The fish are known as great table fare, and they are hard fighters when hooked on rod and reel. The average size of these fish is 10 to 30 pounds, and they grow up to 50 pounds.

South Carolina’s state record African pompano weighed 44 pounds, 3 ounces and was caught by CT Babcock III out of Hilton Head in 2011.

Toby Grantham caught North Carolina’s state record for the species off Atlantic Beach in 2014. The fish weighed 46 pounds. Click here for a video of the mounted fish.

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Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1402 Articles
Brian Cope of Edisto Island, S.C., is a retired Air Force combat communications technician. He has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina and has been writing about the outdoors since 2006. He’s spent half his life hunting and fishing. The rest, he said, has been wasted.