I’m standing waist-deep in the surf, on the edge of a sandbar on the west side of Cape San Blas, Florida, fly fishing with my brother on family vacation. I really don’t have the right gear, but I like the challenge. I have a 5-weight trout rod with floating line. I’m using a size 10 Clouser minnow that I tied with hair from a deer I had bow hunted in the Lake Michigan watershed.
We have caught several ladyfish with quick retrieves, a smaller relative of tarpon that aren’t good to eat, but are fun to catch. Honestly I feel bad wasting their energy, so I change up my rhythm. After a medium distance cast, I wait for about 30 seconds to let the fly settle close to the bottom. In response to a few sluggish twitches, I feel a fish take, and I strike.
Suddenly, the fish is taking line off the spool, and fast.
Zzzzzzzzz. I’m giggling like a little kid, enjoying at the surge of wild energy. There’s a sizable flash in the water that is shaped like a dinner plate.
“I think it’s a pompano!” I yell to my brother as if he’s 100 feet from me (he’s 4 feet away). The fish takes multiple strong runs before I am able to land it. There aren’t many pompano here this time of year, so what a gift to land one on a fly rod. I’ve read they’re among the finest eating fish around the place.
I walk up to the shade shelter on the beach and show my daughter and nieces. They are interested in how I will take the meat off the fish, so I promise that they’ll be involved.
I don’t have a filet knife with me, so I sharpen a kitchen knife as well as I can. I talk the girls through the process.
There is quite a bit of meat on the top of the Pompano’s head, so I start there to remove all the meat I can with the fillet.
“Do you know where your ribs are?” I ask.
“Yeah, right here. My heart is in there and lungs,” my daughter responds.
“Mhmm. Now we’re going to cut the meat off the sides of the fish. We’ll first go to the sides of the Pompano’s spine, and then we will listen for the ‘tink, tink’ sound of the knife blade making contact with the ribs.”
“Is that the ‘tink tink’?” my niece asks.
“Yep, now we’ll trace all the way back to the tail, wanna feel how it feels?” With head nodding, she reaches for the knife handle.
“It’s easier to feel than it is to hear,” she observes.
I take the knife through the rest of the process and peel back the filet on the skin.
“We’ll leave the skin on the meat, and we will grill it on the charcoal grill with the skin side toward the heat,” I explain, as if they will be grilling meat sometime soon and really want to know these details.
My niece helps me rub seasons into the fillets later, and carry them down to the charcoal grill.
I had heard how delicious pompano could be, but it was decadent. Another confirmation that slowing down pays off.