A large prehistoric-looking fish was just found off Florida. Can you eat it for dinner?

One of the coolest, most prehistoric-looking fish lives in Florida’s offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It happens to be one of the best to eat but also one of the most elusive. Found around the world in tropical climates, big African pompano catches have surged in recent years in the Gulf, and angler Dave Miller might have led one of his friends to a recent world record.

While good weather has been rare this winter, Miller and crew took advantage of the small window Friday, Feb. 9, aboard his 31-foot Contender. They started around the 45-mile mark fishing big bottom for African pompano, or APs as many anglers call them.

“I look for lots of bait on a spot,” said Miller, a law enforcement officer who lives in Sarasota County. “We started around 45 miles that day and didn’t quite see the fish we wanted, so pushed out further.”

Calm weather made the trip easier, and the crew started fishing with slow-pitch jigs and pinfish on the new spot that had the activity Miller was looking for. But when they would hook up to fish, the tax man was ready and waiting.

“We were having trouble with sharks! When we were hooking up with fish right on the bottom, they were getting sharked a lot. There were a few that were probably 30 pounds and possibly as big as the one we got later,” said Miller, upset they were losing more fish than they were catching to aggressive sharks.

To combat the shark eating their hooked fish, the anglers started fishing higher in the water column. African pompano tend to be in varying depths through the water column. They fished pinfish halfway down and that’s when angler Dwight “DJ” Andress hooked into a large fish on his 6500 spinning reel with 50-pound braided line.

“He was putting a lot of heat on the fish,” Miller said. “During a previous fight, he broke his rod and fought it with only one guide before eventually breaking the fish off. This one was screaming line, going down toward the bottom, but he kept heavy drag on it.”

After a 20- to 25-minute fight the anglers looked down and saw the shiny African pompano they wanted below. Behind it was another shark looking to take advantage of the tired fish.

“There was a big shark coming up under him. It was probably an 8-foot bull shark. Earlier we lost one 12 feet under the boat and had a big head left when a shark got it,” Miller recalled. “But we got this one up with a gaff in it and started freaking out when we got it in the boat!”

The big AP was the first of two they landed that day, a boat limit for the Gulf of Mexico. They continued fishing for yellowtail snapper as well, bringing home a handful.

But it was the next day at Marina Jacks they realized just how big and special the African pompano was. At 45.2 pounds, it was only 5 pounds off the all-tackle world record. But for the 50-pound line class, the crew noticed their catch broke the old record.

“I had never seen an African pompano that big in person or on a forum. I knew we had a world-class fish,” Miller said. “Marina Jack’s is a certified scale and we took some of the line off the reel he was using and sent it in to the [International Game Fish Association.] It’s pending certification.”

Anglers caught a potential word-record African pompano in the Gulf of Mexico on Feb. 9.
Anglers caught a potential word-record African pompano in the Gulf of Mexico on Feb. 9.