Saltwater Fishing: Guide to Sheepshead Fishing

Days Catch of Sheepshead
Days Catch of Sheepshead

     Wintertime brings many things I could do without: cold weather, wind, and low water temperatures and thus slow fishing. Yet not all is lost. Sheepshead, however, thrive in this cold winter water. Being a member of the Porgy family, Sheepshead are hard fighting, excellent to eat, and can be very easily caught with the right techniques.

     Sheepshead have a reputation as being a "Convict" fish not only because they are clad in black and white stripes like an inmate, but also because they are notorious bait stealer's. Many anglers have been quoted saying "Set the hook right before they bite" because they eat so delicately and will leave you wondering how they managed to chomp through your bait without you even noticing. This can make them quite difficult to catch, even for the most experienced anglers. I will, however, share the knowledge that I have accumulated through my trials and tribulations of sheepshead fishing.

     First off, Sheepshead can be caught year round but are most abundant in the winter and early spring when preparing for their spawn. It is in these cool water temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 degrees that we find these elusive and tasty fish.

Tackle:

  • Rod: 7' medium light to medium action
  • Reel: 2500 -3000 series spinning
  • Line: 15lb braid (Preferably UltraCast Invisi-Braid)
  • Leader: 18" of 20-25lb flourocarbon
  • Hook: #1 or #2 hook
  • Weight: Small splitshot 10" up from the hook in light current or a slip sinker above a small swivel when heavier weight is needed

Location:

First off, location is key for sheepshead and also very easy. To understand why the fish are where they are, you need to know what they eat. Sheepshead have very hard and sharp teeth and a mouth full of bony bumps the use for chomping and crushing barnacles, shrimp, crab, and other crustaceans. They also happen to be structure oriented fish, so places with lots of rocks or pilings that are covered with barnacles or full of crabs are where you will find them. Prime habitats for sheepshead include residential docks, piers, and marinas. When fishing these locations, it is important to anchor as close as possible to the structure without putting yourself or your boat in danger. However if you are fishing from land, you completely avoid this issue. Keep in mind that sheepshead stay around the pilings and structure that holds their food so the closer you can get your bait, the better. Another tip is when you are up-current from a piling, you can drift your bait back and have it actually on the piling and sheepshead will come and pick it off for you.

Bait:

     When fishing for Sheepshead, to be successful, you will need either live or dead bait. The best baits to use are shrimp, fiddler or mud crabs, sand fleas, or barnacles and most of these can be bought from a local bait or tackle shop. Barnacles can be obtained by simply scraping them off a piling at low tide and coming back and fishing that area on a higher tide. When putting your bait on your hook, be sure to conceal as much of the hook as possible while leaving the tip exposed. Also the when using barnacles as bait, after then have been cleanly scraped off of a piling, put the hook through the top where the opening of the barnacle is and exit through the thin layer or shell where it attached to the piling.

Success!
Success!

Presentation:

     After your location and bait have been secured, presentation is the final and key aspect of catching Sheepshead. No matter what structure you are fishing, it is important to get your bait as close as possible the structure. When fishing for Sheepshead I will usually start fishing at the bottom of the water column and work my way up until I start catching fish. The main technique is to drop your bait to the desired depth, and then keep tension on the line. When the Sheepshead bit you won't feel a thump when they bite like most fish. Instead you'll feel a slight vibration or ticking as they chomp and chew on the bait. Sometimes you won't feel the bite but instead will see your line moving around or moving away from you. At this point, don't set the hook like you normally would as this will just rip it out of the fish's mouth. Instead you should slowly start to raise the rod tip and put pressure on the fish. As you apply pressure the Sheepshead will pull back and as you each pull the hook becomes set in the fish's mouth.

     Once hooked, you will want to bring the fish up and away from the structure as they will use their surface area  to pull down into the structure and quickly break you off. After they have been brought to the surface, I like to use a landing net because when lifting them out of the water, they can sometimes break the line or shake the shook.

Blackened Sheepshead
Blackened Sheepshead
Fried Sheepshead Sandwich
Fried Sheepshead Sandwich

     Using these tactics and combining these three elements, Sheepshead will become a regular catch and a tasty addition to the dinner table. Keep in mind that Sheepshead have no closed season and they need to be at least 12" to keep and you can keep 15 per person per day. These fish can be difficult to clean so make sure to check out my hub on how to fillet fish. Also, they can be cooked many ways and are always delicious and I have detailed instructions on that as well.


More by this Author

  • Saltwater Fishing: How to Fillet Fish (with Pictures)
    0

         After returning from your successful fishing trip, you face the dilemma of how to clean your fish. With so many options from whole, to butterflied, to filleted it can be hard to choose. However, I...

  • Saltwater Fishing: Speckled Trout Tactics
    12

    Speckled trout are one of the most abundant and popular saltwater gamefish in Florida and can be easily caught by anglers of all ranges of skill levels. This hub provides the when, where, and how to be successful in...

  • How to Easily Repair Cast Net Holes
    3

         Any angler who has a cast net knows the perils or getting it caught or stuck on something or having too many or too big of fish in the net. This usually results in a rip or hole in the net...


Comments 4 comments

wsupaul88 profile image

wsupaul88 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

Really cool Hub, fishing is a hobby of mine!


reidrichardson profile image

reidrichardson 5 years ago from St. Pete Beach Author

Thanks, for me its more of lifestyle. It'll probably consume you like it has m.! Keep checking back here as I'll keep posting tips and strategies for successful fishing.


CAPTAIN JOHN BATY 5 years ago

Nice tips and the hook setting thing you weree right on.

the slower the hook set the better

keepum coming


developeraustin 5 years ago

This seems useful! However its a bit advanced for me lol. I need help catching anything! I havnt caught a thing nor had a bite in 4 different locations, and about 35 hours fishing. Used shrimp and squid along with lures. I know there are fish there because while at one of these locations with the same rig as another fisher... he caught 5 and I didn't get a bite. Please help.... developeraustin@hotmail.com

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working