Catching big sheepshead has turned into an art form for Capt. Chris Wiggins. The multiple winner of the Old Salt Johnny Kellar Inshore Fishing Tournament sheepshead division will be looking to defend his title Sunday.
"I've won this tournament in the past with some pretty big sheepshead," Wiggins said. "One year I won with a 10.61 pound and another year with a 10.55 pound. A few years ago, I weighed in a 13 pound at the Salty Pelican tournament."
To put it in perspective, a 10-pound sheepshead is the equivalent of a 40-inch snook or a 30-inch trout. It's a trophy, but doesn't get the recognition that other, more popular inshore fish do."
Wiggins has made catching big ones seem almost easy when it's far from it.
"They are hard to hook," he said. "If you're hooking 50 percent of your bites that is an excellent rate. We catch maybe one of every three bites."
He mainly uses fiddler or rock crab bait on medium inshore tackle with a 2/0 or 3/0 hook. His trick for finding big fish is a little easier than you think. He scouts for them much like anglers would do for snook before a big tournament.
"I scout on a clear day with the sun out at low tide. I ride along all the docks and can see all the sheepshead. On tournament day, I'll go back to the area where I saw the big fish. Depending on the weather, they may move a dock or two, but that's it."
For the 13-pound sheepshead, he saw it while snook fishing.
"We were catching snook off a dock and that sheepshead swam after my jig all the way back to the boat. I thought it was a snook. When we hooked it in the tournament, it wrapped around the dock, crab traps, and seemingly everything else in the water. After about 15-minutes we got it unwrapped and the fish was still sitting under the sailboat at the dock. We couldn't believe it."
That 27-inch fish was not far from the state record 15-pound, 2-ounce sheepshead caught in 1981.
If you prefer quantity over quality, Wiggins said sheepshead should spawn soon. They will head to rocky-bottomed areas in tight bunches. Like most fish patterns this year, it's probably a little behind schedule but should start soon.
"If you find a spot where they spawn, it's incredible. When the females lay eggs, the males will follow them tightly. Sometimes you'll hook a female and if you have the net ready you could net four males right behind her."
For his best day, Wiggins once landed an unreal amount of fish over the course of eight hours.
"We brought 2,000 crabs with us, and between three people landed 472 sheepshead. The only reason we stopped is because we ran out of bait."