It feels weird to admit, but one fish I’ve never gone out of my way to target is the bait stealing, convict looking, tasty for dinner sheepshead.
Sheepshead could quote the great Rodney Dangerfield when he said “I don’t get no respect.” Perhaps it’s their specific diet, or where they live, but most anglers I know don’t often find themselves often baiting up for them. However, during recent stretches of bad weather, captains have been finding themselves struggling to catch bait consistently, and sheepshead have been a reliable option.
Since sheepshead reports have been excellent I decided it was finally time to get in on the action for myself. I joined Geoff Szymanski who was also interested in trying it. We would apply other fishing spots and techniques into what we thought we knew about sheepshead, and adjust as needed.
Step 1 was bait. Sheesphead don’t eat whitebait. To anglers they’re known for eating primarily shrimp and fiddler crabs. When I couldn’t find fiddler crabs available, shrimp would be the only option. I picked up 10 dozen, figuring if we went through that many we would have caught quite a few fish.
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Step 2 was rigging. Thanks to Capt. David Lee White who suggested I make the Hogball jig with a small Owner SSW hook for his style of sheepshead fishing, I felt confident it would work for me based on his reports. I rigged a 1-ounce Hogball in copper color with 25-pound leader on an MHX rod with 15-pound braid and a 3000 Shimano Stradic. I was thinking the copper may appear more crab like and attract the sheepshead.
Step 3 was location. From what I know about sheepshead they like hanging around structures in the bay and intercoastal during cooler months. They like bridges and rock piles as they spawn, congregating heavily in said areas. That lead us to big rock piles in Tampa Bay between 8 and 25 feet, areas we would mangrove snapper fish during the summer.
The first spot was a bit of a test. The Lowrance depthfinder showed a ledge that went from about 30 feet to 20 feet with rock piles at its peak. The first few shrimp that went down were picked off immediately. We could feel the bite, but getting the hook set was tough.
I decided to try something slightly different. If the sheepshead were going to be aggressive, I thought I needed to really feel the bite and get the hook set, similar to fishing bass in heavy cover.
I casted about 50 feet in front of the boat, letting the Hogball sink to the bottom. I slowly reeled in toward the boat as it bounced over the rocks, and no longer than 10 seconds after the retrieve started I felt the slightest bump and set the hook into a fish.
“It feels pretty good,” I told Szymanski. “It might be one.”
After a quick battle I was rewarded with the target, about a 4-pound sheepshead.
Rinsing and repeating, I did it again. The second one would be the biggest of the day between 6- and 7-pounds. We eventually would catch a limit, but released many of the smaller sized fish as it’s not fun to fillet a ton of them.
By applying what we knew about other species and knowledge gained from how other anglers rig and fish, we were able to successfully target something neither one of us had previously put the time or effort into catching. On some of those cold days after fronts, it provides another option when fishing the flats isn’t as productive. It also provides great food for the table, as sheepshead “don’t get no respect” when it comes to eating.
For more information, contact Jon Chapman at email@example.com.