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Record Sheepshead Cleaned!

This story has a familiar, all too often heard ring

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I do not know the angler - don't even have his name. But the story told about him has a familiar, all too often heard ring. An angler catches a record fish and then begins cleaning it before having it weighed. It happened this past week on Florida's west coast.

Florida's record sheepshead is slightly over fifteen pounds. The one this angler started cleaning weighed in at over sixteen pounds, even after he had begun cutting on it! Once you cut a fish, that fish is disqualified for any record purposes. Rules are rules.

Sheepshead fishing this month has been, to put it mildly, just short of phenomenal. Limit catches of fish in the double digit weight category have been reported on both coasts of Florida. Large breeder fish have moved onto the close in rock piles and reefs and along the jetties at any number of inlets up and down the Florida coast.

Fiddler crabs work best in most instances, but are hard to come by in some areas. In those cases, small live shrimp, or very fresh dead shrimp cut into small pieces are both working well. Use as small a weight and as short a leader as possible. I actually use eight pound test line with no leader. I am a firm believer that fish can see and are spooked by the heavier leaders. The shorter leader allows you to feel the fish as he crunches your bait. Sheepshead seldom grab a bait and run - they simply hold it and crunch it. A longer leader allows them to steal your bait without you feeling a thing!

On the east coast of Florida - and all the way up the Atlantic coast for that matter - look for rock jetties at area inlets or near shore artificial reefs. Artificial reefs made of concrete and rocks are particularly nice sheepshead homes. Try to locate directly over the structure and fish straight down. You'll loose less tackle that way, and the bite is easier to feel.

On the west coast, the near shore rocks piles and reefs in the Big Bend area out of Cedar Key and Steinhatchee are really hot. The reported record fish came out of this area. The technique for catching them is the same as on the east coast. And Florida is not alone. These convict fish can be found on the rocks of every Gulf Coast state.

Now is a good time for the small boat owners to get in on the action. Most of these sheepshead reefs are fairly close to shore. If you are unfamiliar with a particular area, check in with a local tackle shop. They have the LORAN and GPS numbers for reef locations and will gladly give you some pointers.

If you happen to catch a really big fish, do yourself a favor. Don't clean it until you weigh it! And if it looks to be a record, try your best to keep it alive as long as possible. Dead fish loose weight quickly, and if your catch is good and lively, you can weigh, measure, and document your catch, AND release it to grow even bigger!

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