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It's Sheepshead Time!

It's that time of year again. Cool weather means big sheepshead!


Fall means many things to many people. It’s a time for leaves to drop and to witness the wonderful colors of nature. But in my world fall always brings about memories of crisp morning runs to a set of jetties or rocks, and a warming morning catching sheepshead.

There is this special time where the water is cooling, the fish are active, and bait is very abundant. It only lasts for a month or so before the water gets too cold and/or the bait disappears.

The bait here is a fiddler crab, or more accurately several cups of fiddler crabs. Most bait shops sell them by the cup. But if you live near a public beach area where large sand flats are out of water at low tide, you can catch your own.

There is an art to catching fiddlers, but once someone teaches you, it really isn’t very hard. When a whole herd of crabs are out on the flat and away from their holes, dig a 2-foot deep by three feet in diameter hole in the sand. Take several 1 by 8 or 1 by 6 boards eight feet in length, and place them on their narrow side in the sand, end to end away from the hole. The idea here is to make a 2 dimensional funnel on the sand out of the boards with the bottom of the funnel ending in the hole you just dug. If you used four boards, you would have a 16-foot long v-shaped funnel in the sand.

Now slowly begin to round up the crabs and herd them toward the funnel. Of course, the more boards you use, the larger the funnel is, and the easier the herding is. As you move the herd toward and into the funnel, they drop off into the hole you dug. Assuming relative safety there, they will stay in the hole long enough for you to cover it and prevent their escape.

With crabs in a bait container, and the wind in your face, its time to look for sheepshead.!

Sheepshead love any kind of structure with which they can identify and around which they can find food. Jetties, rocks, pilings, even channel markers will serve the purpose. I know of at least one boat that moves from marker to marker up or down the channel and drops a bait behind each one. The catch rate is probably around 50%!

These fish have one of the hardest mouths of any fish, and they eat differently than most other fish. They are food grinders. That is, they have several layers of grinding teeth behind their very sheep like front teeth. The will pick their food up, normally some type of shellfish, and grind it into small pieces before swallowing. It is this aspect of a sheepshead that makes them difficult for some folks to hook. The are notorious bait stealers, and their color pattern brings out the name “convict” fish.

We’ve got the bait and we know a little about the fish. Next week we will go after a few of these great eating and great fighting fish!

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