Cooler weather necessarily means sheepshead in my neck of the woods and that would be the southeast Atlantic Coastline. From Florida to Virginia, cooler weather brings out the hardcore sheepshead anglers in droves. Many people will just wait for the cooler months in anticipation of these hard-fighting, good-eating bait stealers.
On a cool day in the early fall I made a trip, albeit alone, in search of these convicts. I was successful, but only because I was persistent.
[ h3]The Usual MethodMany anglers head for the coast and the rocks, inlets, or jetties, planning to anchor and wait for the fish to bite. On a good day, the fish will come right to the bait and often you will never have to move. Unfortunately it does not always work that way, and some of those anglers go home empty handed.
A Slow Bait
When the fish are scattered, as they were on this day, the task becomes one of finding the isolated pockets and slowly presenting a bait. Bait in this instance is my old sheepshead standby fiddler crabs.
A Slow Bite
Sometimes these fish are not actively feeding, and they only take a bait if, as some people put it, you hit them in the head with it. This trip was like that. It took a lot of patience and several casts to the same place to invoke a bite.
A Subtle Bite
Sheepshead dont normally strike a bait and run away with it. They will gently take a bait in their mouth and crush it with their grinding teeth. Many anglers never even know that the fish has their bait, and they reel in an empty hook, much to their amazement and disappointment. In the early season, the bite is even more subtle.
Feeling the Bite
One way that I have found to detect a bite is easy to learn. I simply lift my rod tip very slowly. If there is pressure, sort of like hanging on the bottom, I stop and analyze the pressure. If I sense that the pressure is actually moving around, I set the hook. A sheepshead will take a bait in their mouth, crunch and grind it and spit the hook out. When I feel that moving pressure, it is almost certainly a fish grinding my bait and hook.
I occasionally lose a hook or jig to a rock or bottom structure, but not often. By staying in touch with my hook and bait, that is keeping a tight line, I can prevent hanging on the bottom. Slack and loose lines get swept under or around a rock in very short order. On this trip I lost only one jig to the bottom and caught a limit of sheepshead.
Jigs versus Hooks
I use both jigs and hooks. Jigs give me a better feel for where my bait is. These are quarter ounce lead head jigs onto which I hook a fiddler crab. When I use a hook, it is a number one short shank with a short 12 inch leader and a quarter ounce sinker. While the sinker lets me feel the bottom,, the leader and hook are floating around the area waiting to get snagged. I loose many more hooks than I do jigs. But sometimes the fish wont hit a jig head they want that drifting crab with a hidden hook.
As I fished that morning, I had to move around to several locations along the rocks and jetties. The fish were not concentrated. I caught one here and one there, eventually having a limit by about 10:30 in the morning. I watched several other boats, all anchored, and they were not catching fish.
I also watched and fished around my friend, Captain Kirk Waltz. He had a party of five anglers, and he was doing essentially the same thing I was moving from place to place and picking up isolated fish in each location. Im sure he ended up with a nice total catch, but I could not get any pictures because he and his party were catching and releasing.
Next time you fish and find that you arent getting a lot of action in the one place you anchor, try moving to different spots. Often it only means moving fifty feet or so. But, if you catch a nice fish every fifty feet, it can be worth it. Youll catch fish while others watch just like I did on this day!