All along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States from Texas to Cape Cod, sheepshead have earned a reputation for being hard to catch. Many an angler has given up in disgust trying to catch a fish that they usually don’t even feel bite the hook!
While it is true that sheepshead are harder than the average fish to catch, knowing just a few tips can help put some of these tasty members of the Porgy family on your table.
Where to Find Sheepshead‘Heads are going to be found literally anywhere there are oysters, barnacles, and bottom structure. They feed on crustaceans, such a small crabs and shrimp. That means almost any pier, bridge or oyster bar can be home to a school of these professional bait stealers. Rock or wooden jetties that protect inlets from tidal silt are among the most productive areas, and these structures can be found in or around most inlets up and down the coast.
Like many other species, sheepshead do a bit of migrating through the year. After spending the summer months in the bays, creeks and oyster filled estuaries, ‘heads will begin to move offshore toward some close-in coastal structure. Man made artificial reefs become very productive during the late fall and early spring months. The spawning season is in late winter and early spring, and it is during this time that the really monster sheepshead, those in the fifteen pound range or larger, can be caught.
When to FishFrom November to March, sheepshead anglers can be seen dabbling fiddler crabs or small shrimp in and around rocks, along a jetty or near a cut alongside an oyster bar. Some anglers catch their limit, while others leave shaking their heads, wondering why they did not catch a fish.
So the question that needs answering is – just how can every angler be successful catching sheepshead? The answers have to do with bait presentation and movement.
The BiteSheepshead will generally not strike a bait hard and run off with it. If they did, they would be much easier to catch. Rather, they tend to stay in one place in the water, mouthing the bait, using their grinding molars and sharp front teeth to crush the bait right off the hook. They can perform this feat while you wait for a bite, and you will never feel them! Never that is, until you begin to feel for their bite.
One adage that has been around for years says that you must set the hook before you feel the sheepshead bite. That may sound silly, but it has a bit of logic. Normal fishing techniques have you waiting to feel the fish bite. With sheepshead, you need to find the bite. That means you need to be moving the bait ever so slowly to see if a ‘head has your bait in his mouth.
Where to FishSheepshead reside in and around structure. Many anglers frustrate themselves by not fishing the structure properly. Casting across structure and fishing on an angle to the bottom will almost always end up with the hook or sinker lodged in the structure. The trick you need to remember is to fish as straight down over the structure as you possible can. Drop your bait directly beneath the boat or alongside the pier or the bridge piling, and stay on top of the fishing site. Bottom rigs that are reeled straight up from any structure have a far better chance of not hanging on that structure on the way up.
Some of the better ‘head anglers use long cane or fiberglass poles and fish out of a small boat. This lets them cover a lot of territory with their bait, and yet stay right on top of the structure. Jetty anglers, whether fishing from the jetty or from a boat often prefer these poles over any other for sheepshead.
So we know that these convict fish eat crabs and shrimp, and we know where they hang out. Let’s see if we can catch one!