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Lifting for Sheepshead

The Method that Catches the Most Sheepshead Invloves Lifting your Bait

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What Tackle to Use

Use the terminal tackle found on a standard bottom rig: an egg sinker above the swivel and a leader below it, tied to a #1 or 1/0 hook. Use the smallest weight that will take your bait down. In swift current that could be as much as one ounce on eight-pound test line.

Speaking of line, the lighter the line, the better off you will be. Comparison fishing with heavy line versus lighter line has proven to many anglers that lighter line catches more fish. Fish can see, and heavy line with large swivels will often keep a wary fish from sampling your bait. This is particularly true with the larger sheepshead. Remember, they didn’t get to be that big by being stupid. Big fish are wary fish and catching them requires some degree of stealth.

Long leaders are one of the sheepshead angler’s worst enemies. The length of leader below the swivel is crucial to feeling the fish bite. On a long leader, fish will pick up the bait and swim with it and you will never feel them. A twelve-inch leader is all you need. Some anglers use no leader at all and allow the small egg sinker to ride right down on the hook. Some also use a quarter or eighth ounce jig head on a 1/0 hook. Both options work very well.

Bait Choices

Fiddlers are the preferred bait and can be purchased at many area tackle shops along the coast. Catching your own is an option, but it is time consuming and not always productive. In the colder months fiddlers will be in short supply. When the temperatures drop, they tend to dig deep into the sand and are difficult for the commercial bait catchers to find. If fiddlers are scarce, opt for small live or very fresh dead shrimp. Pay the extra price to have some small shrimp hand picked. Most bait shops charge to hand pick large shrimp. For sheepshead, the smaller, the better.

My Preferences - Jetties

Where do I fish? In any of the coastal areas from Texas all the way around to North Carolina, you can spot sheepshead anglers. They are in the small boats right up next to the jetty rocks, docks, or the bridge pilings. They follow the rule that says fish where the fish reside! Structure! Find the structure and the fish will be there somewhere.

Some jetty situations can be dangerous for an anchored boat. So, when you set up next to them, make sure you don’t get too close. That’s why so many anglers like the long cane poles. They can drop right down to the fish while anchored safely away from the rocks.

Once in position, whether in a boat or from a dock or jetty, allow your baited hook to drop straight down from your rod or pole. Once it reaches bottom, either reel or lift the bait off the bottom about two feet.

Now comes the tricky part. This is where most anglers miss the fish. If you let that bait sit there in one place, the sheepshead will crush it off your hook without you noticing. The trick is to lift up on your rod or pole. Gently lift your rod tip a foot or so about every fifteen seconds. On one of those lifts, you will feel some pressure that is holding your rod tip down. If you hold that pressure you can sometimes sense the fish swimming with your bait. Either way, when you feel the pressure, continue to lift higher and begin to reel. When the fish feels the pressure of the hook, he will turn, and at that point you will make a hook-up. The battle is only half over at this juncture. The inside mouth of a sheepshead is as hard as a rock. Hook penetration inside the two rows of teeth is almost impossible, especially on light line. This fishing method will almost always hook the sheepshead in the lip structure or the side of the mouth in front of the teeth.

Light line plays an important part here. Anglers with heavy line tend to muscle the fish to the surface. That usually means lots of lost fish where the hook pulls out of the softer lips. Lighter line necessarily means a lighter drag and less pressure on the fish. The hook stays in and the fish can be easily netted.

Bottom Line

More than one frustrated angler has become a successful “convict catcher” using this method. Light line, short leaders, and lifting to feel the fish – all together these tactics can help you overcome previous failures. Once you learn the feel of a fish swimming with your bait, the rest can become second nature. A limit of sheepshead in you box will be proof!
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