In Your Face Sheepshead!

Member of the Porgy Family

Capt. Steve Dougherty January 20, 2009

It’s no secret that sheepshead have a reputation for being persnickety nibblers, but with the proper tackle and a few proven rigging techniques, you, too, should have no problem bagging your fair share of these great-tasting crab-crushers.

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Here Fishy…Fishy Illustration: Roger Ellis, Jr.

A prominent member of the porgy family, sheepshead utilize their powerful incisors to crush mollusks and crustaceans faster than you can say, “I missed another one.”

…keep in mind that hooks that are either too heavy or not razor sharp will greatly hinder your sheepshead catching abilities.

Peek inside a sheepshead’s mouth and you will quickly understand why these bait-thieves can be so challenging to hook. Not only is their crushing strike super-fast, the relatively soft area around their perky lips is the only place where a razor sharp hook can effectively penetrate for a solid connection.

With blistering bites hard to detect, dedicated sheepsheaders’ prefer to spool with braided line because it offers increased sensitivity and a higher level of abrasion resistance. PowerPro, Diamond Braid, all super-lines give anglers the ability to horse sheepshead out of their barnacle-encrusted lairs without too much worry of getting busted off.

If you are new to Florida, sheepshead fishing is a great way to kick off your saltwater angling career because it requires little tackle and far from a superbly equipped vessel. In fact, you can certainly catch plenty of “sheepies” without ever stepping a single foot on a boat. Docks, concrete bridge abutments, pilings, piers and jetties are all perfect places to entice a strike from a big sheepshead. One proven tactic that many anglers employ includes scraping barnacles from bridge and dock pilings during low tide, and then returning to the same area to fish with the incoming push. The exposed medley creates ready-made chum and can instigate a full-on sheepshead slaughter.

While sheepshead can indeed be challenging, during the winter when water temperatures plummet and snook and redfish can be tough to coerce, sheepshead will be in full-on spawning mode, often feeding with reckless abandon. To maximize your potential with these bait-stealing bandits, there are a number of rigging techniques that will exponentially increase your odds.

Remember this, when targeting this often overlooked inshore species it is imperative that you rig with quality hooks designed to withstand the crushing pressure of powerful jaws and rock-hard teeth. Many “blue light special” hooks have been snapped in half by hard-biting sheepshead. Also keep in mind that hooks that are either too heavy or not razor sharp will greatly hinder your sheepshead catching abilities. I continue to have excellent success with 1/0 Mutu Light circle-hooks, but there are plenty of excellent options.

While fiddler crabs are definitely the most deadly effective offering, they can be hard to acquire, therefore many anglers prefer live shrimp. Freshly shucked clams and oysters can also be highly effective. Expect sheepshead activity to peak during the first few hours of the outgoing tide, fish structure thoroughly and please, only keep what you can eat fresh. During a steady sheepshead bite, it’s easy to get carried away.

Here Fishy…Fishy

  • The standard “fish-finder” rig is one of the most common rigging techniques and can be extremely effective when sly sheepshead are in the crosshairs.
  • Slide a small egg sinker onto your main-line, tie on a small barrel-swivel, 24 to 36-inches of 20lb. fluorocarbon and a light-wire circle-hook, and you’re a sheepsheader’.

Shrimp Appetizer

  • 1/8 oz. jigs. Extremely effective due to relatively slow sink rate, and less likely to snag.
  • Red…chartreuse…white…they all work.
  • Stand at attention! Sheepshead inhale shrimp off the jig in the blink of an eye. If you’re not on your toes, you’ll miss the bite!
  • Connect with a perfection loop, which facilitates additional fish-attracting wiggle.
  • Try this! Tip jig with body portion of freshly peeled shrimp.

Dinner for Two

  • Faced with strong current or fishing directly off a bridge or pier? A dropper loop rig is the ticket to sheepshead success. The reason is due to the fact that you can maintain a direct connection with the hook(s), and thus lean the odds in your favor for detecting lightning-fast strikes.
  • Fish just enough lead to keep in-touch with the bottom.

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