Itís that time of year again. Inshore water temperature is down in
the lower 50ís, too low for a good Grouper bite. Now you have three
options. Stay home and watch TV and do "honey doos," run way off shore
to deeper water in search of Grouper, or get out and catch a bunch of
Sheepshead donít seem to be affected by the low water temperatures
we are experiencing right now. Sheepshead are headed to offshore
rocks, wrecks, and artificial reef for their annual spawning
activities. At this time of year, they bite with little caution and
arenít too choosy about what they eat. Crabs, sea worms, sand fleas or
fresh shrimp all seem to get the same number of bites so I always opt
for shrimp because they are easy to get and easy to use.
Perhaps the easiest fishing of all will be at the older artificial
reefs. There may be a thousand or more Sheepshead congregated over one
rubble pile. I have seen hundreds around the Steel Tower off Cedar Key
and CFBC Marker #3 off Yankeetown. Then there are the secret spots
like the old tripod marker lying down off Yankeetown and several
little known shallow water wrecks. Some old trap piles load up too.
The trap piles are closely guarded secret honeyholes. Some of the
spring holes will have Sheepshead, big Mangrove Snapper and an
occasional Grouper that will bite in the warmer water but, with the
low water temperature this year, donít count too heavily on Grouper
for a whil! e.
I generally use baitcasting tackle or spinning rods. Twelve to
twenty pound test line is adequate for any Sheepshead because they
fight fair, not trying to head into a hole like Grouper. Yes, you are
cut off occasionally but it is most often an accident where you hook a
Sheepshead after your line has drifted behind some object that is
covered with sharp marine growth like barnacles. The lighter tackle
makes Sheepshead fishing a lot of fun for everybody. Last year one of
my clients caught a Sheepie that weighed 14#10oz. That sucker was a
handful on light spinning gear.
Rigging is mighty simple too. I use just enough sinker to hold my
bait near bottom without letting it drift too far behind the boat with
the current. Sinker weight will vary with the current flow. On slow
tide days around the First Quarter and Last Quarter Moon I can use
1/4-1/2 oz. As the tide picks up speed around the New and Full Moon, I
sometimes have to use as much as 2 oz. to keep my bait close to
straight down. Egg sinkers are the sinker style of choice. I simply
slide an egg sinker up my line and crimp a "Wavy Grip" sinker below it
to serve as a stop rather than using a swivel. I do not see any reason
to use a leader. Sheepshead have crushing teeth rather than cutting
teeth so a leader is not really needed.
I generally use a #1-1/0 Mustad Sheepshead hook. These hooks are
short shanked, heavy wire hooks, designed to withstand the strong jaws
and crushing teeth of Sheepshead. I tie the hook to the end of the
line with a simple Clinch Knot. It doesnít get any easier than this.
The rigging I have described thus far differs very little from what
everybody else uses for Sheepshead. Some folks opt for a swivel and
leader but that complicates the rig, slows down re-rigging in case of
a break-off and adds an unnecessary expense. Here is where I do
something that I have never seen anybody else do. I buy 1/2" hot
orange "Craft Pom-Pom" balls and run my hook through them then glue
them in place with "Super Glue." These "Craft Pom-Poms" absorb some of
the shrimp scent and Sheepshead hang on longer, allowing you to set
the hook to set easier.
I always peel my shrimp and cut it into chunks rather than pinching
or tearing it. A piece 1/2-3/4" long is adequate. I cut a dozen or so
live shrimp at a time so that it stays fresh. Simply hook a piece on
and drop it to the bottom and reel up a couple of feet. Place the rod
in the holder. Forget what you heard about Sheepshead being sneaky
biters. With the Pom-Pom Ball, they hook themselves darn near every
time with the rod in the holder.
You will need a dip net for the larger Sheepshead. Smaller ones are
simply lifted aboard. Their scales are hard enough that gaffing isnít
easy unless you make a small gaff with a super sharp hook.
Sheepshead are the best eating fish we catch around here. It is
mighty easy to fill a cooler this time of the year but stop to
consider that the fish you are targeting offshore are there to spawn.
When you kill one, you also kill untold thousands of potential
Sheepshead. The limit is 15 Sheepshead per person and I personally
think that this is far too many. Five should be a gracious plenty.
Catch a hundred if you want to but release them for tomorrow.
Sheepshead fishing is fun fishing. The work comes when you start to
fillet them. I filleted 39 once last year along with 9 Grouper. That
took a mighty long time. You wonít keep limits but once if you have to
clean them yourself.