Sheepshead don't seem to be affected by the low water temperatures we will soon be experiencing. Instead, they head to offshore rocks, wrecks, and artificial reefs for their annual spawning activities. When this occurs, they bite with little caution and aren't 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're 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 a single 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 honey holes. Some of the spring holes will have sheepshead, big mangrove snapper and an occasional grouper that will bite on the warmer days.
I generally use bait-casting rods 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 structure covered with sharp marine growth such as 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 pounds, 10 ounces. That sucker was a handful on light spinning gear.
Rigging is mighty simple too. I use just enough sinker to hold my bait near the 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- to 1/2-ounce. As the tide picks up speed around the new and full moon, I sometimes have to use as much as two ounces to keep my bait anywhere 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. 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 doesn't 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 anyone else do. I slip a 1/2-inch length of hot pink or orange flexible plastic tubing onto the hook. The tubing I use is 3/16-inch diameter. The best source of this tubing I have found is kid's jump ropes that are available in most toy departments. The purpose of this tubing is two-fold. First, it is highly visible. But most importantly, it gives the sheepshead a little something tough to chew on.
If you've ever watched sheepshead nibble on barnacles, you see them nip, crush, spit out the shell and swallow the soft insides of the barnacle. When sheepshead bite shrimp on a hook, the hook is immediately spit out as if it were a piece of shell. With the tough plastic on the hook, the sheepshead holds on longer while trying to remove the tubing or simply swallows the tubing, hook and all. Believe me, a lot of big sheepshead swallow the tubing covered hook. The tubing rig makes catching sheepshead child's play.
I always peel my shrimp and cut it into chunks rather than pinching or tearing it. A piece 1/2- to 3/4-inches long is adequate. I cut a dozen or so live shrimp at a time so that they stay 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've heard about sheepshead being sneaky biters. With the chewy plastic tubing, 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 isn't 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 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 this is far too many. Five should be a gracious plenty. Catch a hundred if you want, but release ninety-five for tomorrow.
Sheepshead fishing is fun fishing. The work comes when you start to fillet them. I filleted 39 once last year, along with nine grouper. That took a mighty long time. You won't keep limits but once if you have to clean them yourself.
where do most sheepsheads live, and can you catch alot off a cast net?