The habitat sheepshead call home is a series of dock pilings coated with barnacles. as well as bridge pilings, rocky areas, and tall oyster beds. Any of these areas will be great if there are barnacles or small shellfish. Besides the barnacles and other shellfish options for the dietary needs of the Sheepshead also enjoy shrimp and fiddler crabs. On this trip I was fishing fiddler crabs.
My setup for sheepshead is a Shimano Tescata 8’ medium power, extra-fast action rod, and an Okuma Convector CV 20 L reel with 30 lb. Power Pro braid. My fluorocarbon leader is about 4’ long a dropper loop at the bottom, with either 1 oz. or 2 oz. bank sinker. About a foot above the sinker is another loop with a #1 Gamakatsu octopus hook for the fiddler crab. I’ll rig up a crab by inserting the hook behind the rear legs and pushing the hook so where it exits the center of the back shell. When doing this, make sure that the shell doesn’t crack any more than necessary, or you will provide an easy snack for the sheepshead.
There are several methods to anchor to the pilings. One is to use a piece of rope; tie one end to your kayak, then throw the rope around the piling and tie to your kayak. Another method is to drop your anchor to the bottom. The issue with this is you create an opportunity for a fish to wrap your fishing line around the anchor rope. What I prefer to use is the grappler anchor. The grappler anchor is made from aluminum with six fingers. These fingers can be bent in different patterns for your anchoring needs. This makes the grappler ideal to hook to cross members on the pilings. This way the anchor line and anchor are above the water level, removing a hazard that the fish can use to their advantage.
Sheepshead have a nickname - “convict”. There are two reasons for this. One, the sheepshead has a black-and-white stripe pattern on their body, like the old black-and-white stripe prison uniforms. Young black drum are also striped, and are sometimes confused with the sheepshead. However, the drum does not have those human-type teeth.
I like to think sheepshead are called convicts is because they are masters of stealing your bait. How can the sheepshead steal the bait without you knowing about it? They will suck in the bait and blow it out. This allows the external skeleton of the fiddler crab to crack. Then they will suck the cracked fiddler crab back into their mouth to retrieve the insides of the crab. Then the convict will blow out the remainder. Then when you check your hook, the bait is gone.
I prefer to fish for sheepshead at low tide. This allows me to chum by scraping barnacles off the pilings to draw these fish into your area. You might even notice the odor from the barnacles. It is this odor that brings the school of sheepshead to feast on the barnacles - and your presentation of the fiddler crab.
My fishing techniques to feel this stealthy bite: I slowly raise the rod tip a few inches to a foot, and slowly lower back to the original position. Sometimes during this slow jigging, I just might feel some extra weight. This could be a snag - or my hook in the mouth of a convict. My reaction when I feel this extra weight is to set the hook hard to bury the barb of the hook into the toothy mouth of the sheepshead. Now I have to ensure the convict does not escape by wrapping the line around the pilings and breaking off.
I hope this brief description of how I target the convict, and the process, will put some nice fillets on your dinner plate - wear out your arms battling and releasing sheepshead.