Tackle and Bait
I use 20 lb braid for my main-line, with a piece of 15 lb fluorocarbon leader. Why smaller leader? It is easier to break if your rig gets snagged. ‘Mosquito-size’ hooks are perfect for the sheepshead’s small mouth, and also easier to straighten out if they get hung up on a snag. Bring lots of hooks and weights; sheepshead can be tough on tackle. It isn’t uncommon to break a hook trying to remove it from the sheep’s bony mouth.
I enjoy using fiddler crabs for sheepshead – I carry mine in a wire cricket bucket. You can go catch your own, or do like I do and catch them at the local tackle shop! I have also had success with oysters and clams.
This “convict fish” has a unique bite that takes time to learn. When you finally figure it out, the catching will come easier. The bite is not that normal ‘tap-tap’ feeling that a lot of other fish produce on the rod, but a “tug” – like your bait suddenly gained weight and is pulling your rod tip down. This is the sheepshead, and he’s sucking that bait in, crushing it, and spitting the hook out. You drop your rig down and get it set, then comes the tug; the rod tip dips down for a couple seconds then releases – and you set the hook after you feel the tip release, but it is too late. You’ve got to set the hook when the tip drops. That is when the fish has the bait in its mouth.
Chum Them Up
You can turn a mild bite into a wild bite with a little help from your chum. Scrape some barnacles from the pilings you are fishing around. I carry a small hand trowel for doing this. That ‘appetizer’ will draw the fish in from surrounding pilings, increasing your chances of a hookup. Don’t chum too much, though! You don’t want them ignoring your bait.
Snags = Fish
Sheepshead can hang out in some rough places. Rocks with a lot of snags, pilings covered with years of growth, and other inhospitable places usually make for the best sheepshead spots. Don’t be discouraged by snags – usually that means you are in the right place!
Sheepshead are like bream on steroids. Big and broad – they will put up a good fight! They are also a lot of fun to catch, and make great table fare.