If you're looking to bend a rod and put food on the table this winter, look to the lonely sheepshead. Yes, they're not glamorous like a big ol' snook (which you can't keep now anyway). And they're not prestigious like a keeper gag grouper (which you can't keep now, either). But you can keep sheepshead. And there are plenty to go around during these cold times. Sheepshead are eager to steal bait and will with no remorse. In fact, they'll do it over and over unless you hook them before they bite.
Sound strange? Here's the deal: Proper technique is key. The trick is to feel resistance in the line, then set the hook fast and hard before you feel the little bait stealers "tick" or bite through the rod. Slowly raise and lower the rod tip, which will allow you to familiarize yourself with the "feel" or weight of your bait with no resistance. In this process, the line will at some point feel heavy or tight, which is your hint that something is out of the ordinary and you better set the hook now. If you wait any longer, it's lights out. They already have your bait and await the second course.
While you're cleaning your sheepshead for dinner and your buddy comes home empty-handed, be a good friend and share a fillet, but not a secret.
Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters in St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376.