February is the peak spawning month for sheepshead in the Nature Coast area. For more than a month, the biggest fish have been moving from the bays, backwaters and bridge pilings to reefs and ledges offshore. Most gathering spots are at least 3 miles offshore but seldom outside 15 or 20. Artificial reefs in 20 to 30 feet of water are one of their favorite spots, but tall ledges, particularly those that run for long distances, can be gathering areas as well. Some spawning aggregations have hundreds of adult sheepshead that extend nearly to the surface. These fish can be tricky to catch, but with the proper bait and gear, you can usually catch a bunch for dinner. Be right on top of them with the boat. Idle around the reef and watch for large marks on the sonar well above the bottom. As long as you park right on the fish, you won't have to pick through a lot of grunts and other nibblers. A fresh shrimp rigged on a 2/0 J hook with a light sinker is usually all it takes. Drop it to the top level of fish visible on your sonar; avoid going to the bottom. This helps keep the undesirable fish at bay while the big sheep come over to check it out. After a while, you may need to set it on the bottom to make it work.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at [email protected]