Water temperatures in the bay have dipped into the upper 50s, so if you want some table fare, sheepshead is the way to go. These crafty, odd-looking creatures thrive in the cooler water. They hang around docks, rocks and many of the man-made reefs marked on charts of Tampa Bay. I use a medium-weight rod with a 30 series reel spooled with 10-pound braid attached to 15-pound leader and a small No. 2 hook and a split shot. Shrimp is one of their favorite meals. They also like small crabs and fiddler crabs. Fishing around old dock pilings and rock jetties with deep water is a great way to target them. The trick is to set the hook before they bite. Sheepshead have rather large rib cages, so keep this in mind when harvesting them for the table. I try to keep a couple of larger ones rather than several small ones; that takes less of a toll on our fishery. To grill sheepshead, leave the thick skin on, soak in buttermilk for a bit and season with all-purpose seasoning. Once the grill is hot, turn the heat to medium, place foil over the grate and add the fish, skin-side down. It takes about 6-7 minutes to cook. In the last minute, sprinkle on brown sugar, close the lid and let the sugar glaze over the meat.
Tim Whitfield can be reached at (813) 714-0889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.