When the water temperature drops into the 60s, look for the sheepshead to start stacking up around the bridges, docks and artificial reefs inside the bay. These schools are working their way from inside the bay to the beach area for the winter spawn. The first places to look are docks and bridges closest to the beach. They will hang in these spots through January. Late January or early February will push the schools into the near-shore structures. This is when you will have a shot at catching a few sheepshead that might reach 6-8 pounds. The sheepshead may be hard to clean, but it is one of the best tasting fish in our waters. The first thing to do is scout the bridges and docks. Drift or idle close enough to see if there are sheepshead feeding on the barnacles. Don't fish if you don't see them. When you locate a school, chum the area with small pieces of diced shrimp. This will put them in the feeding mood. Free-line or use a small weight that will put a chunk of shrimp close to where they are feeding on the chum. Don't set the hook until you see your line moving. Use a lightweight rod so you can feel the strikes. Rig the rods with 15- to 20-pound test. Use a 20-pound leader and a 1/0 hook. Straight shank or circle hooks work great, but you'll need to snap the rod tip to set the straight shank hooks. The circle hooks only need you to start reeling to set the hook.
Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 347-1389.