Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

February marks time for sheepshead fishing

February may be the month for love, but for fishermen, it's the month to hate.

Frequent cold fronts make it hard to get offshore and plummeting temperatures on the grass flats keep nearly every species from biting.

However, there is one bright spot, a reliable species I turn to when everything else shuts down: sheepshead.

You don't read much about sheepshead. Few anglers build reputations on them. You won't see the nom de guerre "Sheepshead Slayer" on any fishing website message boards.

In fact, archosargus probatocephalus doesn't even warrant a mention in the species identification section of the International Game Fish Association's record book.

But if you are a sporting type looking for some fishing action, or a hunter-gatherer hoping to put food on the table, read on. February is the best month to fish for sheepshead, but catching this particular prey can prove frustrating.

There's an old adage that says if you want to catch sheepshead, the first thing you must learn is how to set the hook before you feel the bite. These creatures are notorious nibblers. Take one look at their humanlike choppers, and you'll understand why.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, there are hundreds of great sheepshead spots. You'll find these finicky eaters in the residential canals, along rocky channel edges and, of course, under docks. These unappreciated sport fish feed on everything from barnacles to shrimp.

Old-timers call this bottom dweller the "convict fish." Some suggest that's because of the sheepsheads' distinctive stripes, like those on the uniforms worn by convicts on a chain gang. Others, this writer included, disagree and contend that the name comes from the species' legendary reputation as bait thieves.

A member of the porgy family, the sheepshead is a close relative and constant companion of another well-known bait bandit, the pinfish. These two usually share the same space, and as a result, the angler's greatest challenge is learning to tell the difference between the pinfish's nibble and sheepshead's chomp.

Most sheepshead found in local waters weigh 1-2 pounds, but fish caught in deep water can weigh five times that much. In case you're wondering, the largest specimen on record, caught in New Orleans in 1982, weighed 21 pounds, 4 ounces.

The favorite prey of pier anglers, sheepshead can be found from Nova Scotia to Brazil. Here in Tampa Bay, anglers tend to use natural bait on tiny hooks. Start small, with a No. 1, then downsize if necessary, going as far as a No. 2 or even a No. 4.

Another trick of successful sheepshead fishermen is braided line. It doesn't stretch like monofilament, making it easier to feel the bite. A good light-tipped graphite rod will also help you "feel" the fish. And when it comes to weight on the line, don't go heavy. All you need is enough to send the bait to the bottom.

Every angler has a favorite sheepshead bait. Some prefer mussels, others bits of shrimp. Fresh barnacles, scraped off a piling, always work well. But remember, your bait to fish ratio could be as high as 10 to 1. So whichever bait you choose, make sure you have plenty of it.

Love them or hate them, sheepshead may be all you've got when the north wind blows.

February marks time for sheepshead fishing 02/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Mariners game

    The Heater

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't always look like he's going hard, but he showed impressive reactions Saturday in reversing field to catch a ball that clanked off the catwalk then firing to second to double up Guillermo Heredia on an attempt to tag up.

  2. Bucs journal: Simeon Rice gives master class on sacks to defensive ends


    TAMPA — As the Bucs seek their first 10-sack season from a player since Simeon Rice in 2005, who better to help that cause than Rice himself?

  3. Bucs' annual Women of RED preseason party attracts nearly 2,000


    TAMPA — Theresa Jones is primarily a college football fan, but she wanted to get a taste of the Bucs. So the 46-year-old Tampa resident bought a ticket for the team's Women of RED Ultimate Football Party at Raymond James Stadium on Friday.

    Lee White of Seminole tries on a helmet at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers female fans descended upon Raymond James Stadium for the ultimate football party, the 2017 Women of RED: The Takeover, supported by Moffitt Cancer Center. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times

  4. Rays vs. Mariners, 1:10 Sunday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Today: vs. Mariners

    1:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Blake Snell
  5. Bucs' Ali Marpet: Move to center could pay off big


    TAMPA — No player works as closely with Jameis Winston as the center. Only those two touch the ball on every play. Together they make — if you will — snap judgements about defensive alignments.

     Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ali Marpet #74 warm up prior to preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) 700069805