Friday, June 22, 2018

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.


Captainís Corner: Size of sea trout a welcome surprise in Pinellas grass beds

A nice surprise has been the quality size of the spotted sea trout on deeper grass beds in southern Pinellas. Typically, summertime trout tend to run smaller than the 16- to 20-inch trout weíve been finding. Fishing the deep grass with scattered sand...
Published: 06/21/18

Captainís Corner: Offshore fishing will be strong for awhile

June and July offer some of the yearís best offshore fishing. Targets such as red snapper, blackfin tuna, mahi≠mahi, wahoo and sailfish make their way through our area and make appearances on many trips to depths of 120 feet or more. Red snapper are ...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18

Captainís Corner: Itís a good time to focus on snook

Snook have been a main focus on my most recent trips. This time of year, snook inhabit the beaches, gathering in the ditches and swashes along shore. Jetties or rock structures are also a favorite habitat for snook to lurk, looking to ambush bait fis...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Captainís Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Published: 06/18/18

Captainís Corner: Trout bite at its best

The trout bite has been the best Iíve seen all year. Fish up to 26 inches have been common recently. Fish are sitting on the flatsí deeper edges, where the water is deeper and cooler, and moves a little more swiftly. Live sardines and hard plastic ba...
Published: 06/16/18
Updated: 06/17/18

Captainís Corner: Fishing this month is all about diversity

This is the month of diverse opportunity. The choice of species is unlimited, as long as you have the bait. You can target snook and tarpon in the morning, then fish for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snapper, sharks and cobia in the afternoon. The tarp...
Published: 06/15/18

Captainís Corner: When itís tarpon time, itís also shark time

Tarpon get most of the attention when talking about exciting fly action for large fish in our area. Baitfish are more prolific, and large tarpon follow their forage and populate most of our local waters. Following them are fish that consider tarpon t...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/14/18

Captainís Corner: This is your best time for tarpon fishing

Now is the best time to target tarpon. Silver kings are cruising the beaches on their yearly migration up and down the stateís west coast. This weekís strong new moon tides and the strong full moon tides in two weeks provide some of the best action f...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/13/18

Captainís Corner: Turn attention to gag grouper and red snapper

Attention has turned to gag grouper and red snapper for many offshore fishermen. Red snapper can be best targeted in waters 105 feet and deeper, with some available in water as shallow as 60 feet. Although the snapper will be found on high profile st...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18

Captainís Corner: Pompano popping up at passes, along beach

Over the past few weeks, pompano have started to appear around the passes and along the beach. These tasty members of the jack family are one of the most difficult fish to find and keep track of. Just when you think youíve figured out a reliable time...
Published: 06/10/18
Updated: 06/11/18