No, they're not glamorous like a snook. And they don't pull drag like a redfish. But what the sheepshead lacks in looks and brawn, they certainly make up for on the dinner table.
Undoubtedly, this striped porgy holds its own when it comes to good eating. It can be fried, blackened, sautéed, or prepared however you prefer. Some locals even steam it and serve it with drawn butter, comparing it to lobster. Now, how many fish can you say that about?
Per Florida saltwater fishing regulations, anglers can only keep one snook per day. Redfish? Not surprisingly, the same daily bag limit as snook. The bag limit for sheepshead (minimum of 12 inches)? Fifteen. That's right, 15!
Just because they have a generous bag limit, don't assume they're easy to catch. Why do you think they have those stripes down the side? They're criminals, I tell you. Bait-stealing thieves, plain and simple.
But, they can be caught if you know a few simple tricks.
Start by filling a 40 series sized spinning reel with 20-pound superbraid line. Braided line doesn't stretch, which helps in two ways. First, it aids in feeling the subtle bite of the sheepshead. Second, it provides the power to yank them out of their barnacle-encrusted cover.
Fluorocarbon leader material isn't a must, but it helps. Any advantage to the angler should be taken, and fluorocarbon is practically invisible under water. Thirty-pound test is sufficient.
At the end of the leader, tie on a sharp No. 1 J or circle hook. Sheepshead have a small mouth, plus they are nibblers, so the smaller the hook the better.
Small crimp-on leads called "shots" are the easiest way to get the offering down in the strike zone. Use just enough lead for the bait to sink. Only add if the current or winds come into play.
Sheepshead aren't too picky, but they definitely can't resist a juicy fiddler or mud crab. Oysters and mussels work well, too, they're just hard to keep on the hook. Barnacles and small pieces of shrimp do well also.
There are miles of sheepshead hot spots all over the bay. All bridges, piers, docks, and seawalls will hold sheepshead this time of year. The Gandy and Skyway get the most attention, but the Tierra Verde drawbridge should not be overlooked. The seawall that borders along Pass-a Grille Way, where Merry Pier is located, is another great spot.
To catch these sneaky critters, try this technique. Allow the bait to settle to the bottom, then slowly raise and lower the rod tip just a few inches. By doing this, you'll be able to get the "feel" of the bait when it raised and lowered. When you feel anything out of the ordinary, set the hook.
Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the lubberline at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.