Sheepshead are winter fishing fun, they are plentiful, reasonably easy to catch and are excellent table fare. It is easy to confuse the sheepshead with black drum as both have the Black and White bars. The easy way to tell the two apart is by the mouth, sheepshead have teeth that look like molars and black drum have gums with very rough sandpaper and no real teeth. The primary diet of the sheepshead is shrimp, crabs, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and oysters making the meat sweet and yummy. Most are in the 2-3lb range but often caught in excess 6-8lbs and even a few over 10lbs.
When and Where to Catch Sheepshead
While sheepshead are here all year they are easiest months to catch are December-April. During these colder months they congregate around the jetties, bridges, docks with deepwater access, the Okaloosa Pier and deep holes in the surf. You can of course catch sheepshead from the shore or boat, having a boat just increases your odds as you can get right to the fish.
Rods and Reels
Choose a rod 6-7ft medium action with a light touch so you can feel the delicate bite of a sheepshead. For a reel, choose a mid-sized spinning reel in the 12lb size range. You can use either mono or braid, I prefer braided line again because it offers more sensitivity so you can feel the bite. Any braided line will work but I prefer the Power Pro Super Slick 8 as it is much softer, rarely throws a wind knot and is the limpest of the braided lines.
Rigs and Bait
I will almost always tell you to use a circle hook for almost any fish we fish for but that is not the case with sheepshead. Because of the structure of a sheepshead mouth and all the molars you will need a very small J hook. The two hooks I prefer are both Owner’s the Gorilla Light or the Flyliner Live Bait hooks in size 1, 2 and 4. If you are looking for actual size i would say no bigger than a dime and a little smaller would be fine.
For your rig I suggest a short Carolina Rig (slip lead rig). For most species we make this rig 3ft to 10ft depending on the species. Usually we are using a circle hook and they work best on a longer leader. For sheepshead we will need a leader 12-18 inches and we will be using a J Hook. If your leader is too long you may never feel the bite as sheepshead casually swim up and crush their prey, their bite is so light and if your leader is long you may never feel the bite. You also want to us a premium Fluorocarbon leader (Seagur). Fluorocarbon is invisible to the fish as it is the same density as saltwater and does not refract light and makes it easier to fool the sheepshead into biting. As for the size of the lead you will need a variety of sizes of egg leads 1/2oz up to 4oz. You want the lightest possible and still be able to keep it right next to the structure you are fishing.
How to Catch Sheepshead
As I said earlier there are many places you can catch sheepshead from the shore or boat. Shore fishing adds some challenges because you are limited to where you can fish. Good places are the Destin Bridge, Jetties, Okaloosa Island Pier, docks and other bridges.
Another advantage the fisherman fishing from boats have is natural chumming. When fishing from a boat take a shovel or garden rake to scrape the pilings knocking off the barnacles, this creates a natural chum slick. Good places to fish from a boat are the Coast Guard Station, Destin Bridge, West Jetty, The docks along the south side of the bay between Destin and Fort Walton Beach, harbor and most docks with deep water access in the bayous.
While a big variety of baits will work, Fiddler Crabs are best, small Live Shrimp, Sand Fleas and Oysters. While oysters work well they are the hardest to get to stay on the hook. Old timers tell stories of wrapping then in panty hose and then putting on a hook to get them to stay on.
No matter which bait you choose you will need to fish right next to the pilings or structure. Sheepshead are very structure oriented and wont feed very far from structure. They will bite on the incoming or out going tide but tend to bite best on the outgoing tide.
As said earlier Sheepshead are excellent eating. I fillet them and and make smaller pieces.
- Dip fish in egg wash
- Have a mix of flour, fish fry and Panko bread crumbs mixed with a little Ole Bay Seasoning
- Dredge fish in the dry mix and sit on wire baking rack for 5 minutes before frying
- Pan fry the sheepshead in cast iron skillet
- Buy some Grace brand fish and meat sauce on the international food isle at Publix, add just a little water to the sauce and pour over fish.
- Serve with fresh slaw and potatoes
Yummy Caribbean Cole Slaw
Finely shred cabbage, carrot and cucumber. Make a dressing of apple cider vinegar, avocado oil and sugar. Mix three parts vinegar, one part oil and one part sugar.
This article was written by Half Hitch fishing expert, Tim Broom. Get the PDF here:GCSSS-Sheepshead.pdf