Sheepshead Fishing Basics

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Sheepshead are mostly found inshore around bridges, docks and piers.  The barnacle encrusted pilings hold tons of sheepshead during the high tide.  Sheepshead can also be found in the passes, along the mangrove-lined shorelines, along jetties, in the surf and offshore on the reefs and wrecks when they spawn.

How to Catch Sheepshead

Sheepshead can easily be caught with a drop shot rig or split shot rig and a fiddler crab or live shrimp for bait.  Once you find these fish, it’s fairly easy to get them to bite.  The toughest thing about sheepshead is that they will often steal your bait.  Experienced anglers put more fish in the boat by fishing with one rod while paying attention to everything little thing that they feel.  Subtle bites are common and you will definitely miss lots of fish if you aren’t paying attention.

Recommended Tackle

Sheepshead are kind of like oversized bluegill.  Imagine catching 3 to 6 pound bluegill with some fish even bigger.  You can use lighter gear to catch these fish, but you will usually be fishing areas that have plenty of snags and stuff under the water that can fray your line and even cut it.  Because of this, the experienced sheepshead anglers will usually use medium heavy to heavy action spinning rods and reels with 14 to 20 pound test line and a 20 to 30 pound fluorocarbon leader.  You can definitely get by with lighter line, however, if you are targeting some of the bigger sheepshead around docks, bridge pilings, reefs and wrecks, it’s easy to fray the line and then snap it on a big fish.

Eating Sheepshead

Sheepshead taste very good.  Anglers fillet them and then cook them several different ways.  Frying them is probably the most popular method, but many people grill, bake and broil them.

Inshore Fishing for Sheepshead

Sheepshead can be found around many different places inshore.  The favorite places to fish for most anglers are the bridges, docks, buoys and jetties.  You can find them throughout the bays though, so don’t be shocked when you catch these fish all over the place.  We have a ton of detailed information on catching these fish inshore.

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Offshore Fishing for Sheepshead

During the end of winter, sheepshead will school up and move into deeper water offshore near reefs and wrecks to spawn.  Most anglers don’t fish for sheepshead offshore, but if you can find them on the offshore structure, you can put tons of fish in the boat in a hurry.

Pier Fishing for Sheepshead

Fishing the piers is similar to fishing the docks and bridges for sheepshead.  These fish use the piers as a place to feed on barnacles, which can be found all over the wood pilings that extend from the pier down to the bottom.  Try fishing throughout the water column because sheepshead can often be found just under the surface feeding on barnacles.

Surf Fishing for Sheepshead

Sheepshead are commonly found in the surf and at times, you can catch them in bunches from the surf.  Sheepshead move along the surf in search of an easy meal.  Most of the time, sheepshead are looking for fiddler crabs.  Whether you catch your own fiddler crabs or buy them from the local bait shop, they are the best bait to use for sheepshead, especially when fishing in the surf.  The incoming tide is usually the best time to fish for sheepshead in the surf.

Spawning Sheepshead

Sheepshead move offshore near reefs and wrecks to spawn during the winter time.  These fish school up in big numbers and they will feed aggressively on a variety of baits.  Fiddler crabs and live shrimp are the preferred baits for most anglers.  Since these fish don’t see much fishing pressure offshore, you should be able to catch plenty of these fish if you can find them.

How the Tides Affect Sheepshead

The tides play a big role in where the sheepshead will be and when they will be feeding.  The tidal changes will almost always provide better fishing, however, sheepshead seem to be one of the few fish that still feed pretty good on a slack tide inshore.  If you can find the better fishing spots for sheepshead, you have a good chance to catch them during a slack tide.  The height of the water will affect where these fish are found though as the tides change throughout the day.

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