How to Catch More Sheepshead
Sheepshead are Structure Oriented
One look at a sheepshead’s teeth will explain a lot about their eating habits. Sheepshead feed primarily on barnacles. They will bite off a chunk of barnacle and grind it with their massive teeth. Small crabs tend to stay by oyster beds and pilings. They are probably the second most popular meal for a sheepshead. Sheepshead will also take fiddler crabs, clams, and shrimp. Yes you can use barnacles as bait. See the FWC quote regarding the harvest of barnacles below. The most overlooked bait for sheepshead is sand fleas. A blue crab cut into quarters or eights is another good bait for larger individuals. The common thread here is that all these baits are crustaceans. Most of these baits can be found near pilings or oyster bars except sand fleas. It is no wonder that sheepshead can be found by pilings and oyster bars.
Live Bait for Sheephead
Live bait is king for sheepshead.
Chumming with barnacles is a common practice.
There are some rules to follow. This is a quote from an FWC article “Barnacles on the other hand do not have size limits or specified bag limits, which means that you can harvest up to 100 pounds per person per day with a recreational saltwater fishing license and you can use them to chum sheepshead. You can also simply scrape them off bridge piles and allow them to sink and attract sheepshead. Do not scrape barnacles from private docks or other private structures without permission of the property owner.”
There are several lures that will regularly take sheepshead.
Tackle for sheepshead is easy. They are strong fighters but do not run from their comfort zone next to whatever structure they are near. The only limitation on a tackle is the sheephead’s propensity to go around pilings and break off. Most inshore tackle will work. I personally use
with 24 inches of 20-pound Seaguar Blue Label Fluorocarbon Leader
on a 6½ foot medium heavy Ugly Stik GX2
paired with a Daiwa BG 3000
Terminal tackle for sheepshead
There are three basic chooses for terminal tackle for sheepshead.
Here is the best YouTube video I’ve seen on how to tie dropper rigs. This is how I tie my rigs for sheepshead and surf fishing. I always like the video because that helps the owner of the video.
Hide the hook when sheepshead fishing
Sheepshead are notorious bait stealers. They will bite down on your bait but don’t swim off with it so there is no tug on the line. I’ve seen underwater videos showing sheepshead biting a chunk of barnacle staying in the same spot as they grind it in their mouth. The secret method to catch more sheepshead is to lift the bait very slowly from the bottom up a couple of feet then drop it back to the bottom. Never leave it on the bottom for longer than a couple of seconds. I prefer a single dropper loop because as I lift the bait I’m always in contact with it. The Carolina rig has slack in it as you lift it so I don’t think it works as well.
It doesn’t seem to matter if you use circle hooks or J hooks because as you lift the bait the sheepshead will not have time to get gut hook. A size 1 to 2/O hook short shank should do the job. Another item is to cover the hook with the bait so the sheepshead can not see it. They are primarily site feeders and will shy away from a hook. Of course, if you are using crab an exposed hook is not much of a concern because it looks like another leg sticking out.
Leader size can make a difference
Leader size can be important. Sheepshead can see the line when it is clear. If the water is especially clear and you can’t seem to hook any sheepshead try going to a lighter leader to see if that makes a difference.
Frozen and salted baits will produce
During the winter when it is hard to find some baits it is ok to use frozen bait you saved from summer. Sand fleas will keep in the freezer if you blanch them first. Shrimp that are salted work as well too.
Tides affect sheepshead fishing
Generally, sheepshead will position themselves on the backside of pilings or rocks to stay out of the current. Keep this in mind when placing your bait. If you can drift your bait from the up current side of the structure to the down current side you will find that you get more bites.
Sheepshead can be found around deep water structure. You can use the same technique that you would use inshore.
Sheepshead have large tough scales and ribcages. Use the point of your fillet knife to penetrate between the dorsal fin and the backbone. Then work behind the pectoral fin towards the tail like any other fish. Don’t bother trying to save the meat over the ribs. It will be worth it as sheepshead are some of the best-eating fish we have.