How to Catch Sheepshead Fish - Fishing Guide for Beginners
- 20 Jun, 2022
Sheepshead are one of the most fun and challenging fish to catch if you have the correct tackle. Sheepshead are sometimes referred to as the convict fish for their black and white stripes and how they can rob your bait in an instant.
A Sheepshead's mouth is very unique, and if you’ve ever caught one you’ve seen that their teeth are similar to human teeth. These fish feed on crustaceans on piers and other structures; to do so they have a very hard mouth and their teeth allow them to crush and crunch on their food.
There isn’t much that a hook can do with a mouth this hard. Sheepshead can make an angler frustrated because they will bite frequently but often it is difficult to get a complete hook up. There is only a small area on the Sheepshead's mouth where the lips are soft enough for a hook. However, with the right setup you can drastically improve your success!
Where to Fish
Something that makes Sheepshead fishing so attractive in the first place is the ability to fish them from shore; you don’t necessarily need a boat to catch these fish. Ultimately you just need some good structure and a tide. When it comes to structure you want to look for piers or debris such as logs and mangroves that you can visibly see crustaceans on. A good time to look for fishing spots is during low tide where these pillars are exposed. Then, you have the opportunity to study the structure and how it looks when the water is low.
The other benefit to this is you can make a mental note on where you may snag up when it is high tide. One thing about fishing structure is you will often get snagged, whether it is the current or when a Sheepshead bites it will take you into the structure. Once you find a promising spot it is time to think bait.
As mentioned before Sheepshead feed on crustaceans. One of the best baits I’ve found for Sheepshead is live sand fleas. Sand flea hunting in itself is almost as fun as catching Sheepshead! Sand fleas are found on the edge of the beach shelf; when you walk into the ocean you usually feel yourself step off a small edge onto the ocean floor. This is where you will find sand fleas. You will want to get a sand flea scoop and when the water is going out you will scoop on that shelf. Some days you can get 20-30 in one scoop, and other days it takes 300 scoops to get a handful of fleas; but either way you are on the ocean so it is never a bad day!
You can freeze sand fleas or even boil them but sometimes their shells will go soft and then they don’t stay on the hook very well. Preferably you can catch fleas a day or two before your fishing trip. To keep them alive use a milk carton with the top cut off, fill it about half way with sand and keep them in the fridge. If you don’t have access to sand fleas or have the time a live shrimp works well too. Now that we have our bait selection, let’s talk tackle.
Sheepshead can be a difficult fish to actually hook, so having the right tackle is really important. A 7ft medium action rod is suitable with a spinning reel that can handle up to 15lb test is a good starting point. A fluorocarbon leader is crucial and the lighter lb test you can go the better; but keep in mind what type of structure you are fishing as you may need something more abrasive to ensure you don’t end up cutting your line.
Probably one of the most crucial components to Sheepshead fishing is the hook. You want a very sharp hook and preferably a 1/0 circle hook. Circle hooks work great for Sheepshead because of the way they work. When you start to feel a bite you simply raise your rod up and reel slowly and this generally sets a perfect hook in the minimal soft spot on a Sheepshead’s mouth. J-hooks are harder to use because it requires more of a setting the hook action from the angler which often leads to pulling the hook out of the Sheepshead’s mouth all together.
Depending on the structure you are fishing and strength of the tide there are a few different techniques you can use. Ideally you want your bait to be as close to the structure as possible to mimic a crustacean. A dropper loop setup works well for this type of fishing – you can buy these pre-rigged as well.
Sheepshead are a ton of fun to catch! They put up a great fight and can be fished with minimal gear. The key things to remember about a Sheepshead is their mouth structure, so use a circle hook whenever possible. Use fresh live bait during high tide when the water is really moving well; this stirs up the natural bait making it a key time for Sheepshead to feed. Sheepshead are also great for eating; they can be a little challenging at first for cleaning but once you get the hang of it they are pretty easy and taste great!
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