Sheepshead: Perfect Fish for First Timers or Travelers
I love fishing new places, especially when I travel and have an opportunity to fish an once in a lifetime location. But finding productive fishing areas when you have little local knowledge and no time to scout is challenging, similar to when you first started in the sport. But there are species which can lessen the learning curve due to their abundance, ease in which they are caught or being easily accessed. One such species is the sheepshead.
The sheepshead, also called the convict fish, meets almost all of the requirements stated earlier. They are widespread being native to the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. They are a schooling fish so once you find one you have generally found enough to keep you busy all afternoon. Although they can be found in a variety of water conditions they almost always school around structure, especially that which is covered with barnacles, which not only makes finding likely locations easier but includes many piers accessible from shore. Plus they can be caught on light to medium tackle so there is little need for specialized gear. The only drawback is they can be a bit hook shy, meaning they can be reluctant to take bait when a hook is visible or lines with excessive hardware attached.
To get started locate a likely location. As stated before this includes barnacle covered structure including piers, pilings, rock piles or even buoys. If can locate an easily accessed oyster bed you have hit gold as sheepshead naturally feed on crustaceans so chances are high they will be frequenting the beds. Do not get discouraged if the first cast is unsuccessful, simply move a few feet and try again. Tide and current can affect location preference so even fishing the opposite side of structure can make the difference. Once you have found a school mark that spot as they tend to visit the same areas over and over again.
With a light / medium light rod spooled in 10-15 lb test you now need to get you bait in front of the fish. The best bait is by far crabs followed closely by clams or shrimp, although the latter two increase your chances of stolen baits and by catch. Others sometimes use squid or bloodworms but they are not natural food selections of the sheepshead and are thus undependable. Depending on the depth fished you can use either a surface float with bait suspended below or a drop rig with weight on bottom and bait suspended in the water column. Remember to use small hooks, light weight and very few other swivels, connectors etc.
The hardest part about catching sheepshead is detecting the bite, which is notoriously light (similar to crappies for fresh water anglers). For this reason I prefer to use the lightest set up possible and a float whenever possible – both increase ability to detect nibbles. I also recommend polarized sunglasses which allow you see fish and help predict when they will take your bait.