Cold Water Sheepshead Fishing on Florida's Gulf Coast
When the Gulf of Mexico waters turn chilly, the bite from one of my favorite fish turns on, that being the lovely sheepshead fish. Sheepshead can be caught year round on the Big Bend of Florida in our rivers, creeks and keys but this is the time to focus on the nearshore and offshore rocks.
The cold water triggers the sheepshead that it's time to spawn, so they will gather around the structure to do so. While their spawning activities get underway, they will bite not peck, but bite! My favorite sheepshead bait is shrimp, which are one the easiest to find at most bait houses. I have caught sheepshead on fiddler crabs, cracked blue crab and one on a gold spoon, so they do bite on other baits, but shrimp is the best.
Using a 1/8th oz. jig is about as much weight as you need to get the bait to the bottom. I am talking about water being 12 feet or less. If it's deeper with current, the a knocker rig with a 3/8ths or 1/2 ounce sliding weight is better. For a hook, I've always liked the Eagle Claw bait holder because the barbs on the shank of the hook keep the shrimp in place, so the sheepshead can't suck the bait of the hook. It almost guarantees the hook being slurped up with the shrimp.
The size limit for sheepshead in Florida is 12 inches. Over the years I've cleaned a few just over the legal sheepshead limit, but there is not much meat on them. A 14" fish yields more meat. The bag limit is 8 fish per angler, but I try to keep it at 5 fish per angler on my charters because that's plenty of meat and cleaning them is a chore.
Sheephead are very good eating and have helped me out on many winter shore lunches. High incoming tide will be in the afternoon this weekend, so get out there and bust up some sheepshead.
Watch Sheepshead Fishing Videos to learn more.
Captain William Toney
In The Spread Instructor