sheepshead fishing in the spread
Sep 8, 2021

How to Catch Sheepshead | Fishing Videos

Sheepshead are one of those crustacean eating fish that have an oh so delicious quality to their meat. The flesh resembles what they eat, crabs, shrimp, oysters and other lovely delicacies. Their boney rib structure means you don't get big fillets relative to the size of fish, but the meat you do get is one of the best. This makes sheepshead fishing a very popular wintertime endeavor.


If you want to skip the article or move straight to seeing how Florida fishing guide Captain William Toney targets sheepshead, check out our video Sheepshead Fish.


When the cooler water moves in and the air temperature drops, one thing is for certain, sheepshead will make their way into the spots that held grouper and snapper during the warmer months. As winter comes on, the sheepshead fishing gets better. Rock piles, reefs, bridges, pilings and dock are popular holding areas for the species Archosargus probatocephalus.


Just like mangrove snapper, the sheepshead is a lover of structure. They won't wonder far from it. As I mentioned, the same spots you catch grouper on will hold sheepshead in the winter. Depending on the size of the structure, you could have a few fish or swarming schools. You really have to put your presentation right up next to the structure, if you want to get bites. Now, there will be times when the fish gets fired up and they will start chasing baits to the surface.


Expect the fish to use the current to their advantage. Most of the time, they will be on the up-current side, so sweeping baits into the rocks is smart fishing. Be mindful to stop well away from the structure to determine the drift. Which ways is the wind and current moving? See how your boat drifts and then anchor just off the spot you want to fish. Do not motor over the structure or you will ruin the spot.If the current is really pushing, the fish can be found behind the rocks seeking refuge. The tendency though is for sheepshead to be feeding and holding on the up current side. Cast your baits so they sweep to the rocks. Bites will happen tight to the structure.


Sheepshead also go by the name striped bandit and for good reason. That name is owed to the sneaky bite pattern the fish has. Sheepshead are filter feeders. They bite down on food, crush it with their crazy looking teeth, spit out the food and then suck it back in. This pattern allows for the disposal of hard shells, just like we crack crabs and remove the meat, sheepshead crack shells, spit them out and then slurp up the meat. By doing this, it can be a smidge difficult to set the hook.


Trying to set the hook during this eating process can be tricky. You feel something solid on your line, you set the hook and whiff. It can be frustrating. This grab, smash, spit, suck action happens quickly. Knowing when to strike is the game. Here is a something to consider. There is a pattern. Peck, peck, weight. When you feel the weight, set the hook. You don't want to keep your line tight. Leave a bit of a belly in the line and as you see the line start to move and a steady pull, it is time to set the hook. Give it a try. You will get a feel for it.


The type of sheepshead rigs we typically use are 1/8 t0 1/4 oz. jig heads with live shrimp. This is the best presentation, imo. If the current is really moving, you may have to go with a knocker rig. You want just enough weight to get the bait down and not be swept past the structure. Since crustaceans are on he menu, your bait options range from the live shrimp to fiddler crabs, sand fleas, oysters and even cracked blue crabs. The easiest and best of these is the shrimp. Frozen shrimp are junk. Try and get the live ones.


As for the fighting prowess of sheepshead, well it's impressive. If you have ever caught bream or bluegill on ultra light tackle, then you know. Expect them to use their size and strength to thrash around. Unlike grouper, sheepshead do not make a run for the structure. They just use brute force to pull against your line. It is fun.


What conditions make for good sheepshead fishing. The striped bandits thrive on cold water. The cool water temperatures trigger the spawning behavior of the fish and really create an active bite. Moon phases play a big role in the feeding activity. Key in on this and pay attention to which part of the new or full moon cycles work best for you. Low pressure periods are ideal, if you can marry them with the right moon phase.


If you want to be a better angler, be open to learning new tactics and techniques. Knowledge is the key to fishing success. In The Spread has a library full of instructional fishing videos for your learning experience.


Seth Horne

Content Chief

In The Spread Fishing

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