Southern Sheepshead Tactics: Pier Hangover

Catch Sheepshead

Many people ask how do you catch a sheepshead? Most people start out sheepshead fishing from the pier doing what is called the Sheepshead hangover.  While hanging over the edge of the pier rail suspending your bait next to the pylon the Sheepshead angler will feel the customary tap-tap-tap of the Sheepshead nibbling on the bait. However, the best way to catch Sheepshead is in a boat. It’s like this, one day you realize there’s no pier long enough to fish the way you want to fish.  It’s with that in mind that a boat can get you where you need to be which is where the Sheephead are.  Having small skiff exponentially increases your odds of catching more Sheepshead inshore by allowing you to move around and find the fish.

Best Sheepshead Pole

Most people use a six to seven foot medium action rod with a light tip so that they can feel the Sheepshead nibbling on the crab. Back in the old days most people used a long cane pole with a fixed length of line no longer than the pole itself.  Keep your line about 3/4 the length of the cane pole. That will allow you to fight the fishhead to the surface. With the cane pole doubled over, the “thief” will right be on the water surface next to skiff. Many people still use this old school technique today while yet others use a high tech method of fishing for Sheepshead with an extendable crappie pole like a 16 foot Uncle Buck’s Deluxe crappie pole.

Habitat and Fishing Tips: Sheepshead are commonly found in brackish water river mouths, bays, estuaries and tidal creeks and especially near oyster bars, buoys, channel markers, piers and bridge piles where food is plentiful. Sheepshead feed primarily on crustaceans, mollusks, barnacles and small fish. Anglers typically use light to medium weight spinning tackle with shrimp, sand fleas or small crabs as bait. Using their specially adapted (human like) incisors and crushing molars, sheepshead can be difficult to hook and have an uncanny ability to clean a hook without you knowing anything happened. When targeting sheepshead, it is very important to keep your line tight and be ready for the bite because you often get one, and only one, chance to set the hook. The food quality of sheepshead is very good, and they are one of the only fish that can smile back at you during the picture! Can oysters and barnacles be used as bait or chum for sheepshead? Oysters and barnacles are very, very different when it comes to regulations. Oysters have closed seasons, bag limits, size limits and can only be legally harvested in specific shellfish harvesting areas that are classified as "approved" or "conditionally approved" and in the "open" status. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Aquaculture manages these shellfish harvesting areas. 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.

Southern Sheepshead Bait

That brings us to the second most asked question about sheepshead fishing what’s the best bait for Sheepshead? Many Anglers ask the question, “do Sheepshead eat shrimp?” Yes they do, in fact there are many good baits for Sheepshead and shrimp is one bait the top of the list. Crabs, clams, sand fleas, squid, fiddler crab, are all good baits for Sheepshead. Many people love using live sand crabs or mud crabs for Convicts. In Georgia we prefer to use purple back fiddler crabs above anything else. In fact Captian Judy recently said she prefers them, “I have seen this fish (Sheepshead) hit a fiddler so hard and so fast that it can suck the insides out while leaving the empty shell still hanging on the hook” Most Sheepshead love to eat Barnacles, clams, fiddler crabs, oysters, and this is why they have these crazy teeth. Many people like to shuck fresh oysters and then nuke them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds to make him rubbery; this helps keep the oyster on the hook. While others have been known to put the oyster inside a cheese cloth pouch. When using small crabs a general rule of thumb is 10 baits per fish. A typical daily load is 100 fiddler crabs on board per angler with shrimp as a standard backup bait. Many savvy anglers like to “chum” up the Sheepshead fish with chunks of barnacle or clam etc. prior to dropping premium baits.

Georgia Sheepshead eRegulations

The Georgia state record for Sheepshead in the male category is 14 lb, 14 oz by Ralph V White in 2002. Georgia Sheepshead harvest is open all year in Georgia waters to anglers with a valid license and SIP permit. 15 Sheepshead per angler limit, each with a 10″ minimum fork length (FL). There are many different sheepshead fishing rigs and many fishermen claim to have their own “secret sheepshead rig” that catches more Sheepshead than anyone else. In any event, your Sheepshead rig is going to have to consist of some strong shank hooks. Many people like to use a drop shot rig for Sheepshead. A popular new Sheepshead rig is called the swing head jig or football swinghead.

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Another popular question is, “what’s the best time of day to catch Sheepshead?”  Sheepshead fishing in general normally occurs during the daytime hours although, night time fishing for Sheepshead is becoming more and more popular especially @WaltDisneyWorld

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