Onshore, Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck
1 - 8 pounds
14" - 20"
The Sheepshead Fish is part of the Sparidae Family in the perch-like fish order. It is a beautiful fish with a deeply compressed grey body and five to seven dark bars on the sides of its body, giving it the nickname of convict fish. They also have sharp dorsal spines, but what they are really famous for are their human-like teeth.
Sheepshead are common at 1-8 pounds and 14-20 inches. However, if you are lucky, you could come across a 20 pound, 35-incher. They live a relatively long life, about 20 years.
Sheepshead form spawning groups up to 10,000. They migrate to structures at channel passes and offshore reefs, jetties, and oil platforms. Sheepshead are external fertilization spawners. They primarily spawn in the early spring from February through April.
Sheepshead fish are nicknamed convict fish for their gray and black stripes.
Sheepshead Bay in New York got its name from these fish there were once abundant. However, the bay's popularity caused water pollution, and the Sheepshead have all but disappeared from the bay.
The delicate white flesh and delicious mild flavor of the Sheepshead make it excellent table fare, but their tough scales and strong fin spines make this species difficult to clean or fillet. Because of this, it is sometimes passed over in favor of other food fish.
You will find these fish around structures of any kind, docks, bridges, petroleum rigs, and reefs. Any barnacle-covered pilings make for great places to catch some big Sheepshead fish. Although they usually stay near cover, occasionally, they will also come closer to shore to feed on sand fleas (a type of crab). .
Look for these King-of-the-Reef fish around structures where they love to feed on barnacles, small stone crab, and fiddler crab. They also eat shrimp, mollusks, minnows, clams, and squid. When choosing a bait, a natural one is the best way to go. However, if you are looking for a jig to use, consider a shrimp-tipped jig. The heavier weight to help keep the bait down and from being dragged with the current. If your local laws allow, you may even scrape barnacles off the pilings with a rake to create a seeping area of meat pieces in the water. The Sheepshead will quickly hone in on the scent and have them come to you.
If your fishing from a boat, pull up to the structure without dropping an anchor, if possible, as it will startle the fish. As they seldom go after baits too far from their cover, so get as close as you can. Anglers on land can still catch the big one off the dock or seawall. Just as the boat angler would do, cast your bait as close to the pilings as possible. Using light tackle, let the bait hit bottom, then slowly bring the bait up in 1-foot increments to determine where the fish are suspended in the water as they are pelagic. They may lurk near the bottom or hover in any depth. Sheepshead are notorious bait stealers. They will nibble on the bait in an attempt to loosen it from the hook, so always have it set up firmly. They also have powerful mouths and jaws, so once you feel the fish's weight nibbling at the bait, set the hook aggressively.
Sheepshead are found along the entire east coast of the United States and around Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. The highest concentrations are found in south Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the large number of artificial structures and pier pilings in northwest Florida, you will also find large concentrations. They can also be found as far north as Nova Scotia.
The world record weighed in at 21 and 1/4 pounds and was caught off the concrete seawall on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
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