I recall spotting sheepshead around those pilings, and how difficult it was to get the darn things to eat my bait. Seems like the pinfish and other bait stealers couldn't wait for my hook to drop in the water.
The sheepsies, on the other hand, would give it a 10-point examination.
We spent a lot of time in Grand Isle as well, but the fishing there was a lot more serious than in Gulf Shores. There were too many speckled trout and other game fish to bother with lowly sheepshead.
That attitude still prevails among many anglers today. Although they possess an excellent-tasting white meat, sheepshead are hard to clean, are sluggish fighters, seldom hit lures and are sometimes plain picky about bait.
So, who really wants to waste their time with sheepshead, huh? Fly rodders, that's who!
The latest craze — and trust me, we fly rodders are always a crazed bunch — is to pursue the "Cajun Permit." My guess is whoever coined this moniker found the sheepshead to be as difficult to entice with fly as the highly acclaimed permit.
In fact, like permit, landing the Cajun variety pretty much earns bragging rights.
Information on the biology of sheepshead is somewhat rare. We know they are omnivorous, which means they eat just about anything, including crusteceans, small fishes, and even grass.
In fact, a Lake Ponchartrain study showed that by volume, 54 percent of their diet was plants.
Before you rush to your nearest fly shop requesting a Grass Fly, be aware that overall, barnacles, small crabs, shrimp and even small fishes appear to make up the bulk of their diet.
Over the years, I've had them hit shad rigs, artificial and live cocahoes, spoons and even on a couple of occasions, a topwater lure. But small crabs and shrimp were always the best bait.
When it comes to flies, it's no surprise small crab and shrimp patterns are good. However, anything that imparts motion with the tiniest of strips seems to work. That includes spoon flies, Disco Charlies (a Charlie tied with a marabou wing), and Bonefish Bitters (rubber legs).
Danny Williams of Lake Charles has a killer shrimp fly called the Shwimp on which he and Ron Begnaud have taken many sheepsies.
Alec Griffin, manager of Uptown Angler fly shop in New Orleans, tells me that he and Capt. Bryan Carter have taken several big fish on a fly tied with an orange hackle flash body, bead chain eyes and an orange rabbit strip tail.
I imagine any fly tied with marabou or rabbit strips, giving it "life" even when sitting on the bottom, will be enticing.
Another fact about sheepshead is that they spawn in the spring, usually offshore or near the coast, then migrate back up into estuaries.
Growth is rapid until 6 to 8 years of age, especially for the females, and then nearly shuts down. A 20-year-old male only averages 4 pounds, while a female averages about 5 1/2 pounds.
If you catch a sheepsie over 5 pounds, it makes sense to release them, since they're primary spawners. However, because they're difficult to fillet, it doesn't make sense to keep anything very small. You end up with more head than sheep.
Also, when filleting you'll want to avoid the red flesh next to the skin. I do this by making my slice about 1/8 inch off the skin instead of right next to the skin.
There are two other facts about sheepshead you should know. First, they are very active in warm water. One study showed they were most abundant in Lakes Ponchartrain and Maurepas when water temperatures were above 85 degrees.
Since these are brackish lakes, that's clue to the second fact: They have a very high tolerance of fresh water.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the catches we've made over the years have come in late summer and fall. In August 2000, Master Jake and I made a trip using the canoe where Jake sightcasted to several dozen, and landed eight. That's a great day with the Cajun Permit!
On a recent trip with Begnaud to the marsh north of Calcasieu Lake, Roger Cormier found the water still fresh from all the rains in early May, and even caught a bass.
They spotted several black tails waving in the matted grass, an indication of sheepshead.
Roger put his leader over one fish, then made a very slow retreive. As often happens, the "strike" is recognized when the line goes tight, then starts pulling back a little at first, then a lot when the fish realizes what's going on.
After a 15-minute fight, Roger put a 5.75-pound sheepshead on the Boga-Grip.
Besides grass, sheeps also love structure — pipes, rocks, pilings — and will flock around these at times. Dugan Sabins had a great day last October in Catfish Lake after a major cold front. The sheepsies were over some deep pipes, and nearly every cast of a pink Charlie resulted in a strike.
Perhaps my most memorable sheepshead-on-the-fly episode took place three years ago. Randy Leonpacher, Master Jake and I were fishing a cut on a strong falling tide. Jake was fishing shrimp on the bottom using commie tackle when something hit his line and broke it off after a good fight.
Minutes later my fly was eaten, and as I wrestled the fish to the boat, we realized this was Jake's fish. It had a shrimp with hook, a plastic jig and my fly all stuck in its not-so-large mouth.
He was a disgrace to his species, and was given execution by frying pan!