Summer sheepshead tactics

Fishing guide Jeff Wolfe caught this sheepshead, a typical-sized one for the summer. (Photo by Craig Holt)
Fishing guide Jeff Wolfe caught this sheepshead, a typical-sized one for the summer. (Photo by Craig Holt)

How to catch sheepshead in the heat

Chasing “convict” fish — sheepshead —  provides action and challenges for adults and children. If you find a hot spot beneath a bridge, you also can fish in shady comfort. And sheepshead make great table fare.

Any inside waters with relatively shallow depths (4 to 12 feet) and barnacles — piers, boat docks, edges of oyster beds, concrete rubble, pilings — may offer a mother lode of these striped battlers that may weigh from 2 to 14 pounds.

All it takes to catch them is a good supply of fiddler crabs, a 7-foot rod (even a cane pole), 20-pound-test braid for main line and a Carolina rig (1-ounce barrel weight, black swivel, 2 feet of 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader tied to a swivel above a 2/0 Owner octopus hook).

Fiddler crabs are great baits and are sold in many coastal bait-and-tackle shops. You can also catch them yourself in many marshes at low tide.

But be aware — fiddlers can pinch fingers with their largest claw. Hold the big pincher against its body when picking up or hooking.

A shady spot

A favorite July or August boating approach is to anchor beneath a highway bridge piling for shade. Anglers lower fiddlers (or mole crabs or pieces of barnacle) down a piling’s side where sheepshead work with their sharp teeth.

Sheepsheads inhale crabs then crush them with two rows of upper and lower molars. They nip at barnacles with sheep-like upper and lower teeth.

The best advice to catch light-biting sheepshead is keep the line tight, lower baits to the bottom, then reel in a foot or so beside a piling or structure. If line moves away or you feel a tug, snap your wrist to set the hook and keep the fish’s head turned up.

Good inside-waters areas to find sheepshead include any bridges, piers, jetties, rock walls or other places with concrete or wooden structures in the water.

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About Craig Holt 7 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp, N.C., has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers and magazines before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.