Fishing for Sheepshead, Southwest Florida.

Posted on March 4th, 2012

[nggallery id=679]Yesterday we decided to target sheepshead in Lemon Bay, Fl.  Before heading out I had to catch one of sheepsheads favorite food, small crabs that like to hide in and around old oyster beds.  To do this I used a floor tile removal spade & a garden rake (important tools for getting bait!!),  and searched the nearby seawall for clusters of oysters.  When I would find a nice cluster I would place the rake, teeth-in below the oysters and hold the rake in my left hand, while using a the spade with my right hand to separate the oysters from the wall.  When the oysters were separated, I would gently lift them out of the water with the rake.  Next, I would use the spade to separate the oysters and look for the tiny crabs hiding inside.  I have found that the best crabs are about the size of your thumb-nail.  After collecting about 30 of these critters we were ready to head out.

[nggallery id=680]We found our first sheepshead fishing Stump Pass right at the end of Stump Pass National Park, Manasota Key, Fl. Winds were high and no boats were going out into the Gulf so we anchored in the main channel.  I fished the small crabs off the first shoreline break where I know sheepshead like to prowl looking for sand-flies and crabs.  Barbara fished shrimp in the channel.  To our surprise Barb soon hooked into a Bonnethead Shark which is part of the Hammerhead shark family.  This shark has a “shovel” shaped head and loves to feed on the bottom looking for shrimp and crabs.

[nggallery id=682]Leaving Stump Pass we headed for the bridge/pilings that connect Englewood to Sandpiper Key, Fl.  We strategically anchored the boat so that we could cast to the deeper-water abutments and also to the main channel abutments that funnel boats through the channel.  While Barb again fished shrimp and caught a variety of snapper, I stuck with the crabs and caught some nice sheepshead.  Using small hooks like a #10 or #8 is crucial to catch sheepshead since this allows them to take the small crab easily into their mouth past their nasty set of incisor teeth.  I nortmally don’t let them take the crab too long and set the hook as soon as I feel the hit.  This produces lightly hooked fish.  In southwest Florida sheepshead have to be over 12″ to keep.  Hooking smaller sheepshead lightly enables you to release them unharmed.A sliding-sinker rig with about a 1/2 oz. egg-sinker is the most popular rig for sheepshead all over Florida.  I used a sliding sinker rig fishing Stump Pass (primarily because of the waves and current), but only fished a couple of larger split-shot sinkers when we fished the bridge abutments since there was less current and that presentation was much more natural allowing the crab to drift with the tide along the abutments making them irresistible to feeding sheepshead.

[nggallery id=681]Last night we enjoyed a wonderful fresh fish fry with all of our fish deep fried in Louisiana Fish Fry coating.  We had caught enough tasty fish in a few hours to feed 6-hungry adults, two dogs and we had left overs!


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