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January is a Great Month to Start Counting Sheep

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On: Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 11:24AM | By: Merry Beth Ryan

Sheepshead, that is. Many species cycle down for the winter months and become less active; the Sheepshead are the opposite; they are just getting fired up this time of the year. This month is a great time to target Sheepies. Where to find these zebra-striped fish is no real secret at all. In order to be successful catching Sheepshead look for structure—a rock pile, pilings under a bridge, or a nearshore reef. Sheepshead feed on barnacles as well as live bait. Shrimp, or a sand flea, or a small crab work great as well. They have a set of crusher teeth for a reason. What may appear to look like a rock to other fish is dinner for a hard-mouthed Sheepshead. Sheepshead grind their food into small pieces before swallowing, making them challenging to hook at times. More times than not a Sheepshead will get away with your bait before you even know it,hence earning the name “convict fish.” Having the black and white markings is another characteristic the convict fish wears well. Hold your pole very still. You may feel a tap, tap, tap, and before you know it, your bait is gone and so is the Sheepshead.

Hold your pole very still; you may even want to place a finger on the line as it comes off the bail to better feel the fish and increase your reaction time for setting the hook. Sheepshead can be great fun to catch. Although they do not have nearly the power to smoke the drag on your reel, as a Kingfish does, they do have enough strength to get your attention once they are hooked. If you want to increase your odds of catching these “convict fish” bring along a bucket filled with barnacle shavings from local docks or pilings to chum with. If you’re willing to use the chum in this manner you will maximize your winter fishing experiences. Once the chum slick is found, you will soon be counting Sheep as you start reeling up one after another. Just like snapper, Sheepshead fishing can be very active once you get the attention of the fish below. Also, just like Snapper are famous for doing, the Sheepshead will leave you a bare hook time and time again, until you get more comfortable with feeling the initial bite.

There are some Sheepshead anglers who catch their 15 daily limit fish of 12 inches rather quickly, while others leave their fishing spot scratching their heads, wondering why they did not catch one single Sheepshead. Remember that a Sheepshead will not grab your bait and run with it like a Snook or Redfish. They tend to stay in one place; their objective is to crush your bait right off your hook before you ever notice. Move your bait slowly to see if you can feel the bite. Sheepshead tend to “mouth” the bait before they crush it. If you can master a technique to help you feel that happening, your odds of catching one will greatly increase. It is imperative to drop your line straight down when fishing near structure. Doing so will reduce your chances of getting hung up, which only cuts into your fishing time, and us diehard anglers cannot afford to lose any precious fishing time while we have it. Try not to leave your bait in one place for very long. Because Sheepshead have a reputation as bait stealers, you must be able to feel the fish below just as the fish is ready to take your bait. Something that has worked for many anglers—close your eyes and use your other senses to focus on simply you and the fish without any other interference. Try it; you will be amazed at the results. This month, as well as into February, is prime time for Sheepshead.

As with all fish, once you get them chummed up the feeding frenzy is a sight you will not want to miss. I have been seeing more and more anglers targeting Sheepshead these days. Docks and pilings are probably two of the best places to look for Sheepies. As a matter of fact, there are many fisherman who strictly target Sheepshead. Many people enjoy eating them as well. Be careful, there are some bones that need to be picked out before eating the fillets. Winter fishing in Florida has advantages. There is no need to be an early riser when targeting winter fish. The fish will wait for you, unlike those early morning Tarpon daisy-chaining along the beach in the summer months. Happy New Year!


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