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Winter Sheepshead Fishing… Lesson Learned

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On: Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 9:30AM | By: Captain Woody Gore

Old timers and seasoned anglers sometimes get the idea they know everything, especially when it comes to fishing. Well, guess what, folks… that’s not always true. They have the boat, tackle, and plenty of experience, but as for knowing everything about fishing there is plenty of room for improvement. Knowledge is to the mind what exercise is to the body and those professing to know everything are fooling only themselves. An old proverb says, “A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study, so make time to learn something new.” Reflecting on an experience with a stranger that started on a negative note but ended positive, this conversation was worth gold, and something remembered forever: fishing in Clearwater a few winters ago, the clients caught several nice Trout and a couple of Redfish.

Returning to the dock we took them to the cleaning station, and as we approached, an old man perhaps in his 80s was cleaning a bucket full of huge Sheepshead. He wore an old denim shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and floppy straw hat; his skin looked like leather under his patchy gray beard. Approaching the table I said, “How you doing,” Never looking up he replied, “Do you really care?” Taken back momentarily by his curt answer I responded, “No, not really, was just being friendly." Not easily intimidated, I continued, “Looks like you really got on ‘em today.” Seeming to warm a degree or two and realizing that I was not going away, he replied, “Fish only for Sheeps this time of year, and do pretty well.” Thinking to myself, I got him going now I continued pressing the conversation in hopes of picking up a tip or two about catching whoppers like those in his bucket. “Never target Sheepshead much,” I said. “Most of my clients are interested in Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, or Trout.” Knowing I was about to venture onto some soft ground I asked, “Got any tips on catching nice ones like those in the bucket.” For the first time, he looked in my direction with a slight grin saying, “You’re a guide; you should know everything." Smiling back, I said, “Yea, sure." “I have a good understanding about catching fish but it looks like you got me skunked on Sheepshead.” Continuing his task of cleaning fish, he did not reply. Finishing up, and for a loss for something else to say, I turned toward my clients, handed them their dinner, and thanked them for their business. As we started walking away, I heard him say, “Boy, you got some time, stick around… I’ll tell you how I do it.” Not believing my ears, I replied. “That would be great; I would appreciate anything you can teach me".

By the time the boat was loaded and ready to travel, the old man was finishing. Grabbing a couple of Cokes and some boiled peanuts from the cooler, I walked toward him introducing myself, he replied, “name’s Gus; let’s sit here on the bench; my legs get tired of standing.” Sitting down, I handed him a Coke and offered some peanuts. For almost an hour, we sat there drinking Coke, eating boiled nuts… him talking and me listening like a school boy. “These little bait stealers are great eating… hard to clean but great eating. They got fins that’s hard as nails and sharp as tacks so be careful; they can really do some damage if you’re not careful. Sneaky and quick, they nibble away, cleaning your hook without ever moving your float,” he explained. “The secret’s in the bait; you need something hard to get off the hook. Lots of folks use fiddler crabs and shrimp; others use mussels and oysters. They all catch fish but you spend a lot of the time baiting your hook.” “So what do you use?” I asked. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he handed me a piece of cheesecloth about 3 inches square. “Take this, and wrap a couple oysters or mussels inside then put it on the hook. When they start nibbling, they only get the flavor. Getting aggravated, they soon inhale the entire thing. Then you got em.” He smiled. “What tackle do you use?” I asked. “I got a couple of cheap spinning rods and reels with braid line. These new braided lines are great stuff for feeling ‘em bite. I use about a foot of thirty-pound leader, a #1 hook, and a sliding sinker. Not too heavy on that sinker,” he emphasized, “only enough to hold against the current.” “I use a float and small shot weight around shallow-water oyster bars, pot holes, and rock piles,” he said. “Keep an eye on that float; the slightest movement is a bite. Sometimes it goes down just a little or moves to one side. When it does set the hook; if you feel him… set it again; they got hard mouths. That’s about all there is to it; hope it helps.” “Oh,” he said. “Just one more thing; no matter what you’re trying to catch, remember slack line is not your friend; you can’t hook ‘em if you can’t feel ‘em, so keep that line tight.” “Thanks for the Coke, son.” he said. With that, he slowly walked off toward the parking lot, got into an old red Chevy pickup with a small boat in tow, and disappeared down the road.

I have never seen Gus since that day and often wonder what he is up to and if he’s still around. For several minutes sitting in my vehicle I reflected on how it all started. That old man probably forgot more about fishing than I will ever know, I thought. Makes you wish you could pour his years of knowledge into your brain before he departs for a better fishing hole. Since that day, Sheepshead are on my list of fish to catch. In addition, my encounter with an old man named Gus taught me well and I am catching plenty of nice Sheepies, as he called them. Clients seem to enjoy something out of the ordinary, often remarking, “These fish really fight.” Looking for some new angling excitement and think sight fishing for Reds is tough, try testing your sight fishing skills against open water Sheepshead, but only if you think you are good enough. In closing, never pass up the opportunity to learn something new. When a conversation starts out negative, make it your challenge to turn it around. Always remember, the best rule in any conversation is: never say anything you’ll later wish was left unsaid. Captain Woody Gore – Fishing Charters Cell: 813-477-3814 Home/Office 813-982-2034 Email: Website: WWW.CAPTAINWOODYGORE.COM


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