One thing we can count on besides bad weather in March and April, is bottom fishing for Sheepshead. The local rivers and the Georgia Offshore Reef System become engulfed with these flat-sided speedsters.
These striped toothy critters make for an interesting fishing trip when conditions are favorable to allow safe exit into the Atlantic. Although they can be a bit tricky to catch, get ready for war on light tackle when you hook one up 7 pounds or better!
When jigging for Sheepshead, the bite you feel is almost like your hook found a piece of the structure to hang on. In most instances you had better set the hook because that’s him! They tend to “mouth” the bait as they carefully work at sucking the meat out of the crab shell. Once you hook up, they pull on the rod like no other in their size category as their flat-sided body works the current and structure to handicap the Angler.
I have targeted Sheepshead for over 20 years in the Rivers and backcountry. I was introduced to fishing for them in Offshore waters several years back, probably around 1998, and have been hooked ever since. That first day was all the proof I needed to realize the size of some of the Sheepshead that roam the Offshore Reefs in Coastal Georgia. We had several fish that weighed 8 pounds and many fish in the 3 – 4 pound range.
Fiddler crabs are used for bait whether you target these heavy hitters Inshore or Offshore. Of course, we all know that Sheepshead will be more than glad to take a live shrimp now and then, but you can’t beat the old crab when it comes to catching numbers of fish during a single outing.
I consider myself a die-hard Sheepshead fisherman as the years have passed and the Sea Bass become smaller and smaller as March approaches each spring. When the Sea Bass become boring and small, load the bucket with Fiddlers and head to your favorite nearshore bottom structure and the Sheepshead will most likely be there.
Some of the largest Sheepshead I have ever seen has come from reefs just a few miles off the beach. You can put this in your pocket; those fish get over that offshore structure by the hundreds! When it gets like this, you had better be prepared to go through 200 Fiddler Crabs during a single trip. Even the most seasoned Angler tends to miss a few Sheepshead whether fishing shallow or deep-water structure.
Sheepshead stack up around bridges and Pilons Inshore, too. Simply anchor your boat carefully against a bridge Pilon and beat some barnacles and oysters off into the water beside your boat with a spade or hoe. Normally this will have the fish feeding in a matter of minutes. You will also encounter large Black Drum as you begin to utilize this method of fishing. The rig mentioned below works beautifully Inshore and Offshore for Sheepshead.
The Sheepshead Rig:
Light Tackle? You bet!
The rig I use is as simple as they come and it proves to be extremely effective for catching Sheepshead. This rig WILL NOT WORK on the full or new Moon tide as the weight is not heavy enough and the fish don’t bite near as well during these Moon phases.
Penn or ABU Baitcast Reel and Medium Action Ugly Stik Rod
2-3 oz. trout weight tied to the main line (Berkley Braid- 65 lb. Green).
Below my weight, I tie on a 2-ft. piece of 20-pound Fluorocarbon leader.
My hook is a 1/O Redfishone “live bait short shank”. 4 X Strong Hook
That’s it! It doesn’t get any easier than that. This rig is especially effective when fishing shallow water in the 30 to 40 ft. range which is where the majority of the fish will be anyhow.
Remember, keep only what you can eat and release the rest to keep our fishery alive and well for years to come. Without these artificial reefs, we wouldn’t have a thing to fish on but a few patches of live bottom that only very few of us have the coordinates.
If you have an Inshore or an Offshore boat, don’t let the some of the best fishing on the coast pass you by this year! Get out there and bend the rod on some hard-hitting Sheepshead around the bridges and Pilons throughout the Intracoastal Waterway or hit those Nearshore Reefs.
If you prefer a guide to put you on the fish, contact me. I am always up for a good fishing chat if you need general information on any of Coastal Georgia’s fishing.