Last week, we were reminded that we’re getting into prime sheepshead season in the intracoastal, because sheepshead have a decent tolerance for cooler water.
Craig Patterson, who owns and operates Donald’s Bait and Tackle on the Port Orange Causeway, gave last week’s reminder, and this week offers some additional tips for anyone targeting the striped, big-toothed, delicious fish.
First things first: Find structure, namely bridge or dock pilings. Good news is, you obviously don’t need a boat to fish from a dock or bridge. Sheepshead crave shelled bait, such as fiddler crabs or sand fleas, but will also devour the barnacles usually attached to pilings, which means you’ll often see experienced fishermen scraping barnacles from pilings to chum those waters.
“If there are barnacles, I always bring a scraper. That will chum the fish up and excite the bite,” says Patterson, who likes a minimum of six feet of water.
Now down to business: “I like a short-shank, live-bait hook, size 1 or 2, depending on the size of the bait — fiddlers and sand fleas can vary in size," Patterson says. "Hook the bait so just the tip of the hook protrudes through the upper shell.”
Tough cut-bait like clam or squid also works.
Last Week's Report: All hail King Tide ... now get outta town so fishing can crank back up
As for other gear, Patterson likes braided line because sheepshead are good fighters and instinctively head toward the structure and can more easily break lesser line. He adds about 12 inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader “for its strength and clarity,” tied to a swivel that’s topped by an egg sinker of a quarter-ounce to an ounce, depending on the current.
“After chumming with the barnacles I drop the bait to the bottom and raise it slowly,” Patterson says. “The larger sheepshead will bite solid while the smaller ones will nip at the bait with their protruding teeth. The hook-set needs to be swift. There’s a reason they’re called ‘convict fish’ — they’ll steal your bait. But the rewards are fine table fare, mainly because of their diet of crustaceans.”
Finally, the legal disclaimer. Florida law says sheepshead must be 12 inches minimum, with a daily bag limit of eight per angler.
Now the weekly roundup …
The Sea Spirit, out of Ponce Inlet, reported a good half-day trip last Sunday that brought back some cobia, mangrove and lane snapper. But soon thereafter the “out to lunch” sign went up and will stay there at least through the weekend.
The National Weather Service explains: “High pressure offshore of the mid-Atlantic states will push seaward as a weak inverted trough develops along the Florida east coast. A strong reinforcing high-pressure ridge will build over the eastern U.S. starting Friday, bringing deteriorating wind and sea conditions, which will become hazardous through this weekend.”
Can't fight it, but you can duck into the calmer waters, as many are doing.
ICW, Inlet (and snow crabs!)
Capt. Jeff Patterson (Pole Dancer Charter) confirms sheepshead season has begun. He says the bite has been good for them and black drum around the Ponce Inlet jetty and inshore around the bridges.
“We got a break in weather and have had some really nice conditions, although the wind has been cranking at times,” he says. “Also, the snook bite has still been really good in the same areas. I’ve also been doing pretty good with my stone-crab traps, and talk about good eating!”
Back at Donald’s Bait, Craig Patterson suggests, for black drum, baiting the hook with frozen blue crab, cut in half, or live shrimp.
Also, “bluefish and Spanish are making their way up the intracoastal channels while redfish are schooling up in the creeks and backwaters.”
Over on the shoreline of the Atlantic, a pair of winter visitors are heating things up.
“Pompano and whiting are being caught in good number and size as they migrate south,” Patterson says. “Sand fleas, clams, shrimp and Fishbites are all working well.”
Pompano in Flagler, too
Mike Vickers (Hammock Bait and Tackle) says pompano and whiting are crowding the southbound lanes on Flagler beaches as well, but that’s not all.
“The northern beaches are producing some reds, drum, and flounder.”
Flounder? Remember, the six-week closed season runs through the end of November.
“The river in Flagler County is pretty much uniform, producing reds, drum, sheepshead, trout, flounder, snook, and mangrove snapper,” Vickers adds.
The flats and creeks in the Bing’s Landing are offering about the same opportunities, he adds.
“The Matanzas Inlet and bridge are seeing a good sheepshead bite,” Vickers says, “as well as trout, drum, reds, mangrove snapper, flounder, whiting, pompano, snook and sharks.”
The scaling back of last week’s king tide should help the odds, according to Vickers.
“With the falling water levels, the bait is moving out of the woods and back onto the flats and into the main creeks. Fishing in these areas should be getting better as water levels continue to fall.”
Volusia-Flagler fish photos
We want to see your most recent catch. Email your fish photos to Zach.Dean@news-jrnl.com. Be sure to include type of fish, size of fish (weight and/or length), where the fish was caught, first and last names and hometown of angler who caught the fish, and first and last name of person who took the photo. If a child is in the photo, please include their age. The News-Journal will use one or two photos in print each week and the other photos submitted will go into the online gallery called “Volusia-Flagler Catch of the Week.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: As Florida cools, sheepshead become a delicious fishing target