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Date of Issue: February 25, 2009

Fish Tale: Innovative sheepshead landing

Quite often when it’s cold and I don’t want to go to the trouble of putting the kayak on the van or bicycling to stand in the frigid surf at Bean Point, I fish from near Key Royale Bridge.

One is not actually allowed to fish from the bridge, although I don’t know the reason, but there are cement buttresses from which one can cast. This is a particularly difficult location to fish as there is a combination of elements which conspire against the angler. There’s the extremely powerful tidal current flowing under the bridge, the bottom covered with rocks and oysters, both of which will devour fishing tackle on a most consistent basis, and finally there is the narrow ledge on which one is perched while endeavoring to cast without tangling line in the surrounding vegetation or the overhead power lines.

I usually fish from the same side of the bridge each time as the opposite side has become too overgrown with vegetation for casting, but I noticed that someone, perhaps the adjacent landowner or a “city beautification committee,” has planted along the edge of it. These plants were not, I suspect, planted merely to beautify, as the choice of plant was Spanish Bayonet, aptly named and one of the sharpest, most vicious plants to be found here.

At any rate, I decided to decamp to the overgrown side of the bridge to try my luck, and installed myself as best I could on the parapet with the encroaching foliage pressing upon me. Casting was out of the question, and about all I could do was flop my bait over the edge into rather shallow water and hope for the best. To my great surprise, a fairly large sheepshead came out from under the tangle of branches below me, took one look at my bait, promptly inhaled it and set off, only to realize suddenly that all was not well in his world. Of course, his lunch was attached to me, which led to a rather intense but confined battle between us.

It was confined because I didn’t want it to take off into the branches or the oyster bed. Having worn the fish down somewhat, I was faced with performing the second part of my task — that of retrieving the catch. I had already had the disappointment in the past of hooking and reeling up a fish, only to lose it when the line snapped as I tried to lift it some 10 feet from the water to the ledge. As mentioned, this fish was substantial and could not be reeled up, but I had a plan — primitive but effective, I hoped. I quickly made a lasso with a length of clothesline I had brought for this eventuality, lowered it underneath the fish without causing it undue alarm and coaxed it up. The fish was suspended vertically under the fins, like someone treading water, and I managed to lift it out successfully.

So intent was I on my fish retrieval, that I hadn’t noticed a nearby pontoon boat full of people, visitors from the north I sensed, silently watching the whole procedure. It seemed by their reactions that they had not seen this particular fishing technique before.

Ben Mabetti can be reached by e-mail at