As yet another cold front engulfed Anna Maria Island with chilly temperatures and windy conditions in mid-March, area anglers endured the elements in search of a bite.
And luckily, there was one — and it came in a black-and-white striped package.
Yeah, you guessed it. The sheepshead have arrived in full force and ,not only are they biting, they thrive in cooler water. What a godsend during cold fronts.
To find these fish and get them to the hook is not rocket science, so long as you know some of their habits.
The first requirement is to be knowledgeable about what they eat. They like barnacles. And where do barnacles exist? Well, just about any structure that is under water will have them. The most obvious places are piers, docks, seawalls and bridges. If you would like to delve deeper into the sheepies’ attractions, you might consider artificial reefs and wrecks.
Sheepshead also like eating crustaceans — crabs, shrimp and sand fleas. So if you can find areas where these crunchy snacks are present, you’ll probably find a sheepie or two.
Oyster bars are another attraction, as they are host to many small crabs and pistol shrimp. Heck, I’ve even watched sheepshead on the grass flats foraging for shrimp and crabs.
Another habit to track in your sheepshead hunt is when they are spawning, which is now, chances of catching the fish in quantity increase because they are schooled up. The more the merrier. Especially for the anglers. If you can time it right, limits of these tasty fish — 15 fish over 12 inches per person — are attainable.
On my Southernaire charters, I’m doing my share of sheepherding. With air temps in the upper 50s to low 60s and water temps to match, the conditions are suitable to target the carnivorous convict fish. On windy days, I’m staying in the Intracoastal Waterway and local bays and finding good action around docks in the wind shield on the canals. Most catches in these areas are 1-2 pounds.
On the calmer days, venturing out to reefs, rock piles and wrecks is where it’s at. These areas are holding larger fish —some exceeding 6 pounds. Live shrimp on a bottom rig are producing plenty of bites.
I’m also finding some sheepies along sandy shorelines in the passes. What’s nice about this bite is there are usually black drum and redfish in the mix.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel is seeing the peak of the sheepshead frenzy as fishers flock to the T-end of the pier in search of the zebra-striped fish. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are catching near their limit. Most catches at the R&R are 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are coming to the deck. Casting baits under the pier deck among the pilings is proving to be the best method for a hook up. While targeting sheepshead, anglers also are reeling up flounder and an occasional black drum or pompano.
Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore in between the windy days and cold fronts. While patrolling artificial reefs, Stock is finding 15-pound kingfish for his clients. Trolling artificials or live baits is attracting these high-speed migratory fish. Moving to wrecks in 60-plus feet of water is providing excellent action on amberjack. Again, artificials are getting the job done, especially large poppers quickly retrieved along the surface. Moving inshore, snook and redfish are routine on his charters. Live shiners are quickly being inhaled by the snook. As for the reds, targeting them in skinny water with lures is providing the best action.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is taking clients on the hunt for sheepshead, black drum and redfish around residential docks and canals. Casting live shrimp around the docks and canals is yielding many nice catches of all three species. Using live shrimp is producing other catches for Lowman, including pompano and flounder.
Capt. Warren Girle is targeting redfish on the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Casting live shiners where mangrove shorelines and oyster bars exist is resulting in many slot-size fish, as well as a few over-slot fish. Most slot fish are 20-25 inches. The over-slot reds are up to 32 inches. Jig fishing for trout also is producing good action for Girle. Drifting over flats where water is 4-6 feet deep is resulting in many trout ranging 15-18 inches. Lastly, during the colder days of March, Girle was hooking up drum and sheepshead around local docks.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is using live shrimp as bait on cold days. Casting shrimp around docks and rocks is resulting in black drum, redfish and sheepshead. Bouncing jigs or deeper grass flats also are attracting a bite for White’s clients. Spotted seatrout are reacting to soft plastics combined with a jig head, especially when it is slowly bumped along the bottom around channel edges and deep grass flats.
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