A member of the porgie family, the sheepshead is a relative of a well-known species anglers often use for bait, the pinfish. And just like its cousin, a sheepshead's spines can inflict a painful injury.
Most sheepshead found inshore will weigh about 1 to 2 pounds, but specimens caught in deeper water can easily tip the scales at more than 10 pounds. In Florida, a 5-pound sheepshead is all you need to bring home a trophy in most fishing tournaments.
Sheepshead are one of the most popular sport fish in Florida, and they are targeted by anglers from Nova Scotia to Brazil. So if you're looking to land in the record books, you have your work cut out for you.
The largest specimen caught in state waters weighed 15 pounds, 2 ounces. The world record is 21 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught near New Orleans in 1992.
But once again, the sheepshead is a notorious bait thief. On a recent fishing trip, I was batting one out of 10, when he captain finally felt sorry for me and explained that sheepshead are nibblers, not inhalers like snook or trout.
Keeping the tension on the line, I gave it a little tug at the first hint of a bite and, voila, fish on. There are other things anglers can do to ensure success when pursuing sheepshead.
First, fish with a small hook, which is more likely to get sucked into the sheepshead's tiny mouth. Start with a No. 1, then downsize if necessary, even going as far as a No. 2 or even a No. 4.
Many diehard sheepshead fishermen insist on using braided line, which does not stretch, making it easier to feel the bite. A good light-tipped graphite rod will also help you "feel" the fish.
When it comes to weight, don't go overboard. Use just enough to send your bait to where the fish are. Weigh it down too heavy and you will never feel the bite.