With warmer waters that fuel an abundance of angling opportunities, spring heralds the promise of a new fishing season here on the Island.
Having fished for everything from bream in small ponds to blue marlin in the deep blue of the Gulf Stream, I can say with confidence that one fishery in particular always shines this month, and it’s near the top of my favorites: sheepshead.
Sheepshead can be caught year round in our local waters mainly around docks and bridges, structures that have an abundance of barnacle and oyster growth.
Very fond of shellfish and equipped with teeth that nimbly crush the aforementioned shells, they gnash their way to the succulent meats inside. Usually in late February and March, they migrate to our nearshore reefs—to spawn I believe, as almost all the big females I catch offshore are full of roe. With this migration and the ensuing congregation on the reefs, catching sheepshead in larger numbers is possible, especially with a secure anchorage over the structure. Trolling motors and GPS spot lock make this much easier.
Fiddler crabs are my choice of bait for sheepshead, though oysters, clams and mussels are good too (if somewhat harder to keep on the hook).
But the fiddler is far from foolproof, as the wily sheep will gently suck the crab in, crush it and spit out your hook without you even feeling the slightest tug! Mentors often tell rookies to set the hook before the bite. To catch more, keep a little tension on your line, occasionally tugging gently in search of the resistance that signals Mr. Sheep has got your crab. Once you feel that, set the hook with all the vigor of a freshwater bass fisherman.
Catching sheepshead is not only an angling challenge but also a highly delicious prospect. If you’re lucky enough to drive the hook home in that bony mouth full of teeth, you will be rewarded with as good a fight as any. Best of all, sheepshead is some of the best eating in the ocean!
Photo and article by Miles Altman, Bayrunner Fishing Charters
Capt. Miles Altman of Bayrunner Fishing Charters has over 50 years experience fishing the waters surrounding Hilton Head. The Finatic boat features a special three-hour shark/dolphin eco-tour trip. Contact Miles at (843) 290-6955 to book an unforgettable inshore or offshore charter fishing trip, departing from Shelter Cove Marina.