- Fish close to structure: bridges, piers, docks
- Sight feeders: use live or frozen bait – shrimp, clam strips, fiddler crabs
- Gear: Open-face reel, sturdy rod, braided line, fluorocarbon leader
By Forrest Fisher
When winter anglers from all across the United States travel to southwest Florida, they find sun, sand, warmth, and one fish species that is in abundance: saltwater sheepshead. These “pretty fish” keep close to bridge abutments, boat docks, fishing piers and similar in-water structure along saltwater harbors and canals of the Gulf Coast, and other places.
The sheepshead arrive close to shore in good numbers as the waters chill with the season (mid-60 water temps), they feist on shrimp, clams, blue crabs and other crustacean forage forms. This fish species is usually hungry, though they can be finicky. Sheepshead are a delicacy for table fare and that makes them a favored target for winter retirees, visitors, and local anglers alike.
One local celebrity angler, Josh Olive, also known as the “Fish Coach,” often makes time in his busy schedule to teach others how to catch fish, where to go, what to do and how to do it, all the while courteously sharing necessary details for folks to understand pertinent conservation issues, size limits and local ecology concerns. This gentleman has a lifetime of stories and expertise to share and is the editor of a widely popular weekly fishing magazine of The Charlotte Sun-News called the “WaterLine.” This issue is published weekly on Thursdays and can be ordered from anywhere in the country, it is complete with fishing tips and chef recipes from the sea.
During a recent visit to the retirement community of Kingsgate in Port Charlotte, FL, I had the pleasure to listen to a seminar and learn from Josh during a monthly meeting of the Kingsgate Fishing Club. Following a colorful introduction by Charter Captain Tom Marks, the humble and direct manner of Josh Olive held the attention of every visitor in attendance. If you are a winter visitor to the Port Charlotte (Florida) area you can meet and talk with Josh yourself on any Saturday night at Fish’n Frank’s Tackle Shop, where he joins the work crew. Here is a summary of what Josh shared with us. Go get ’em!
Topic: Fishing for Saltwater Sheepshead – Where, When, What, How…with the Fish Coach – Josh Olive
Short description: The Sheepshead is a visual food hunter. They are bottom feeders to be found close to near-shore structure such as docks, piers, and bridge abutments, as well as land-related reefs up to about 40’ deep. Sheepshead have human-like teeth with incisors and molars and actually look like human teeth. That means they can cut your line without too much difficulty.
Methods: Spinning rods, 7ft, medium w/30 series or 40 series ope-face Penn reels, or equivalent. Use bait, live or frozen, can use jigheads (1/4-3/8 oz depending on current flow strength), Poor Man’s Jig (Size 4 hook w/large bb-shot) or Porgy Rig (double dropper loop for one hook and one sinker, 1-3 oz).
Line: 10-20 lb braid (Power Pro) mainline and 25-30 lb fluorocarbon leader, though when water is very clear and fish are spooky with a high mid-day sun, downsize fluoro to 15 lb or so. Use TG knot or double Uni-knot from the leader to the mainline attachment. Braid color: no preference in reality, but to help angler sight, use a bright color green or yellow. Leader length: about 6 feet or so.
Baits: Shrimp (frozen pieces or live), clam bits, red wigglers (worms), fiddler crabs (a good option when fishing in a heavily fished area), and Berkeley Bish Bites (pink/white color, E-Z clam flavor or E-Z shrimp flavor, both work -cut to ½” pieces, put 3 on a bare hook or jig head).
Specific Places to fish: In southwest Florida, the Venice Jetty may be the best place for shore fishing. Casperson State Park rock jetties are only just ok, at times, Peace River docks are good, not so good when going upriver to Navigator Bar area. To fish rock jetty areas, use a poor man’s jig head with a float set 2-4 feet above the bait. Offshore-nearshore reefs such as Cape Hayes and Trembley are also excellent.
Times of Day: Middle of the day seems best for Sheepshead fishing
Advice: Get away from lines and rigs with beads, swivels, hardware, is spooky to fish these days, too many anglers in short, spook the fish.
Edibility: Very good, delicacy. Crustacean and blue crab eaters are usually tasty fish to eat. Can fillet, though fillet method will leave lots of delicious meat on the carcass. Better to use whole fish and simply gut the fish, remove the gills, boil, remove the meat on a platter as in a restaurant platter style. Or use the meat and boiled water residue from this method to make chowder, fish soup or fish bouillon.
Rules/Reg’s: See syllabus, but in Port Charlotte County general area, the minimum size is 12 inches and 8/person/day, or if in a boat, 50 fish boat limit max for any number of persons.