Are Sheepshead in Trouble?!

Through the past 10 years, Sheepshead have become a popular fish, especially here in the Lowcountry.

Sure, Sheepshead have been targeted by fishermen for years, but they were never considered a game fish.

Back then, Sheepshead had no size limits and definitely no catch limits. Groups of fishermen would try to catch and keep them all, regardless of their size.

Then finally Department of Natural Resources had put a size limit on Sheepshead in South Carolina. The fish must exceed 14 inches to keep.

Sheepshead are known for their hard-to-catch reputation with nicknames like the convict, the ninja of fish and the thief, all because this fish is known to be able to steal the bait right from your hook without you ever knowing it.

As time has moved on, more and more sports fishermen have sought for the challenge of catching Sheepshead, and like all fishermen, trying to catch the largest one we can.

But, through these several years, Department of Natural Resources has been studying the Sheepshead.


Sheepshead that exceed 20 inches are around 20 years of age.


I myself personally donated a Sheepshead to DNR exceeding 20 inches so that they may study the fish, and they have discovered something that I feel is very important for fishermen to know.

I have mentioned it in past articles. Sheepshead that exceed 20 inches are around 20 years of age.

After Sheepshead reach 20 inches, their growth slows down. It takes years for them to gain another 4 inches of length.

Instead, Sheepshead gain weight and grow wider and taller, developing a very large, round back.

For a fish to reach this size, would mean that the fish has good genetics, meaning it comes from a good gene pool, and its offspring could guarantee a strong, healthy future generation.

But, why am I explaining this again, or for the first time to a new reader?

Through these past years, I have noticed an increase in fishermen that have learned how to successfully target and catch Sheepshead.

I could even blame myself for a lot of their success. After all, as a fishing instructor, I teach a lot of individuals and write a lot of stories on how to successfully target and catch these fish.

But, fishermen must keep in mind that fishing any species of fish comes with responsibility, especially practicing conservation efforts.

I have watched individuals catch 20- to 25-inch Sheepshead in one location day after day and keep every fish, regardless whether these fishermen were going to eat them or not.

I literally watched some individuals give all the fish away at the end of the day because they never wanted them or did not want to clean them.

Of course, I find myself politely discussing conservation and catch and release efforts that could help maintain healthy breeders for future generations.

I have tried to explain to the public that these estuaries and locations where schools of Sheepshead are living year round can be fished out and the population devastated.

After all, an 18-wheeler does not pull up and restock like it was a grocery store.

Once an environment has been depleted, it can take a number of years before a healthy population of Sheepshead decide to take residence in that vicinity again.

If the size limit is 14 inches and over, it will be hard to find any of them reaching a length of 20 inches anytime soon.


So, are Sheepshead in trouble? They could be. Only the future can tell. It all depends on us.


Let’s put this in a little bit of perspective. By the time a human being reaches the age of 60, that would mean only 3 generations of Sheepshead could reach the length of 20 inches.

So, just think.   Let’s say there was a school of Sheepshead that held around 50 fish in one habitat, and 10 of those fish were 20 inches in length, and 20 of those fish were between 14 inches and 19 inches, and the remaining 20 fish were 13 inches and under.


Now let’s say 2 fishermen fished this habitat successfully for 2 weeks and kept all 30 keepers. It would take approximately 15 years for just a portion of those remaining fish to reach the size of 20 inches.

That is only if they can remain safe from fishermen or other dangers after they reach the length of 14 inches or the fisherman is a sport fisherman and practices some catch and release to aid in the conservation of the species.

The goal that I would like to achieve is for all fishermen to help with the conservation and practice the catch and release of Sheepshead that are 20 inches and over.

After all, everyone enjoys some fresh fish. I personally am not asking anyone to stop keeping some fish.

I am hoping that the fisherman would only keep what they need and not keep it just because they caught it.

So, are Sheepshead in trouble? They could be. Only the future can tell. It all depends on us.

Like I always say, good luck out there and have fun fishing!

To view some fishing adventures, go to my YouTube Channel Fishing With Jiggin Jerry.


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