Catching Criminals

by Capt. James Vadas

The winter fishing season is in full swing now. Last month was a transition from our fall patterns of cooler water and west winds. Now we are fishing into predominantly northeast winds, cold fronts, and water temperature in the 60°  range. The sheepshead bite took off in December and from the number of striped convicts gathering around the docks and bridges feasting on barnacles and fiddler crabs, this will be a fantastic Anna Maria Island sheepshead season. When fishing during the colder months, getting out of the wind is key to a more enjoyable trip. You will find success when fishing in the direction of the current, pulling your bait toward the docks on the incoming and outgoing tides.  When the tide is slack, fish around the bridges and passes because the current won’t be so swift. I mainly use live shrimp as bait to target these beautiful striped fish. When choosing the shrimp, I lean toward the smaller ones, only because sheepshead can be a tricky fish to hook, “bait stealers” to be exact. When using a large shrimp, it’s easier for them to steal it. I use a  light/medium action rod, 4000 series reel spooled with 15lbs of braided line, any color; I use green, pink, and blue camo, tied with 3ft of 14lb fluorocarbon leader, #2 octopus circle hook and just enough weight to keep it down. Sheepshead have big eyes and those human looking teeth are the sheepshead’s God-given advantage to steal the bait from your hook. I also must recommend using a net to lift these delicious criminals into the boat. Our average sheepshead being 5lbs and we frequently catch them over 8lbs. To prevent an injury from the spikes, that’s right, imagine that 8lb fish with spikes landing on your foot when the leader breaks lifting him out of the water, don’t get shanked by a prisoner, use a net! Once safely locked away on ice, the next hazard can be cleaning them, but they are well worth it.  Sheepshead here are delicious, probably because they eat a lot of shrimp and crab, and yield a firm white meat when cooked. My personal favorite recipe for them is called Poor Man’s Lobster. This consists of cooking the fillets in a cast iron pan with butter and Sprite soda for about 3 minutes, after the soda is hot enough to melt a stick of butter. Lift the fillet out of the boiling Sprite-butter mixture and serve. Voila! It actually tastes like lobster.  Caught on Video!

Captain James Vadas is available for charter fishing, shelling, tours out of Anna Maria Island.  Give Living Water Charters a call at 941-812-1245, or through one of his sites: