Tampa Bay Fishing Report By: Capt. Woody Gore

Catching Summertime Sheepshead

Sheepshead fishing in the summer can be incredibly fun and they are great to eat, especially now that snook, redfish and trout are off the menu.

Finding natural sheepshead bait is not difficult. Practically any marine-dwelling crustacean or bivalve living in saltwater will work. Of course, some work better than others and can be found in the wild or purchased at your local bait shop. I am going to give you a few clues on what to use when it comes to these bait stealers. Fiddler crabs, in my opinion, are one of the top sheepshead baits. I use a lightweight Carolina rig or knocker rig in deeper water. For shallow water, I free-line them on a snelled Daiichi circle hook.

A close second to fiddlers, that most folks never think about, is the mud crab. This little guy lives under oysters and rocks and requires a little effort to catch. So, yes, you have to get out of the boat and turn over some rocks and oyster clusters. Before you head out sheepshead fishing, find some nearshore oysters or rocks and capture a few dozen or just purchase some fiddlers from your local bait store.

My third favorite bait is a ¾ to 1-inch piece of fresh or frozen shrimp. Stay away from old freezer burned shrimp, because you are wasting your money. Shrimp are good sheepshead bait and are nearly as effective as fiddlers or mud crabs. Best of all they are easily acquired from your local bait supplier. So, what kind of tackle do you need to catch sheepshead? Below are some suggestions.

Spinning reel, nothing larger than 2500 – 4000 series
Medium to medium/heavy 6 to 6½ foot spinning rod
15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line
Summertime sheepshead are in the same places as in the winter. If you are looking for some early morning summertime action, begin your search by checking submerged rock piles, jetties and piers, as well as, tidal creeks. If you prefer some grass flats action, sheepshead can be found milling around inshore broken-bottom seagrass flats searching for small tidal crabs, clams and other ecosystem tidbits. The key to finding sheepshead in the summertime is looking for structures and habitats they associate with food. As with other species, the fish seem to be most active during the early morning hours. Of course, tides play a large role in their feeding habits.