How to Catch Sheepshead? a Beginner’s Guide

how to catch sheepshead

The top 15 tips for catching sheepshead are listed in this article.

The tasty bottom fish sheepshead is very well-liked. They belong to the porgy family. In the US, they can be found all the way up the eastern seaboard to the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Gulf of Mexico coast.

When it’s cold outside, these fish migrate south to stay warm. However, as soon as springtime arrives, you can expect them to migrate north to spawn. During this time, sheepshead can be seen hanging out near artificial reefs and navigational markers where the water temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

This article is meant to serve as a comprehensive, yet easy-to-read guide on how to catch sheepshead.

Tips on Catching Sheepshead

Listed below are the top 15 sheepshead fishing suggestions.

Live Bait is the Best

As was previously mentioned, very few sheepsheads are caught by anglers using artificial lures. Occasionally, it does happen. Some fish just prefer the “real thing”, and sheepshead is one of those species.

Anglers land the majority of the sheepshead they catch using live bait, recently killed bait, and frozen bait. The most accessible and well-liked sheepshead baits are live and frozen shrimp.

Live bait is usually the best option when fishing. Local preferences for bait differ. The best baits are fiddler crabs, mole crabs, also called sand fleas, and shrimp. The most frequently used bait for sheepshead is live shrimp.

how to catch sheepshead

Sheepshead Fishing Tackle

Thankfully, no special tackle is necessary when pursuing sheepshead. When bottom fishing for sheepshead, the same inshore fishing equipment used for redfish and speckled trout will work just fine. The ideal combination for a 2500–3000 series reel is a 7-foot medium action spinning rod.

Since sheepshead frequently bites very lightly, many anglers favor braided line and its increased sensitivity. Anglers pursuing very large sheepshead near massive structures may need to use heavier conventional gear and heavier tackle.

Sight Fish Them in ClearWater

Sheepshead is sight-fishable in waters with excellent clarity. As soon as you find a sheepshead, try to cast as near to the building it is inside as you can. There is little worry about spooking sheepshead because they are rarely wary.

The Smaller Your Bait, the Better

Sheepshead is an excellent thief when it comes to stealing your bait because they have incredibly small mouths. The likelihood of these striped bandits stealing your bait will be significantly reduced if you use small hooks and bait.

Frozen Baits Will Produce When Sheepshead Fishing

Sheepshead is occasionally not particularly picky, which is fortunate for anglers. Additionally, there may be times when shrimp boats are unable to leave and live bait is in short supply. While live bait is frequently preferred, sheepshead can also be caught using frozen shrimp, sand fleas, and fiddler crabs.

Anglers must thaw their bait gradually as they fish. Completely frozen bait frequently breaks. On the other hand, bait that has been thawed out for an excessive amount of time may become soft and easily fall off the hook.

how to catch sheepshead

Don’t Make Your Leader Too Long

Fish like sheepshead are cunning creatures that can sneakily remove your bait from the hook. Small leaders make your setup more sensitive overall, making it easier for you to sense the next bite and set the hook when you need to.

Braided Line is Essential

Here is a further, crucial tip for improving the sensitivity of your rod setup. Make sure you’re using a braided line instead of monofilament when you’re fishing. The overall sensitivity will be significantly raised by the braided line.

Sheepshead Bottom Fishing Rigs

Fishing for sheepsheads can be done using a variety of bottom rigs. The most well-known is probably the sliding sinker rig, also referred to as the Carolina rig. The running line passes through an egg-sinker that has a hole in it.

Then a swivel, a 2-foot section of leader, and the hook are tied on. The bait can be picked up and carried away by the sheepshead with no resistance thanks to this rig.

Bring Your Shovel to Scrape Off Some Barnacles

Like many other fish species, sheepshead becomes agitated when there is chum in the water. Using a hoe or shovel to remove barnacles from a dock’s or piling’s side is a great way to chum them up. You can watch any nearby sheepshead dart into the barnacle cloud in search of an easy meal.

Hide Your Hook

how to catch sheepshead

It’s crucial to make sure your hook is concealed within your bait. Sheepshead will either slowly pick at your bait without touching the hook or completely forgo eating it if they are wary of it.

Get Close to the Structure

Sheepsheads are reputed to remain just a few feet away from the buildings they call home. It is very important that you get your bait within 24″ of the structure you are fishing. 

Fishing the Right Tide

Despite preferring to eat when there is movement in the water, sheepshead is not picky about the tide, either rising or falling. Check the tides to determine the best time to venture out onto the water. Additionally, confirm that there is at least a moderate water movement in the area where you are fishing.

Listen for Them

If you’ve never fished for sheepshead, you probably think I’m crazy for saying this, but sheepshead is frequently heard gnawing barnacles off the sides of boats and pilings. This advice can be useful when trying to find sheepshead, particularly when the water is murky.

Tide Considerations When Sheepshead Fishing

The tide is an important factor, just like it is in most saltwater fishing situations. Fish will frequently be positioned on the structure by current flow. Anchoring up tide from the target structure is the best strategy. The fisherman can then use the current to present the bait again. A natural presentation is the outcome of this.

Additionally, it permits the sent to continue downstream against the current in the hopes of luring additional fish away from the support structure.

Fishing for Sheepshead Offshore

Although there are lots of sheepsheads in the inshore waters, anglers shouldn’t overlook ledges, wrecks, and man-made reefs. Such a building can be found in most coastal areas, frequently close to the water. In the late winter and early spring, these may be sheepshead hotspots.

how to catch sheepshead

Where to Find Sheepshead?

Determine their location before learning how to catch sheepshead. When searching for sheepshead, it is more productive to focus your efforts in or near water 10 feet or deeper.

Generally speaking, the best time to go after sheepshead is December to April, with the hottest bite being in March and April as they congregate to spawn. They are catchable throughout the majority of the Gulf Coast, but you won’t find them as stacked up and hungry for food as you do during these springtime months.

Winter is an excellent time to start your search for sheepshead because this is when they start to really group up as they get ready for their annual spawn. They will be more challenging to hunt down as summer approaches.

This is due to both their subsequent spread and the arrival of all the other undesirable species who want to live in the same structure as them.

When to Go Sheepshead Fishing?

You won’t have to consider the seasons all that much when fishing for sheepshead. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean are a good place to target this fish year-round, but some months are better than others. The first half of the job is figuring out where to find them during various seasons!


The time is ideal for some serious fishing! These stunning animals leave to spawn in March and April. This indicates that they are both hungry and plentiful. Finding the spawning grounds isn’t that difficult even though they tend to move closer to shore and into somewhat deeper waters. Find any underwater structure, and you’ll have a blast!


The feeding habits of sheepshead change in the summer. They will be seen in great numbers moving into the flats and grass as the tide rises. They are seeking food, specifically tasty crabs, which explains why. This indicates that you can locate them in the nearby shallow waters. The best results will come from using fiddler and mud crabs to entice their bite.


how to catch sheepshead

We gradually enter the peak sheepshead season as the fall weather begins to cool. At this point, as they begin to return to the coast, it becomes much simpler to hook into larger specimens. Around rocky features, jetties, piers, and docks, they eat crustaceans. Late September marks the beginning of the fall run, which lasts through the winter’s intense sheepshead fishing season.


The cooler winter months are by far the best time of year to go sheepshead fishing. At this time, you can locate them in the shallow inshore waters. In addition to mangroves and other structures that offer food and shelter, you can find them near dock and bridge pilings.

This is the best bait to use during the winter because they eat oysters, barnacles, mussels, oysters, and shrimp.

How to Clean Sheepshead?

Sheepsheads are delicious to eat, but they are challenging to clean. They have broad, thick rib cages and very pointed dorsal fins. The best fish to keep for dinner, in my experience, are nice fat, chunky fish between 14 and 18 inches long.

I typically release the larger specimens, but that is just a personal preference. When we target sheepshead, the majority of these are females that are pregnant.

The fillet knife’s tip should be inserted in between the dorsal fin and the fish’s back for the best results when cleaning the sheepshead. Anglers will find a little “flap” here that facilitates this process. After that, the backbone is cut in both directions with the knife.

The knife tip can be fully inserted into the fish, emerging from the fish’s bottom. The fillet can then be ripped off of the rib cage by hand in order to preserve the knife’s blade.

Read More:  How to Cook Sheepshead Fish? Step-By-Step

Conclusion: Catch More Sheepshead

Anglers will catch more of these tasty and tenacious bottom fish if they follow the advice in this article, which includes the top 15 sheepshead fishing tips.

The sharp gill plates and dorsal spines on top of the sheepshead will hurt you if you don’t handle him carefully after you catch your first one.

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