One of my favorite cold water fish to target from the kayak is the sheepshead. These fish are often called convicts because of their black and white stripes. Sheepshead are a blast to catch from the kayak and great on the dinner plate. When inshore fishing is slow for redfish and trout you can always turn to sheepshead for an almost guaranteed battle.
Sheepshead stack up around the inshore bridges, deep docks and rock jetties in the colder months around the Florida panhandle as they head nearshore to spawn. These fish can be tricky to catch but once you dial it in they are one heck of a fight on light tackle. Sheepshead feed on shrimp, crabs and the barnacles on the pilings of bridges, docks and rock piles. They also have human-like teeth that allow them to bust open crabs and barnacles. Since they are mostly caught around structure you need to be ready to feel their subtle bite and horse them quickly away from the structure or you will be left heartbroken every time.
I like using a short medium-light rod with 10- to 20-pound braid with a 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. There are couple different rigs you can use to catch sheepshead but my favorite is a double hook dropper rig. It allows me to feel the subtle bite easier than the other common rigs since the weight is at the end of the leader. The Carolina rig and split shot rig are other common sheepshead setups.
You need very strong but small hooks to catch these pesky bait stealers. I recommend size 2 J-hooks to get a good hook set in there between those chompers. When using the dropper rig I drop all the way to the bottom then reel up any slack and stay vertical over my line. I wait till I feel the subtle bump of a bite then slowly lift the rod tip to see if there is any weight. If I feel any weight I do a hard hook set and then angle the rod away from the structure to keep the fish from breaking me off.
Live fiddler crabs are one of my favorite baits for targeting sheepshead. Crabs are like candy to these bridge dwellers. Fiddlers also are less likely to be ripped off and stolen by the sheepshead or other small fish. Other baits that work well are small live shrimp, oysters, clams and sand fleas. Higher tides seem to the best time to target sheepshead since most of the barnacles will be underwater and it gives them more to feed on.
One great tip to get sheepies fired up when the bite is slow is to take a shovel or hammer and scrape the pilings knocking barnacles into the water. Fishing down current of the barnacle chum slick will pay off big time!
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