Earlier this month we went over some Sheepshead fishing basics, "Migration Patterns", "locating potential spots", "Bait", and "Rigging". This week we'll pick up where we left off and focus a bit on technique.
There are a few different schools of thought when it come to Sheepshead Fishing. There are your anglers that prefer fishing around Bridge Pilings, then you have jetty fishermen that target them above and around rock piles, and lastly, we have your deep water anglers that focus on wrecks and reefs with heavier gear. All three approaches work very well. In the end it boils down to what works best for you. In this report, Ill focus on dock and bridge fishing. Next week we'll cover targeting Sheepshead on Jetties.
Piling fishing is fairly simple with quite a bit less variables to consider. Essentially, you're vertical fishing, straight up and down on the lee side of the pilings. Pilings make a perfect tide break and allow you to fish deep water with very little weight. This is why jig fishing is so popular around bridges and docks. Another benefit is that the waters around docks and bridges tend to be calm and flat unlike the jetties at the Inlet. Not having ground swell to contend with makes life a lot easier. This also gives the anglers in smaller boats a safer option.
Once you have your boat secured in a favorable position, it's time to send down a bait. You want to fish as close to the piling as possible. This is especially important if the current is ripping or if you're fishing a jig. Pilings do break the current however, you only have 1 to 2 feet of space to work with before your rig falls back into the current. Also, being in such close quarters is why a lot of piling fishermen will use shorter rods. The opposite can be said if you prefer anchoring adjacent to the pilings and not tying directly to them. In that situation, a longer rod can make a big difference.
Once your bait is on the bottom. You want to suspend it a few inches off the bottom. You'll want to occasionally lift the rod tip slowly. Sheepshead can be incredibly subtle when they bite. By slowly lifting the rod tip, if a Sheepshead is eating the bait, you'll feel a sensation of weight. Not enough to keep you from being able to lift the rod but more like a slight sensation. Almost like your rubbing the side of a rock. This is often a Sheepshead eating the bait and moving around with it as you lift the rod tip. At this point, you want to set the hook. Its not always like this though. You'll often feel a subtle thump on the line. Once you feel the occasional thump, you can either wait a second or two and set the hook, or you can slowly lift the rod feeling for that sensation of weight. As a general rule, if you feel the fish biting the bait, it's almost better to wait the 1 to 2 seconds and set the hook. Another sign that Sheepshead will give when they have the bait and it's time to set the hook is when the line starts moving to one side. When you see the line walking to one side, that means the Sheepshead has the bait and has begun swimming with it. Once you see that, it's safe to set the hook. This is a behavior common to the bigger fish and usually means hes swallowed the entire hook. This is why its important to not only feel for the bite but also watch your line and rod tip. A lot of the time Ill realize I'm getting bit even though I never felt a thing. Being able to see slight variations on the rod tip can be huge. Especially when the fish are being extra cautious.
A Sheepshead bite will rarely ever feel like rapid nibbles. That kind of bite will always be something you don't want. Pin Fish, Blennies, juvenile Sea Bass, Pig Fish, Croakers, these fish have a much more distinctive bite. Sheepshead will just about always be subtle and slow feeling. If your getting efficiently robbed by something that feels like its shooting your bait with a tommy gun, it's not a Sheepshead. Just because something is relentless and efficient at stealing your bait, that doesn't mean it's Sheepshead. The point here is to know when it's time to pick up and move to another spot. If the bite is overly noticeable, it's not a Sheepshead. If it's difficult to hook and feels like a rapid bite, it's not something you want.
If after 10 minutes or so you dont get bit, try working the bait higher up the piling. Sometimes the Convicts will forage higher up the piling. 90 percent of the time they'll be near the bottom and I wouldn't spend as much time higher up. Instead, the best bet is to move around to different pilings until you find the fish.
Remember that tides play a significant role. Keep a journal and take note of your progress or lack there of. Try working areas that didn't produce on a different tide. Eventually you'll formulate a pattern that works for you and become more consistant.
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