Cold fronts make for perfect sheepherding conditions
As yet another cold front engulfs Anna Maria Island with cold temperatures and windy conditions, visiting and local anglers endure the elements in search of a bite. And luckily, there is one — and in comes in a black and white striped package. Yeah, you guessed it. The sheepshead have arrived in full force and not only are they biting but they thrive in the cooler water temperatures. What a Godsend, especially during these persistent cold fronts we are experiencing. To find these fish is not brain surgery as long as you know some of their habits.
The first being — what do they eat? Well they’re sheepshead and they like eating barnacles. And where do barnacles exist? Well, just about any structure that is under water will have them. The most obvious places are piers, docks, seawalls and bridges. If you would like to delve deeper into the subject, you might consider artificial reefs and wrecks.
Sheepshead also like eating crustaceans such as crabs, shrimp and sand fleas. So, if you can find areas where these are present, you’ll probably find a sheepie or two. Oyster bars are another attraction as they are host to many small crabs and pistol shrimp. Heck, I’ve even see sheepshead on the grass flats foraging for shrimp and crabs.
Another habit to know when targeting sheepshead is when they spawn, which is occurring as I write this article. This increases your chances to catch these fish in quantity due to the fact that they are schooled up. The more the merrier. Especially for the anglers. If you can time it right, limits of these tasty fish are attainable. The limit is 15 fish over 12 inches per person.
On my own Southernaire charters, I’m doing my share of sheepherding. With air temps in the upper 50s to low 60s and water temps to match, the conditions are very suitable to target these carnivorous convict fish. On the windy days, I’m staying in the Intracoastal Waterway and local bays and finding good action around docks and canals. Most catches in these areas are in the 1- to 2-pound range.
On the calmer days, venturing out to reefs, rock piles and wrecks is where it’s at. These areas are holding larger fish with some exceeding 6 pounds. Live shrimp on a bottom rig are producing plenty of bites. I’m also finding some sheepies along sandy shorelines in the passes. What’s nice about this bite is there are usually black drum and redfish mixed in.