"It's a good time to catch them in the ocean right now," Campbell said. "They will be swarming together at these reefs in big schools."
During the winter, sheepshead begin their annual migration into the ocean to prepare for the spring spawn. Any artificial reef or natural structure will hold these fish, and Campbell recommends anglers fish the nearshore reefs for the best results.
"Anywhere from a few miles out to 15 miles are the best places to hit. Pawley's Reef, North Inlet Reef, 10-Mile Reef, Paradise Reef – and even Myrtle Beach Rocks will have wintering sheepshead around to catch this month," said Campbell (843-460-0186).
Typically, sheepshead that live inshore most of the year will not travel too far into the ocean on their winter furlough, and these nearshore locales will be the best. They have entire conglomerations of bottom structure to hold sheepshead in winter. However, other reefs and structure further out will hold sheepshead, as well as many other bottom-dwelling options. Campbell fishes close to the structure and on either side of the actual submerged structure.
Due to the mysterious ghost bite these fish are known for, Campbell prefers to fish at these shallower places.
"It is hard to feel the bites in the deeper water," he said. "You end up having to use more weight, and (you) will have a tough time detecting the subtle bite."
Even though sheepshead will bite more aggressively in the ocean, where less food is available, the deeper water still makes it tough to know when to set the hook. Campbell will use just enough lead to get the bait to the bottom.
"You want the line straight up and down, with the least amount of weight as possible," said Campbell, who uses barnacle clusters and fiddler crabs on extremely strong hooks.
Sheepshead are known for their sly ability to remove every morsel of bait from a hook without detection. Campbell uses a special technique that prevents too many missed hooksets.
"In sequence, let the sinker hit the bottom, lift the rod up, and lower it to let settle again," he said. "Repeat the process and set the hook when anything out of the ordinary is felt. Usually on the second settle, you will feel the bite on the way back down."
Due to their tough mouth, anglers must firmly set the hook.
"It's hard to feel the bites sometimes, but you got to get the hang of it," he said.