The sheepshead bite is going strong in the inshore waters along the coasts of both Carolinas. And from now until the first bitter cold snap, it is expected to only get better.
Rock walls, jetties, bridge pilings, sunken trees and wooden piers are all good spots to catch these fish right now, and fiddler crabs are their preferred bait. Fishing straight down beside the structure is your best bet.
Catching these fish is a different game than most inshore fish, said guide Marc Deschenes of VIP Adventures in Summerville, SC. Anglers don’t cast and retrieve as they do when fishing artificial lures for redfish or sea trout, and they don’t anchor a live or chunk of cut bait on the bottom and wait for a bite either.
“This is a different game for sure. It’s challenging, fun, and effective. And these are some of the best eating fish you’ll find in the Atlantic Ocean. These fish bite very lightly, very gently. They’re sneaky. Usually, the first thing you feel is the fish letting go of your bait, and then it’s too late,” he said.
Deschenes suggests two different rigs to fish for sheepshead. The first is a Carolina rig with an egg sinker, a barrel swivel, a 12 to 18-inch leader of fluorocarbon, and a 3/0 hook with a live fiddler crab. The second is with the fiddler crab on a 3/8-ounce Ralph Phillips jighead. With either rig, Deschenes drops his bait until he feels the bottom, then reel up about three cranks.
Because the sheepshead have such a subtle bite, it’s tough to detect them if you simply hold your bait steady the whole time. The trick, said Deschenes (843-708-5473) is in constantly checking your bait by gently lifting up just the slightest bit. The movement sometimes triggers a bite, and it allows you to feel the bite since you’re lifting on the rod.
And when you feel that bite, Deschenes said to set the hook really hard.
“These fish have a very tough mouth. You need to get a good hook set in them. You’ve got to drive that hook through and you can’t be shy about it,” he said.
Deschenes said it’s important to chum the waters by breaking up the barnacles on the structure you’re fishing around.
“That really gets them in a feeding mood. Chum it up good before you start fishing, and if the bite slows down, do it again. I like to break those barnacles up into really fine pieces. Toss them out right where you’re fishing,” he said.
Deschenes said the incoming tide is his favorite tide to fish because the sheepshead feed more heavily as the water level rises, exposing more barnacles to them.