Sheepshead all around

This sheepshead was caught with a small piece of shrimp on a bass-style jig.

SC’s lowcountry is winter sheepshead haven

Sheepshead is one fish that can salvage a day of fishing, even when the fishing is tough. South Carolina’s lowcountry is full of these bait-thieving fish, and this is a good month to target them.

While a good portion of the herd is on deeper structure offshore and nearshore, plenty of sheepshead remain inshore. And any place you find barnacles – rock jetties, sunken debris piles, dock pilings, and even oyster mounds – you’re bound to find sheepshead willing to bite.

Different anglers go about catching sheepshead with different methods, but one of the most basic is by situating your boat directly above barnacle-encrusted objects, then lowering a fiddler crab, sand flea or piece of shrimp directly down to the debris. Some anglers use a soft plastic lure like a small jig with a stout hook, and add the bait to it.

Sheepshead continually patrol such areas, so if you don’t get a bite right away, give it a few minutes. If one of these fish swims by, chances are good that it’ll take a swipe at your bait.

It’s not uncommon, however, for these fish to steal the meat before you realize it’s happened. It’s best to keep your bait in the water column, and not resting on the bottom, where detecting a bite is more difficult.

One technique some anglers use to help detect bites is to lower their bait in place, then very slowly lift the rod. It’s a very slight lift, and it helps the angler detect even the slightest of changes in how their rod feels. And when feeling any change, it’s time to drive the hook home.

Sheepshead have very tough mouths and require a strong hookset, but some anglers have different ideas about how to perform it.

Pin Meanu fishes numerous piers for sheepshead and has a different take on his rod choice than many other sheepshead gurus, who use medium-heavy or even heavy powered rods.

“I use a 9-foot long medium-light rod. When I feel the bite, I set the hook as hard as I possibly can. This drives the hook home, but the rod has so much give that it doesn’t rip it away from the fish,” he said. “If you miss a lot of sheepshead, try a long and limber rod and you will catch more fish.”

About Brian Cope 2800 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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