How To Catch Sheepshead Fish: Everything You Need To Know! - Deep Water Fishery

How To Catch Sheepshead Fish: Everything You Need To Know!

In the cold month especially during winter, fish like the sheepshead fish are plenty and thus, easier to catch. It’s the perfect time to start sheepshead fishing for a fun recreational activity and probably even a healthy and sumptuous dinner. If you’re a beginner, this article will help you learn the equipment and tips on how to catch sheepshead fish!

Members of the porgy family, sheepshead fish, have a set of large protruding molar teeth that are very similar to that of sheep and other mammals, thus their name. They also have thick, flattened bodies with characteristic black and white or grayish stripes, gaining them the nickname “convict fish”.

These fish have heavy, sharp spines on their anal and dorsal fins. Their sweet, juicy, and tender make a very nice meal. They also grow from 2 pounds up to 20 pounds in weight, but the usual catch consists of 2 to 5-pound fish. With the right tools and skills, sheepshead fish are fairly easy and fun to catch.


Equipment For Sheepshead Fishing

So, let’s start with the essential things you’ll need:


Sheepshead is often caught only around heavy, coarse, and jagged cover, so that’s something to consider when choosing a reel. Make sure the reel can also handle a line that’s 10 to 20 pounds and have sufficient torque to quickly retrieve fish from the cover.


Choose a medium light to very lightweight rods and tips. It will be hard to detect the gentle bites of sheepshead otherwise. Ideally, your rod should have a medium action backbone to provide power to retrieve the fish and allow for a good hookset.

Also, find a rod that matches your reel rating. Make sure that it is suitable for saltwater because corrosion on the eyes can make the surface abrasive, causing damage to the line that passes through them.


A braided line with a 12 to 20-pound class rating is the best line for sheepshead fishing. It will have great sensitivity and abrasion resistance with minimal to no stretch. These qualities are important in making the angler deter the bite better, make a good hookset, and snatch the fish away from cover effectively.

You should also use a 20-pound fluorocarbon line that’s approximately 10 to 16 inches long. This line will be almost invisible underwater and is more abrasion resistant than a monofilament line


​When choosing a hook for catching sheepshead, consider the sharpness, size, and strength since sheepshead has very strong jaws and prominent teeth, they can easily destroy weaker and thinner hooks.

The size should also be small enough to fit the relatively tiny mouths. The most important of all attributes is the hook’s sharpness. It should be sharp enough to pierce through the hard, bony mouths of sheepshead.

​Weight Or Rigs

The weight that you should use depends on the depth and strength of current where you will be fishing. Use enough weight to keep the bait at about the same depth where the fish feed. One great choice is egg sinkers above a swivel which do not reduce the line’s sensitivity.

Use a dropper rig when fishing in more deeply submerged structures like oyster beds or reefs. Opt for floating rigs in shallower structures such as exposed oyster bars and docks.


There are a variety of baits for sheepshead fishing to choose from. These include:

  • Fiddler crabs
  • Mud Crabs
  • Live shrimp
  • Sand fleas
  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Barnacles
  • Squid

Generally, fiddler crabs work best while shrimp are rarely used to specifically target sheepshead since other fish also like it and often get to it first. Oysters are also hard to keep on the hook.

If using a crab, make sure to remove large claws (see picture below) because sheepshead can grab these claws to remove the crab from the hook, allowing it to escape with your bait. Live crabs work best, but you can also use frozen or fresh ones.

Whatever bait you choose, make sure to fish next to the structure or pilings because sheepshead is structure oriented. They will also bite best on the outgoing tide.

How To Catch Sheepshead Fish

Now, we’ve come to the hard part. Here are the steps you should follow when catching sheepshead:

Step 1. Look for a good fishing spot near a structure or cover, where sheepshead like to hang out. This could be any area with a hard surface for barnacles, clams, and crustaceans to grow and anchor to. Examples include docks, jetties, bridges, piers, reefs, and oyster bars.

However, not all good places always have sheepshead around them. Usually, the tides affect where sheepshead stay and bites are the strongest one to two hours before and after the tide peaks. Slack tides cause sheepshead to eat very little. The best way to learn where sheepshead are is by experience.

Step 2. Slowly and gently lower your hook with your bait up current, where sheepshead feed. Then, let the current to take the bite closer to the strike zone, paying close attention to your rod and line for a bite.

Step 3. Maintain a slight tension to make it easier for you to feel the bite. Sheepshead are great bait thieves and can finish the bait right from your hook without you noticing. Experts suggest setting the hook at the slightest bump.

Step 4. Once you suspect a bite, immediately set your hook. If you’re using a vertical fishing method, a great hook set technique is to rapidly swing the rod upward.

​For more tips and tricks on how to catch sheepshead fish, check out this video by On Day Five Fishing:


Make sure to bring a lot of bait because these convict fish will likely steal most of your baits. However, do not get discouraged because this happens to all, even the best sheepshead anglers. As you gain experience, you’ll soon realize how rewarding this hobby can be.

Thank you for reading and please share if you like it or leave a comment in the comment box below!

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Louella Trump

Hi there, I’m Louella Trump, an adventurous young lady who loves exploring our beautiful nature by traveling and fishing. I write so as to share my passion and experiences with fellow readers who enjoy fishing and traveling as one of their recreational activities. My primary objective in sharing my experiences while traveling and fishing is to basically inspire any like-minded person out there to stop at nothing and leave no stone unturned in ensuring that they explore their passion as much as they can.

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