Ponce provides cover, produces sheepshead
By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier
Sometimes the best option for a fishing hole is the one that provides the most cover – for you, not the fish.
The wind was whistling out of the northwest with enough force (gusts to 30 mph) to create white caps on Charlotte Harbor this morning, not exactly prime fishing conditions. And while only the adventurous anglers left the docks this morning to battle the waves in boats, I headed for a spot that was mostly protected from the wind where I was pretty sure the sheepshead would be.
My decision paid off with one of my biggest sheepies of the season.
The pier – there are actually two small ones – at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda is a place that I haven’t fished that much. But it’s a good spot for a couple reasons. First, it’s the mouth of the Punta Gorda canal system, a natural highway for many species of fish. This time of year, most of the sheepshead are getting ready to leave the canals if they haven’t already. Some are still heading in, especially on a strong incoming tide like we had this morning. So the pier provides cover for the fish moving in and out of the canals, making it a prime spot to hook one.
Another reason I like Ponce is the availability of bait in the area. There are thousands of fiddler crabs that make their burrows in the sand and around the mangroves. While it’s hard to find the fiddlers in large groups, you can pick off individuals pretty quickly if you have a little stealth and speed. Or you can ambush them in their burrows, digging them out with a spade or small shovel. There are wharf crabs mixed in with the fiddlers, and they also make great sheepshead bait.
But the reason I chose Ponce today was a simple one: protection from the wind. The mangroves lining both sides of the canal provided ample cover from the relentless gusts.
The piers are a bit uncomfortable for the style of sheepshead fishing I like, and leaning up against the metal railings doesn’t lend itself to that style like the wooden railings at piers like Placida, Boca and El Jobean. It’s also harder to fish directly by the pilings, and the water isn’t that deep next to them. But with a little adjustment to technique you can surely catch some fish, and there are some big ones passing through the area right now.
My first cast just a couple feet out from the pier – the depth drops off rapidly – yielded a keeper that chomped on the live fiddler I offered it. After an hour or two and some smaller fish, I found what I had been looking for, a fish the size that I’d been hearing about anglers catching at Ponce. This fish was a bruiser, all of 4 pounds and 17 inches long. It put up a nice little fight and I was lucky enough to hoist it over the railing, and the hook popped out of its mouth as soon as I did.
Use a standard sheepshead rig to fish Ponce by attaching a 1-ounce egg sinker to your main line, then tying on a swivel below it. Attach 2 feet of 30-pound monofilament for your leader, a No. 2 Owner Live Bait Cutting Point hook and a tiny splitshot (optional) 6 inches above the hook. There are plenty of fish right by the pier, but you can also try casting out into the channel as well.
Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.