Spooky sheepshead at the jetty

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This should give you a good idea on how to use the bobber method the late Mr. Sheepshead, Dave Hack, perfected at the Venice jetties.

By MATT STEVENS
Man on the Pier

One of the most frustrating feelings in fishing is being able to see fish but not being able to catch them.

As I watched from my perch on a rock at the South Venice Jetty recently, dozens of sheepshead, some as big as 20 inches, darted around the rocks below in plain sight. The water was super clear, especially on the Gulf of Mexico side, and I could easily see down 5- to 8-feet. I usually tend to fish the inlet side of the jetties for sheepshead but they have not seemed to be hanging out there as much this season.

While contemplating how to get the fish to bite I happened to glance at my rig, and that’s when the little light bulb in my brain popped on.

The standard rig I use at the jetties is a 3-foot length of 25-pound fluorocarbon with a No. 2 hook, and a splitshot attached about 6 inches above the hook. But it was the splitshot that caught my attention. In murkier water I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but in the clean jetty water I figured it was sticking out like a sore thumb. I removed it and slid my bobber even further up on the main line, leaving about 4- to 5-feet of line between it and the hook.

That seemed to do the trick, as I hoisted my first keeper up onto the rocks just a few minutes later.
Even the miniscule weight of the live sand fleas I was using as bait was enough to sink down to a depth in the water column where the fish are. And often the bite came as the bait was falling, allowing me the seldom seen pleasure of actually watching the fish take my bait. There are not many instances when you can watch a sheepshead take your offering.
I’ve stopped using the splitshot on jetty sheepshead rigs unless absolutely necessary.
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The current doesn’t pull nearly as strong on the Gulf side, so if the fish are biting there it’s much easier to pursue them. The trick is to find a large slab of rock that juts out several feet into the water, then to find a suitable rock to stand on and fish from directly in front it. Once you find one of these spots you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Fishing from one of these perches makes it easy to keep your bait in the strike zone. Using a bobber makes things even easier. A small bobber keeps your bait suspended above the rocks and at eye level with the fish. You’ll have to adjust your depth by sliding the bobber up or down your line until you find the magic depth, but once you do you’ll be able to hone in on the fish.

This takes away the tiresome aspect of holding out your arm and trying to keep your bait as close to the strike zone as possible. It takes a little getting used to when employing the bobber method, but once you master it you’ll hardly ever get hung up on the rocks. Just keep a close eye on the bobber and learn to read the telltale – and often very subtle – signs of the sheepshead bite.

The sheepshead action at the jetties isn’t quite up to par with what has been one of the best late-season spots in Southwest Florida. February is usually the month the sheepshead are stacked up and biting hard. That being said, there are still a good number of fish being caught so if you’re after some keepers it’s still a solid spot. A lot of the fish have been the cookie-cutter 12-inch males, but if you’re handy with a fillet knife that shouldn’t matter much to you.

Live sand fleas or fiddler crabs are your best bet for bait. If you want to rake your own fleas try the municipal beach right near the south jetty.

Until next time, hook ’em up and fight ’em hard. Fish on, fellow anglers.

About manonthepier

Find my regular Man on the Pier column every Thursday in WaterLine Weekly Magazine, part of the Sun family of newspapers. Contributor for Florida Sportsman magazine and blogger for Fishin' Franks. Visit me at facebook.com/manonthepier or https://fishinfranks.wordpress.com/author/manonthepier/

One response to “Spooky sheepshead at the jetty”

  1. gitterdone12 says :

    Another great post. I was wondering if you have tried shrimp or are they just stolen too easily? Also, what about gulp shrimp? Not close enough?

    Can you buy the crabs or are they just so easy to find (or a part of the hunt?) that you never entertain that?

    Thanks,
    Bill

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