Best Baits for Sheepshead: How to Catch and Rig

Sheepshead fish (Archosargus probatocephalus) are some of the best tasting fish in the ocean. I'm not exaggerating. When I first caught one years ago I didn't know there was any fuss over them. I caught my first one in some mangroves at Ft. DeSoto park in southern Pinellas County by accident. I threw it in the ice-box.

Later, when I broiled and ate that tasty fish, my mind was blown. It was right up there on par with redfish and snook! This article highlights the top 10 best baits for sheepshead plus shares expert fishing tips to help you catch more of this very popular and tasty structure-loving fish.

Sheepies, as they're often called, prefer to feast on mollusks and crustaceans but experienced anglers know their favorite prey seems to be fiddler crabs. If you can catch a few dozen fiddlers, you'll catch enough sheepshead to fill everyone's plate for dinner.

They'll eat just about anything hard and crunchy with a soft center. Other bait sheepies love are barnacles, shrimp, sand fleas, mussels, oysters, mangrove tree crabs, and really just about any crab you can get your hands on.

Sheepshead are part of the Porgy family and are found along the gulf coast of florida and then up the eastern coast from Key West to Connecticut. They congregate in schools and when you find one, there are plenty more fish to be had.

The best reason to catch sheepshead fish is that they taste delicious! Learn more about these sometimes difficult to catch Porgy fish with our pro tips below.

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Top 10 Best Baits for Sheepshead

In no particular order, we've put together a nice list of the best sheepshead baits to help you catch tons of fish on your next fishing adventure. Please note that small crabs you are using must not be a protected species in the area you’re in. Always do your due diligence to ensure you’re using “legal” crabs.

1. Fiddler Crabs

fiddler crab

Fiddler crabs are called 'sheepshead candy' by anglers who love fishing with them because they are the best bait for catching sheepshead you can use. They're able to stay alive on the hook for longer than some other bait and they are ideal in size and taste for these picky fish.

When you're considering which bait to use, think about where to go get a bucket of fiddlers because they'll get you more sheepshead bites than anything else.

Fiddler crabs reach just over 2 inches across as adults and the small ones are as good as the bigger ones. Placement of the hook is important to keep the crabs alive until they're grabbed by a fish, but once you know where to hook them you'll have a hardy bait that you'll enjoy fishing and catching with.

Male fiddler crabs have one big claw on the front of one side of the body that they use to hold and tear prey, and to fight with. Females have two same-size claws and they are smaller than the large male claw.

Male fiddlers also have very small pincers that are not very strong, but you will feel a little prick if they get you. It won't be so bad. Many people reach right into a bucket of fiddlers and pull one out for bait. If you don't want to be pinched just grab the crab from behind or by the big pincer for males so it can't pinch you with it.

Where To Find Fiddler Crabs

You can buy a dozen fiddler crabs for about $4 at a local bait shop, or you can catch them yourself. Fiddler crabs are found along ocean beaches and in brackish intertidal mud flats, lagoons, swamps, and other areas of brackish or saltwater wetland. They are skittish and won't be found where there are many people. They like rocks and other structure. You can find them best during the day at low tide. During daylight hours they are dark colored and at night they are light colored.

Catching fiddler crabs for bait is not difficult. They are not very fast and are not great at hiding. When you find out where they are you can grab them with one hand and place them in a bucket with wet sand and a little water. Don't put so much water that it's over their heads. They just need to remain damp. You can easily catch them with a small aquarium fishing net.

How To Rig Fiddler Crabs

It's fine to leave the big claws on the crab, fiddlers are not going to scare sheepshead with the claw, they’ll still prey on them. Some people have superstitious beliefs about this and remove the claw before putting them on the hook. The inside of the claw has some tasty meat that the fish love, and I think it's a mistake to remove them. I get more strikes with the claws left on.

To rig fiddler crabs for sheepshead fishing you can use a size 1 or 1/0 J-hook with a long shank that cannot be chewed through by the sheepshead's strong teeth. Use a couple feet of 8-10 lb. fluorocarbon leader and a split-shot squeezed on the line about 8 inches above the bait.

When hooking a fiddler crab, turn the crab upside down and insert the point into the section between the last and second to last carapace and up and out the top of the crab, just barely showing the point of the hook. Some people leave the hook unexposed and inside the crab. Try both ways and see if the crabs stay on the hook when you don't expose it out of the top side.

You will get more bites when the hook is hidden.

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2. Small Crabs for Sheepshead

small crab

You may not have fiddler crabs close by to use for bait. You can use other crabs almost as effectively. Some other alternatives that work well for catching these fish include mud crabs and mangrove crabs.

When catching these crabs, you need to be aware of the difference between stone crabs (illegal to use as bait) and other crabs that are legal. Stone crabs have purple pincers. Mud crabs have brown pincers.

Where To Find Small Crabs

At low tide, visit the water's edge where there are some small rocks. The rocks will probably be covered in barnacles and mussels so bring gloves. You can turn over these rocks and find mud crabs underneath on the mud. They are sometimes hard to see, so remove any smaller rocks under the rocks you just turned over as well.

Catch them by hand and put them in a small bucket. They cannot climb the sides of a plastic bucket.

Mangrove tree crabs are another bait that works well for sheepshead fishing. They prefer to be on mangrove trees, branches, roots, and other structures like rocks over the water. Sometimes you can grab them from behind with your hand. If they are on small branches, you can knock them off to the ground and catch them easily.

Again, be very careful not to take stone crabs or you can be fined. Juvenile legal crabs are difficult to distinguish from stone crabs, so only take crabs you are 100% sure are legal. Take the time to research or ask an expert in your area which crabs are legal and which are not so you don't run afoul of the law.

How To Rig Small Crabs

Rig other small crabs just like baiting fiddlers, by inserting a small size #1 or 1/0 hook from the bottom backside and up to the top.

3. Cut Blue Crabs

blue crab

Blue crabs grow up to about 9 inches across and are a great bait for getting these convict fish (another name for them because of their striped prison-like pattern) to bite. Blue crabs are too big to be used whole so you'll have to cut them up. Cut them into quarters or smaller pieces with scissors or shears. Sheepshead have small mouths, so maximum about 2 inch size on a small hook is about right.

To be honest, other baits will be easier to use, but if this is what you have, sheepshead will eat them!

Where To Find Blue Crabs

Blue crabs can be found in saltwater and brackish water from Nova Scotia down to the southern tip of Florida and around to the Gulf of Mexico coast. Not to mention, even further south to Argentina. Luckily you don't have to go find them because you can purchase them at many bait shops.

To catch them, set up traps on the bottom with something smelly and dead like squid. Drop the traps into shallow water and check them in a couple of hours. It isn't unheard of to have full traps as these crabs are plentiful in many places.

Note – the claws are quite strong and can cause you some pain. Hold them from the back to avoid getting pinched.

How to Rig Blue Crabs

To use blue crabs as sheepshead bait, first knock them out with a hard club or hammer. Then cut off their claws and legs. Cut the body into quarter pieces.  Put your hook through one of the leg holes up into the body and out the side. This should ensure you have a well-secured hook. If your quarter crab is too big you might get bites from black drum or redfish, so be ready to fight them if that happens.

4. Ghost Shrimp

ghost shrimp

Ghost shrimp grow up to 4 inches long and can be found at low tide under shallow water where you see hundreds of small holes in the sand. You can pump them up with a specialized pump and squirt them into your container to use as bait later.

Ghost shrimp are very effective bait for sheepshead and many other fish. You can buy or make one of the pumps to collect these shrimp out of PVC pipes if you're handy with tools.

Where To Find Ghost Shrimp

Ocean flats after outgoing tide will reveal hundreds (thousands) of tiny holes in the sand under the water. These tiny 4 inch ghost shrimp dig in up to 4 feet deep in burrows that interconnect. You can walk along the flats and pump and suck them up. It might take you 20 minutes to collect a few dozen of these perfect sheepshead baits.

How To Fish with Ghost Shrimp

Rig ghost shrimp the same way you would regular shrimp. Pull off the tip of the tail to add some scent to the water. Add your J-hook or circle hook just at the base of the sharp horn on the top of the shrimp's head. Put your hook through and out. Just a tiny bit of your hook is through the fish and you couldn't imagine a fish biting it with that huge hook there, but they do!

5. Sand Fleas aka Mole Crabs

mole crabs

Sand fleas are also called mole crabs, or sometimes sand crabs. They are common in the sand of the breaking shore waves and are perfect for sheepshead bait because they're the right size and crunchy on the outside and soft inside.

These crabs work to catch many kinds of other fish too, so if you have them in your area, make use of them and get out there and get a few dozen. Some bait shops will have frozen sand fleas but they fall apart easily. It's best to use fresh ones as you probably know already. Fresher is always better.

Where To Find Sand Fleas

Sand fleas are found in bunches in the surf zone at the beach, also known as the swash zone. This is the area about midway between high and low tides and it's underwater about half the time. Find the area where waves are washing up onto the sand around their highest point and dig down with your scooper and get a mass of sand, shells, and hopefully sand fleas.

You can dig down with your hands to get them, but you risk cuts from shells or broken glass. It's much better to use one of the big metal or hard plastic scoops (sand flea rakes) to find these crabs.

Mole crabs are not too deep in the sand, only a couple of inches, so you don't need to force the rake down into the packed sand. Just scoop up the loose sand with it and sift through to find the crabs.

Storing sand fleas is difficult because they don't live long in captivity. Their urine pollutes the water you keep them in and they die quickly sitting in containers. Ideally you'd use them the same day you catch them.

Keep your sand fleas alive longer by putting them into a flat-bottom bucket with a half-inch of sand and holes drilled into the bottom. Set that bucket into another bucket that has a couple of inches of cubed ice or a frozen block of it. Solid ice will last longer.

The bucket with the mole crabs should be stuck a few inches above the outside bucket. This allows drainage of waste matter from the crabs down into the ice. Wrap the buckets in towels to extend the life of the ice. You'll need to change the ice in a couple of hours.

Ideally, bring some seawater in a bucket home - or 1 gallon jug - and pull the first bucket out and rinse them with seawater every now and then. This livens them up and extends their lives until you're ready to fish. Some people say this lasts for days. I've only had them live for one day with this method.

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How To Rig Sand Fleas

The best way to rig sand fleas for sheepshead fishing is to put the hook through the bottom of the flea as if through the chest, and out the top behind the head. This will keep the flea alive for a short while and hopefully long enough for you to catch a nice fish.

As usual with sheepie fishing, add a split-shot sinker just 6-8" above your hook to hold it down under the water and so you can feel the very light bite of a sheepshead inhaling your crab.

6. Shrimp for Sheepshead Fishing

shrimp for sheepshead

If you fish in saltwater for a year or so you'll quickly figure out that nearly everything in the water that eats other animals, eats shrimp. Along with squid, it is the ultimate bait. The problem is that when little pinfish attack your squid or shrimp before the sheepies get a chance to grab it.

There are many little bait-stealing fish that will nibble at your shrimp and eventually pull it right off the hook and then consume the entire thing in a piranha-like frenzy.

Live or dead, shrimp is one of the top two ultimate baits for a variety of fish and you should always have at least frozen shrimp available to use in a crunch.

In fact, Wayne Desselle from New Orleans, Louisiana caught the largest sheepshead ever caught on hook and line - a 21 lb. 4 oz. beast caught on, can you guess?

A big live shrimp! Use them if you've got 'em.

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Where To Find Bait Shrimp

It's possible to catch shrimp with a casting net. You'll need to find muddy bottoms close to oyster beds and preferably with some grass for the shrimp to hide in. These are the three essential conditions that will help you find where shrimp may be waiting.

Most people buy live shrimp at the bait shops or they get frozen shrimp at Walmart, a seafood market, or some other grocery store. Remember that live shrimp are always better than dead shrimp for bait for any fish except maybe catfish.

How To Rig Shrimp

When fishing with live shrimp, fish with smaller baits because the mouths on sheepshead are small and cannot eat a huge shrimp all at once.

The ideal size for catching sheepshead is about a 1 inch long shrimp. If your shrimp are larger than that you can cut them in half and use them as pieces.

Rig a live shrimp by pulling off the end part of the tail to create a natural shrimp smell in the water to incite the fish to strike. Run the hook under the base of the pointy horn in the top of the head of the shrimp and back out. Small #1 or 1/0 long shank J-hooks are best. You can even go a little smaller.

For dead shrimp that are soft you can also remove the tail or use a chunk and hide the hook in the soft flesh of the shrimp. Using 8-10 lb. fluorocarbon leader and a 20 lb. braid for your main line is about right. Always add a small split-shot above your bait by 6-8 inches.

7. Mussels for Sheepshead


Mussels outside of the shell can be used successfully for catching these fish, but they are hard to keep the hook inside of them. There is a bait wrap called Elastic Invisible Thread that you can wrap around the slimy mussel to keep it on the hook.

It seems odd to do this, I know, but it's a great way to catch fish and use cheap bait. Sometimes you can find green muscles when you snag something on the bottom as you're fishing. I've brought in dozens of green mussels by accident while fishing the Gandy Bridge Pier in St. Petersburg. These green-shelled mussels are excellent for sheepies.

Wrap the thread around the mussel and cut off the ends. It will stay until a fish pulls it apart. If that happens, there is a good chance the fish will be hooked.

Where To Find Mussels

Shallow water near bridges, piers, and any structure are good places to start looking for mussels. If you have snorkel gear you can easily find hundreds along the coast if there are rocks nearby. If you take a diving knife with you it's possible to remove the mussels underwater and put them in a bag or net to collect them.

Of course you can buy dead mussels at a seafood market or grocery store.

How To Rig Mussels

If you're cutting live mussels open that you find yourself, especially the green ones, they are very sharp and you should definitely wear gloves to do it. I've cut myself more than once trying to open the shells without gloves.

Stick a strong knife blade into the crack of the front of the shells and pry them apart. Be careful of slippage. Once opened, scrape or cut it away from the shell and discard the shell in a safe place, not where someone could wade into the water and step on it.

8. Hermit Crabs

hermit crabs

Hermit crabs can be used for bait for catching sheepies but it's quite a messy way to fish. If you don't mind getting dirty, try it and see if it's for you or not. It's not for me, there are plenty of other better bait to use.

Where To Find Hermit Crabs

You can find them when the tide goes out and they are roaming around the sand or just under the water. These crabs, once pulled out of their shell, have a very soft spongy part at the tail that is attractive to fish.

Of course sheepshead fish don't mind the crunchy bits either, so use the entire crab if you're using these as bait. If there is a place nearby that has many hermit crabs you can use them as a steady source of bait, again, if you don't mind getting covered in their mucus.

One good reason to use them is they can last a long time in a bucket with some moist sand.

How To Rig Hermit Crabs

Pull the crab out with your fingers or crack the shell to get the crab out. Pliers can also work to break the shell open.

To rig a hermit crab, put the hook through its body starting at the tail and coming out around mid-body. Some people wrap them with elastic thread to hold them on the hook. This is where it gets messy. I tend to just try my luck without the thread and I've caught sheepies like that without the mess. I’ve also lost a bunch of them that way.

9. Barnacles


Sheepshead go crazy for barnacles, and this is primarily what they eat when nobody is dropping them crabs and other bait. You can even hear them munching barnacles on structures under the water as you're fishing.

Bring a shovel or metal pole with a flat side to scrape barnacles off concrete walls, bridge pilings, docks, or whatever is around and covered with them. It's like ringing the dinner bell and you'll have a chum slick that is attracting sheepshead from all over that area.

Where To Find Barnacles

Barnacles are stuck on everything in the water. You can find some on metal, wood, rock, and concrete surfaces. You can find them on the fiberglass of submerged boats. They're literally everywhere. You can most easily grab some during a low tide where they are exposed or almost exposed just under the water line.

Scrape them off into a bucket. Don't remove barnacles from private docks or other structures without permission. Use the smaller pieces to chum fish, and keep the larger pieces for bait. Because they can be found just about everywhere, they are a great substitute for larger bait if you run out of your primary bait.

How To Rig Barnacles

Put your hook through the back of a few barnacles at a time. Drop them down along some structure. Let them hit bottom as if they just fell off. If no hits, try it again. It's highly effective to chum with some broken barnacles right before you drop your bait in.

10. Oysters


Oysters are probably the last thing I'd use to catch sheepshead, but you should know that they can be used as bait if you don't mind buying them!

There are two oyster types, Atlantic Oysters and European Flats Oysters (Belon Oysters).

Another thing besides their high price, if you're catching your own oysters you'll have to be careful to stay on the right side of the law because there are regulations in areas which have them that limit the number and size of them.

You don't want a huge fine for catching some sheepies with oysters, so just be very aware of laws in your area. Laws are not always the same across state lines, so don't assume you know without checking out the latest information on the web at the official fishing site for your area.

Where to Find Oysters

From Florida up to Maine, you can find oysters on the 'flats'. Flats are areas without grass, hills, rocks, or anything else. Flats have sand or mud, but sometimes huge oyster beds that seem to cover all the available space on the bottom.

If you have a kayak, you probably already know where some oyster beds are located. You've probably scraped your boat on them and feared they were slicing into the plastic bottom. Let me reassure you, YES, they were! Oysters are very sharp and can slice right into kayak bottoms. Limit the number of times you slide over them!

How to Rig Oysters

Though we've heard of some anglers rigging up a Carolina rig to catch sheepshead, you should probably just freeline them with one split-shot sinker a few inches up from the bait to get the oyster down where the fish are.

Expert Tips for Catching Sheepshead

Sheepshead fish are great fun to catch in the winter when they're abundant, easy to find, and as delicious as usual.

Black drum are similar in appearance to the convict fish but there is an obvious difference once you catch one. Black drum have no real discernable teeth. Sheepies do. Sheepies have darker bands than black drum too. These are easy differences to see up close. Another one is that black drum can get huge in comparison to just a couple of pounds for the average convicts.

When and Where to Catch Sheepshead

Sheepsheads are found in some places year-round. In Florida we can catch them any day of the year. You can almost always find them where barnacles are growing. So, on rocks, pier pilings, jetties, bridges, walls, and just about any structure.

You can catch them from a boat, but why waste the gas? Head to a pier or bridge and spend a relaxing couple of hours catching all you can eat.

Like catching most fish, it's best to fish during the incoming or outgoing tides. During high tides it will be best because crabs move right past the fish toward the newly covered sand where some of them like to burrow.

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Use the Right Rods and Reels for Sheepshead


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Choose a rod that has a light or light-medium action that will allow you to see and feel the very light bump you'll get from a sheepshead bite. If using J-hooks, set the hook. If using circle hooks, pull steadily and the hook will catch the side of the mouth.

Choose a small spinning reel or baitcasting reel with a surf fishing rod. You can use fluoro, mono, or braided lines, but braid is easily seen by the fish. You'll need a leader in that case. For your main line you can't go wrong with the Power Pro Super Slick 8 because it is softer and it doesn’t often knot up when tied.

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Choose the Right Rigs and Bait

Some anglers insist on using circle hooks in all their fishing, but circle hooks may not be ideal for sheepshead because of their heavy dentition. I prefer long-shank J-hooks for fishing for these toothy fish. With a circle hook you're running the risk of a break-off when the line is chewed through or rubbed on the jagged teeth.

One hook we like is Owner’s Gorilla Lights or Flyliner Live Bait Hooks in sizes 1, 2, and 4. These are small hooks that can be used for small fish.

When fishing for sheepies, you'll need a leader of a foot or more to hide the line. I love fluorocarbon lines for this, it's invisible to fish because it is made to disappear in saltwater.

Use Live Bait for Sheepshead Whenever Possible

Sheepshead are not one of those fish that most people target with artificial lures. If you do want to try artificial lures I would suggest a very small plastic shrimp and hooks with a long shank.

These fish seem to want to bite crabs and shrimp, squid, and other baits that are torn and smelly. They seem to be good at sniffing out fake lures. Try it and see what your experience is. Live bait is always the best though!

Choose the Correct Sheepshead Fishing Tackle

As far as choosing the correct fishing tackle to target this fish, you really can't go wrong. I have caught a number of Sheepies by accident while fishing for other fish both small and large.

A basic spinning reel or baitcasting reel works well. Just about any kind of rod will work but if you use a light action rod you are more likely to see the initial bite and be able to set the hook if you are using J-hooks.

The area you are fishing may require that you use some heavier line in case you run the risk of being cut off from barnacles on structure close by.

Always Hide the Hook

Some convict fish are very wary about seeing a hook because they've been targeted over and over by anglers who don't understand how important it is to hide them. Some fish are just targeted every day of the week in the same way and though they're not capable of learning advanced concepts, they do start to understand that bait with hooks in them tend to not end well for their friends.

Use the Correct Fishing Sinker Weight

Using only the bare minimum weight to get your bait down into the water where the fish are is pretty essential when targeting this kind of fish. The initial bite is barely felt even with a light sinker on your line. If you use heavy weights you will surely miss those crucial strikes.

It's essential that your bait hang and move with the current as naturally as possible. If there is no tide or water movement at all, just freeline your bait and drop it down for the most natural presentation.

Target Areas With Structure, Walls, Rocks

Sheepshead fish are rarely found in the wide open flats. They need structure to feel safe and to help them ambush prey. Bridges, piers, sea walls, rocks, shallow wrecks, mangroves, and fallen trees are all excellent places to start.

One thing about fishing for the convicts is that they are either there and biting, or they're not. Don't waste time trying for more than 5 minutes to get a bite if you have one of the live or dead baits covered above. Move to a different spot. They can stay in large schools and they're almost always hungry when the right bait is presented.

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Use the Correct Leader Diameter

Some people use a fluoro leader with a 30 lb. test. I'd never go that heavy because 8-10 lb. test works well enough and you'll catch more fish because the line is seen less often.

If the water is full of dirt and cloudy, you can get away with a slightly heavier fluoro leader but in clear water use the lightweight fluoro for best results!

Sheepshead Bottom Fishing Rigs

Several different bottom rigs for sheepshead can produce fish. The sliding sinker rig is common for many fish and the benefit is there is little resistance as the fish grabs the bait.

The line slides through the hole in the sinker and the movement of the line transmits directly to your rod tip. Ideally you'll be holding your line with an open spool and feel this delicate bite.

A short 2-foot leader tied directly to braided line allows the bait to float around in the current on the bottom. Obviously this doesn't work all that well if fish are higher in the water column, but for bottom sheeps, this works well.

A knocker rig is basically the same thing but you use a swivel close to the hook. The swivel stops the sinker from going too close to the hook. This can be better because sometimes the sinker slides too far forward and stays anchored to the hook and bait and your bait is hidden behind the sinker.

High-low rigs can be used if you are not sure where the fish will bite - higher in the water column, or lower. Once you figure it out, you can switch over to just freelining your bait or using an egg sinker.

Consider Frozen Baits

Far more convenient than going out early to catch your own live bait is just visiting the local grocery store and picking up some frozen shrimp or squid, or even sand fleas. This can cut hours off your day and frozen bait can be very productive for all kinds of fish.

The one problem with frozen shrimp and crabs is how delicate they get after thawing. Squid can stay firm enough to remain on the hook, so it's probably the best frozen bait to use.

Thaw the frozen bait slowly and ideally a little at a time as you're using it.

Frozen Squid

How To Catch Sheepshead Like A Pro

Just about anywhere with structure is a good place to fish for sheepshead from the shore or a boat. Fishing from a boat inshore allows you to move to many different locations, all the docks on a canal for instance. You can hit multiple bridges and piers and look for not only just the small fish of this species, but you can target the big sheepshead.

Fishing with strong hooks by Owner, Gamakatsu, and other fishing gear manufacturers is a good idea. Your hooks must be razor sharp and you should check them to ensure this or sharpen them before using. The companies mentioned have chemically sharpened hooks that are perfect for targeting these fish.

Many people fish for sheepies during the winter months when they spawn. I haven't found a difference and they seem to be available every time I've ever chosen to target them in Florida. Remember, this is one of the best-tasting fish swimming in the ocean and you can probably go out right now and find some to take home for a meal.

Some anglers are happy enough using circle hooks and others use J-hooks with a longer shank (area between the bend and the eye that connects to the line). Both work well.

Some anglers fish live bait, some prefer dead bait. I don't know anyone that prefers artificial lures for this fish.

Some fish the bottom and some insist on dropping down slowly right by the piers and pilings. I rarely fish the bottom and much prefer to drop right down a wall or piling that has barnacles on it. Some insist on chumming. I rarely chum, but if I'm near a vertical surface with some barnacles and I have a knife or something to scrape them, I will definitely do it!

Proven Sheepshead Hooking Techniques

If you've ever wanted to drive yourself bonkers while fishing, don't research anything about catching sheepshead and go out there and try to catch them like you'd catch snapper or trout or some other easy to catch fish.

These can be incredibly frustrating fish to catch if you're not using the proper techniques. If you are targeting sheepshead, your chances of hooking a fish will be lower than with many other fish species. They can be so frustrating until you have some good skills.

Some people try to set the hook before they feel the bite. This was my idea when I had about 25 baits stolen my first time sheepie fishing. The problem is, as you can imagine, it just doesn't work. You end up scaring the fish because your bait is suddenly jumping around in front of them and they don't know when to strike or even if they should bite because it seems so unnatural.

Sheepsheads are very light striking fish. They pull the bait into their mouth and chew and swallow. I've caught a few of them by hooking their throat and stomach. This rarely happens because the line gets cut in the mouth by all their teeth.

It's much better to hook in the side of the mouth, the only soft part of the mouth.

Cast or drop your bait. Don't close the bail, just hold the line and let it out slowly as the bait falls slowly down to the fish.

Hold the line gently, with no slack in the line. When you feel a little bump, wait 1 second and set the hook if you have a J-hook. If you have a circle hook, you can wait another second and then start reeling in and lifting your rod tip. Don't set the hook with a circle hook.

Tide Considerations in Fishing for Sheepshead

Fishing during a moving tide is crucial for so many fish species that you shouldn't attempt to fish without moving water unless you're targeting catfish or sharks or some other fish that don't seem to care whether water is moving or not.

The presentation of your bait should be from upstream and moving toward the fish and the direction they are facing.

When the tide is moving, the smell of your live or dead bait will reach the fish hanging out near the structure. This will incite them to strike your bait. The tide helps you fish in these two ways, the natural presentation of your bait floating toward the fish, and the natural smells of your bait coming to them before the bait reaches them

Wrapping Up

Sheepshead can be found from Chesapeake Bay, all the way down the east coast and around the coast of the Gulf Of Mexico. They can be a challenge to catch, but the right bait will help.

The best baits for sheepshead fishing are crabs. Fiddlers are the absolute best bait you can use so if it's available in your area, either buy them or catch them yourself and save some money.

Other baits can be used very successfully too, so choose one of the other baits listed above and fish it the way we suggest and you should be able to catch these delicious fish. Besides these baits, there are others you can and should try if you have them available. Sea urchin and sea worms are two that we've heard anglers use successfully.

One key is to have a lot of bait available, more than you think you need, because these are the consummate bait-stealing fish and snapper and pinfish are always close by that will do the same.

Enjoy your fishing and let us know how it goes!

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Vern Lovic

Vern grew up in Pennsylvania fishing for trout in streams and Bass in lakes and ponds. He then moved to the west coast of Florida where he discovered surf fishing and inshore saltwater fishing from his kayak. Vern is an outdoor writer and loves to share his knowledge and fishing experiences. He is the founder of

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