Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle
Capt. Alex Crawford
October 25, 2006
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
CONVICT FISH—AN OVERLOOKED SPECIES
Convict fish aka sheepshead is one of the most prolific inshore species during fall and winter. The Forgotten Coast provides ideal habitat for this barnacle muncher with bridge pilings in abundance. Sheepshead orient to pilings for primary forage, barnacles. The longer the pilings have had a chance to grow their own mini-eco system, the better the fish like it. And if the pilings are located near or on an oyster bed, it is sheepshead heaven. The oyster bed is home to several sheepshead delicacies like oyster crabs, fiddlers, shrimp and blue crabs. A diet of crustaceans accounts for the sweet taste of the fillets.
This species provides a great inshore target because it meets all the best criteria. Firstly, sheepshead occur in large quantities. If you can find old bridge pilings, you have solved the location issue. Depending on water clarity, you may be able to look down at the base of the piling and see the fish, sometimes nibbling on barnacles. On the Forgotten Coast there is no shortage of bridge pilings. Next, with their broad bodies, sheepshead turn sideways and give you a sporting pull. Because they are so plentiful, the daily recreational bag limit is generous, 15 per angler per day. The minimum size is 12 inches overall. Small fish do not yield very large fillets and releasing them is wise. There are plenty of 3 and 4 pounders that produce nice thick fillets for the frying pan.
Another criteria for fun sheepshead fishing is that you can move from piling to piling only a short distance hunting fish. And because the depth is generally less than 20 feet, your prospecting efforts are speedy from piling to piling. If you see multiple boats in a particular area, there is a good chance the fish are close by and on the bite.
As with most inshore species, selecting the best tide stages is important. Sheepshead bite best with a hard current. So, check your tide info and look for the times of the tide stages that predict maximum current. Make your fish plan accordingly.
Bait selection is easy. Stop by your local tackle store and buy several dozen small live shrimps. Or, if you can find them, fiddler crabs are superior baits. Always purchase more than you think you will need because sheepshead are one of the most clever of bait stealers. Their large, powerful canine incisors give these barnacle-crunchers the ability to steal your bait in a New York heartbeat. Small strong hooks will help you increase the hookup ratio. A stout livebait hook in size number one or 1/0 is a good choice. Removing hooks will bend light wire hooks, so go to a quality hook and hand sharpen them, stick in your thumb nail razor sharp.
Rods and reels are always an individual matter. Ten pound class spinners on 7 foot graphite sticks work for me. Fluorocarbon leaders will save a few fish from barnacle encrusted pilings. The braids will minimize cut offs as well.
One of the most important pieces of equipment is a high quality landing net. The rubber mesh versions out perform traditional nylon nets because of entanglements with massive dorsal spines. A safety note here: don’t let these guys drive a dorsal spine into a body part or bite a finger. Just trust me on this!
The first sheepshead bite of the season has just started along with a few keeper flounder. A good choice of fishing locations will be the pilings under the bridges from Apalachicola to East Point (hwy. 98). Be prepared to anchor in oysters and get a few cutoffs to oysters and barnacles. It’s all in the game, just bring extra leaders and plenty of small egg sinkers. Take only what you will personally consume and leave a few for your grandchildren.
Lastly, bring a sharp, electric fillet knife to carve through the tough, bony scales. Convicts are hard to carve until you use a sharp electric knife. A spare set of blades is helpful.
With the price of fuel it is nice to have a short run to the fish. And fried sheepshead rivals other top species like snappers, trout and reds. Be the prepared opportunist angler and go get ya some convict fish.
Till next tide,
Tight lines and solid hook ups—
Captain Alex Crawford
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