Tampa Bay earns her Stripes
Capt. Dan Bumgarner
December 24, 2008
St. Petersburg - Saltwater Fishing Report
This is the season when Tampa Bay starts to earn her stripes, sheepshead stripes that is. Starting in December and running through February sheepshead gather around almost any structure that has good tidal flow around it. They gather for the spawning activities that will take place in late winter. During this time they feed heavily on anything that lives in a shell. Shrimp, barnacles, green mussels, and various small crabs are the baits of choice for this tasty member of the porgy family.
The best tackle for sheepies is 15 -20 pound class spinning or conventional tackle. Sheepshead have a smaller mouth that is full of barnacle crushing teeth so stout hooks ranging from 1/0 to number 4 work best. Attach the hook to about 18 inches of 20 or 30 pound leader attached to the main line with a small swivel. Place a slip sinker on the line above the swivel. The weight of the sinker should be just heavy enough to take the bait down and hold the line tight enough for you to feel the light bite of the sheepshead. These guys are great bait thieves. I guess that's how they earned those convict stripes.
Once you are geared up it's time to find a place to fish. I don't think there is a single bridge across any salt or brackish water in Pinellas County that will not produce at least a few sheepshead during this time of year. Position your boat so you can drop your baits right beside the pilings. If you fish at the Skyway Bridge do not tie up to any pilings or fenders of the bridge as this practice is prohibited by the US Coast Guard. I use an old lawn edger to periodically scrape off a small amount of the barnacles encrusting the piling to chum the fish to my location. Any rocky areas or wrecks in the bay as well as the edges of the shipping channels hold lots of sheepshead now. Do not over look the artificial reefs in the bay and those closer to shore in the gulf as these are prime spots for sheepshead.
Now that we have geared up and selected a spot to try, the next thing to consider is when to go. Obviously the best time to go fishing is any time you can get a kitchen pass from the boss. However, if you can get that kitchen pass to coincide with some good tidal flow you are set. On days when the tide is really strong I find it better to fish just before and just after the tide changes. The fast currents during the strongest part of these tides will sweep away your chum before it can be effective and will make it very difficult to keep your bait in the strike zone.
Sheepshead don't always get the respect they deserve. These fish are a challenge to catch, put up a great fight and are delicious to eat. If you have not tried fresh southern fried sheepshead fillets with a few hush puppies and some of Aunt Peggy's cole slaw now is the time to get out on Tampa Bay and earn your stripes.
Originally from the mountains of North Carolina, Capt. Dan moved to Saint Petersburg in 1969. Since that time he has logged over 2000 days on Tampa Bay and the adjacent waters of Gulf of Mexico. For more information or to book a charter please visit his website at www.tampabaycharterfishing.com or give him a call at 727-526-7565.
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