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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
December 17, 2005
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report


One of the very best bets out of Apalachicola is the scrappy and tasty sheepshead. Distinguished by its black vertical bands, many call it the convict fish. I call it a prolific winter target species that gives a very good account of itself on proper tackle. They use their broad, thick bodies to give you a spirited battle. And as a bonus, sheepshead are some of the best eating of the inshore offerings. Now is the time to catch them with cooler water and spawning fish. And the steady action will warm your spirit.

Other than possibly the gray triggerfish, no other fish measures up to the sheepshead in its ability to steal your bait. This professional bait stealer gets its name from the canine teeth that protrude from the mouth. Like so many fish, the sheepshead has evolved perfectly to suit its environment. Living around barnacle-encrusted pilings and feeding primarily on crustaceans, sheepshead have serious incisors that make short work of small crabs, shrimp and other shellfish. Its diet accounts for the excellent flavor of the flesh.

If you watch a sheepshead eat a fiddler crab, the process is quite remarkable. They donít actually strike the bait in a traditional sense. The take is more like a sucking technique, whereby the bait is inhaled, crushed and eaten in a nano-second. The shell is simply spit out. Because these fish have such extraordinary abilities to steal your bait, a specialized technique must be employed if one wants to catch a box full.

Anchor or tie up to your favorite piling. Several bumpers may be necessary to accomplish this, especially with a heavy chop. Begin by chumming barnacles off the piling with your flat-blade shovel. Twelve pound spinners with fluorocarbon leaders and stout hooks in the #4 to #1 size range will not bend in tough mouths. Small split shot or egg sinkers are best depending upon the velocity of the current. It is important to fish straight up and down to better feel the bite. Some anglers use small jig heads with success.

Drop your offering straight down at the base of the piling, as sheepshead hold tight to the pilings and donít venture far away. When you feel a tap-tap and a heavy feel, set the hook aggressively. With really tough mouths, you must penetrate the barb of the hook.

Bait selections vary from place to place. Chose one that will stay on your hook best and is commonly available in your area. Clams, shrimp, blue crab, oysters and fiddlers are top choices. Cut these offerings up into bite-size morsels and impale them on your small hook.

Fish the tides with maximum current. Sheepshead eat when the current brings food. Try the jetties at the Government Cut for fast action. Tie several leaders in advance, because the granite boulders will claim a few. Bonus fish are reds, black drum and flounder. While anchored, put out a big stick with a pinfish or crab claw on the bottom for bull reds.

As we move into winter, you will have the whole pond virtually to yourself. Many inshore species spawn now and are easy to catch. A fine catch of sheepshead makes for some mighty tasty eats.

Till next tide, tight lines and solid hookups,

Captain Alex Crawford

Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association

Proud Member Florida Guides Association

Proud Member Coastal Conservation Association

www.topknots.com or call (850) 697-8946

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Captain Alex Crawford is a full time guide who has fished the Florida Panhandle offshore for 26 years. He specializes in grouper and snapper trips with light tackle on live bait. Custom trips for companies with multiple boats will be arranged. Inshore trips targeting specific species and custom eco trips are available for birding, gator watching, shelling, picnics and barrier islands. Contact Captain Alex for a fun and productive trip on Florida's Forgotten Coast.

Contact Info:

Topknots Charters
P. O. Box 1029
Carrabelle, FL 32322
Phone: 850-697-8946
Alt. Phone: same
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