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Winter puts target on sheepshead

February 5, 2016
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON (captgeorget3@aol.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Ready to duke it out with a buck toothed, fiddler crab, shrimp stealing amour plated, jailbird? It's winter and you're in the right place.

It's sheepshead time so scrape off the barnacles, buy some shrimp, or collect fiddler crabs, bait up and go fishing for this tasty and plentiful winter fish.

Rigging is easy. Use a sharp Owner circle hook (#1 size) on a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and 15-20-pound braided line. Thread a small shrimp section on the hook and add a few split shot to get the bait to fall. If the current is strong substitute a 1/4-ounce jighead.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

These are structure oriented fish so the idea is to fish bridge pilings straight down next to the piling. With rod tip held low watch for the slightest line twitch or bump, then pause, now strike. Typically sheepies crunch their baits so pausing helps hook these master bait stealers. After catching two or three most usually get the hang of it and start putting fish in the boat.

Rip-rap and mangrove shorelines, bars, docks will hold fish as well and many anglers casting spoons and other flats redfish fare are often surprised by a strong strike and the fight of a 10-pound flats sheepie. Most folks will tell you that sheepshead and mullet won't hit lures, but every year I catch a half-dozen mullet on gold redfish spoons, not snagged but with all three hooks of the treble in their mouths. Last winter a client caught a gold spoon sheepshead just shy of 12 pounds while casting for reds on a Matlacha flat.

The Matlacha Bridge, Sanibel Causeway and the Boca Grande phosphate docks are all producers of big sheepshead. A well kept secret is there are some incredible sheepie fishing in the many miles of canals in the Cape. Find that deep hole with structure and you might be on a sheepshead bonanza that will last season after season. Be carful who you tell!

Clean these seemingly armored fish using gloves and an electric fillet knife.

I recently tried this easy recipe from the internet and it is a winner.

Lemon Baked Sheepshead -2 pounds fillets; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 2 tablespoons melted butter; 1 small onion chopped; 1 bunch fresh chopped parsley; salt-pepper; dill; olive oil. Preheat oven to 450, sprinkle fillets with salt, pepper, and lemon juice; coat with butter and place in oiled baking dish with lots of room.

Mix parsley and onions and place around sheepshead; sprinkle a little olive oil and dill on top; reduce oven to 400 and bake for 12 minutes or till done. Don't overcook. Serves five and is delicious

Thursdays 80-degree balmy temps will turn to 60s and windy by the weekend making any weekend flats outing uncomfortable. Good news is with lots of shorelines, islands, canals, and protected backwaters, inshore fishing will go on.

With nearly 500 miles of canals in the Cape something is always biting and often the biggest fish in the whole area might just be under your backyard canal dock.

Scouting always pays off and the winter and its associated low tides is the time to get out and map your flats looking for structure, cuts, depressions, holes, etc., that are invisible to you during the high water season. Mark them on your electronics, in your log book. Picture them on your cell. Anything to mark and remember them for later.

Spending a half day scouting Cape canals can bring big rewards. Get on your sonar and cruise looking for sunken structure and deep holes. Make a list of your new found honey holes and return to fish them with a variety of techniques.

Cold water makes trout fishing easy. Look for deep creeks, canals, basins, marinas for easy fishing with shrimp or soft plastics. Fish very slowly along bottom.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com, or www.flyingfinssportfishing.com.

 
 
 

 

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