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Sheepshead fights like a redfish

January 6, 2017
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The shrimp entered the water just under the tips of the mangroves and suddenly the line went tight followed by a large boil.

The drag screamed, the rod bent deeply and an over slot redfish went back and under the trees, back out, then screamed down the shoreline. What a great inshore battle! What a strong fish on light tackle.

Anxious to see this nice red, the angler put on the power keeping the rod tip low, actually in the water, during the fight to keep the line from tangling in the brush. He finally won the battle, but was shocked to see a redfish of a different stripe come to the surface.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

Usually hanging around rocks, docks, pilings, bridges, bars and other structure folks are often surprised to encounter the sheepshead hunting the flats and mangrove edges.

This big guy of close to 10 pounds fought as hard and long as any redfish ever will in shallow water.

Typically associated with bait fishing using shrimp, sand fleas, and piling scrapings, a big sheepie will slam a lure. My biggest inshore catch was just a tad over 10 pounds caught on the flats using a gold redfish spoon.

If you're looking for larger specimens suggested areas are the Boca Grande phosphate docks and the Sanibel Causeway.

Some really big sheepshead and in large numbers may be behind your house in the Cape.

Tip: Spend some serious time with your depth finder and mark deep holes in the downtown Cape canal system, especially around road bridge crossings.

Return and spend a day fishing your list of downtown honey holes for great sheepie fishing. Don't be surprised to see or catch snook, trout, redfish, or an occasional grouper.

Snook-of-a-lifetime winter in Cape's canals. Like a surprised walleye angler catching a giant muskie on a minnow, canal sheepie anglers often are surprised by a log-sized snook.

You now have a substantial amount of fish on ice or alive in the well. Take them home and get out the electric knife and leather gloves and go to work. Tough to fillet the first time around, but you'll soon get the hang of it.

Delicate and delicious sauteed, fried, or baked. I make a delicious baked sheepshead stuffed with crab meat that's pretty amazing.

Being that sheepshead are known expert bait stealers, notoriously hard for the novice to hook, I offer my annual sheepshead advice. Set the hook as soon as you feel the sheepshead breathing on the bait.

Looking for something a little different and want to pull on something rather large without having to go offshore, then by all means take a few crabs, cut them in half and fish on bottom around bridge structure. A 50-pound black drum could be in your future.

The forecast is calling for a cold front that will put the trout in feeding mode as well as in predicted locations. If he gets really cold a trout will school in channels, deep water marinas, and deep water holes on the flats and in the Cape's deep canals.

When you find a bonanza of feeding schooled trout it's usually easy pickings as the fish become competitive and will hit a variety of offerings.

Shrimp under a float or casting a live shrimp on a jighead always works. Just work slowly near bottom.

Hair jigs and soft plastics on light jig heads are always good worked slowly near/on bottom. GULP or scented lures often work better.

Fly rod anglers might want to consider a sinking tip fly line to get a streamer down to the fish's level.

If you've recently returned and your boat has been sitting for a month be sure to change out your fuel/water separating filter(s) and add ethanol fuel treatment. It's cheap preventive maintenance that can save you from huge repair bills.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-440-1621 or, or



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