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Fishing for sheepies in skinny water

December 21, 2018
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Sitting here watching the wind blow listening to tornado warnings. With hurricane season in the rear-view, I thought the weather-related stress would be over. I hope everyone makes it through this latest event and has a wonderful holiday.

Earlier in the week before the wild Christmas winds, two charters produced rat reds on bottom bait and small topwater plugs along with snook on small suspending twitch-baits, both species caught on or in the vicinity of oyster bars.

A longtime client from New York makes the most beautifully finished topwater plugs you've ever seen and a cast and slow retrieve along the deep edge of a bar proved to be too much for a well-fed, 30-inch snook that was daydreaming in the warming afternoon sun.

As I quietly poled the boat scanning for more sunbathing snook, sheepshead of all sizes scattered ahead of us in the clear shallow water.

Most pursue these tasty fish around bridges or other big structure. I'm not much for up and down bridge fishing but do like catching big sheepies in skinny water where a tough 10-pounder will burn your drag as well as any redfish or snook.

I'm a lure guy till the bitter end but sheepshead aren't. They like to nibble and crush small crustaceans with their human-shaped teeth. Surprisingly, over the years my biggest sheepshead have been caught on redfish spoons around bars. (Something special about spoons as each year I catch a handful of large mullet, a vegetarian, on redfish spoons as well.)

Returning the next day with ultra-lite spinning rods and shrimp, we rigged up with the classic bottom finder or slip sinker bottom rig. Add a 1/4 oz. sliding sinker to your main line then tie on a small quality swivel to trap the sinker. Now add 24 inches of 15lb. test fluorocarbon leader material to the swivel and then tie on a small, thin wire, sharp hook. The sliding sinker gives you casting weight as well as keeping you're offering on bottom and most importantly, allowing the line to slip through the weight without the fish feeling any resistance when he eats your bait. Let the bait sit and carefully watch your line. Any twitch or movement - set the hook.

Small pieces of shrimp brought sheepshead to the baits and later that evening put delicious blue crab stuffed fish on our plates as we discussed the days fishing. No 10s but one around 7 pounds and on a 5-foot ultra-lite rod, that's always a good time.

These fish not only fight well on the flats but, as mentioned, are quite delicious. To clean them, wear gloves and be careful as they can be tough to clean. Electric knives are a plus.

Stuff with a crab/shrimp mixture with lots of healthy butter and broil.

2018 sheepshead rules allow up to 8 per harvester per day with a minimum length of 12 inches. Be careful with a full crew onboard as the rules allow a vessel limit of 50 fish.

While you're spending time around oyster bars, the bluefish are still terrorizing anything that swims and are worth targeting if you're a fan of lite tackle skinny water fun. If you haven't caught a flats bluefish, you're in for a surprise as they are non-stop fighters that jump and are lure friendly. Some folks eat blues and if you do, a small one is recommended. These water wolves also have a 12-inch limit and you can keep up to 10 per day.

These fish might be giving the local trout the blues as many long-time trout holes south of the Matlacha Bridge aren't producing as well as they should for this time of year. The colder it gets, stay with jigs in deep water basins, marinas and channels. On Wednesday, we caught them around the Matlacha Bridge and docks all the way down to Bert's Bar.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or



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