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The Sheepshead fish identification, habitats, characteristics, Fishing methods

The sheepshead are one of the best food value, because of its shellfish diet. Black vertical bands stand out against dull white, gray or yellowish background. The mouth is full of massive, protruding teeth that give the fish its name, and distinguish it from the juvenile Black Drum, the only fish with which it is likely to be confused. Spines of the dorsal and anal fins are heavy and sharp. They prefer areas of rocky bottom, from far up coastal creeks and rivers, to well offshore. Loves dock and bridge pilings, artificial reefs and any other structure that wears barnacles and/or harbors crabs. Forages for crustaceans, at times, on shallow soft-bottom flats in the manner of Redfish or Bonefish.
The Sheepshead Fishing The sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus, also known as Convict Fish, Seabream, is a marine fish that grows to 30 in (760 mm), but are common from 5 to 8 in. Sheepshead are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the northern Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Bermuda and Grenada. Along the United States coast they are rarely found above the Carolinas in winter. The species range from Nova Scotia to Cedar Key, Florida, along the Atlantic coast of North America. There are two other populations of the species that are regarded as subspecies, but they occur in the western Gulf of Mexico and in the South Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro.

Sheepshead has a moderately deep compressed body with a shape somewhere between elongated form of a bass or trout and the round disk of a spadefish. The mouth is small to medium size and the have long, flat, anterior incisor-like teeth and other teeth rounded (massive, protruding). Those massive teeth that porgy used to crush the shells of mollusks and crustaceans, are distinguish them from the Juvenile Black Drum. They have very sharp and heavy spines along the dorsal and anal fins.
Coloration is silvery gray to yellowish white with an olive-brown back and 5 or 6 distinct black vertical bars on the side (from which they get their common name convict fish, with the oddity that some fish have a different number of stripes on their two sides. These stripes fade with age. The Atlantic Spadefish also has dark bars but has a deeper body, long median fins and is usually seen in schools. Sheepshead can attain a length of 30 inches and a weight ranging from 5 to 15 lbs. Fish as large as 20 lbs are caught occasionally.

Sheepshead are found in areas of rocky bottom, from far up coastal creeks and rivers, to well offshore. They love docks and bridge pilings, artificial reefs and any other structure that wears barnacles and/or harbors crabs. These fish are often seen browsing the pylons of piers for a variety of crustaceans. Their large, strong teeth have enough power to crush the shells of most small invertebrates.
Largest of the porgies, Sheepshead are often associated with underwater structure such as jetty rocks, pilings and bulkheads and can also be found near navigation markers. They inhabit water up to 50 feet in depth in bays, estuaries and along mangroves, and often enter brackish and even freshwater areas. Because of their feeding habits they can often be found around oyster bars and seawalls. The only migration sheepshead undertake is out to sea in cold months and back inshore at spring. They prefer water temperature at 60 F or above.
Sheepshead have specially designed long, flat teeth for the crushing of mollusk and crustacean shells so they are able to consume the soft animal inside. They are browsing feeders that travel in schools while they feed. Favored prey include oysters, mussels, sea urchins and crabs, especially fiddler crabs. They also consume numerous barnacles.

During the spawning season, which occurs in late winter or early spring, sheepshead assemble into schools and move into shallow water to deposit their eggs. Spawning occurs over debris, artificial reefs and around navigation markers. Eggs hatch in about 40 hours at water temperatures of 77 F.

Fishing Methods include Drifting or Still Fishing with light spinning and baitcasting tackle and multiplying reel, with live or dead shrimp and various cut baits. Sheepshead are considered excellent table fare, though they are difficult to clean. They are not particularly renowned for their fighting ability.
Because Sheepshead are bottom feeders, the best strategies to catch them are bottom and float rigs fished around barnacle-encrusted structures. They do not bite readily on artificial lures so anglers should use live bait such as fiddler crabs, barnacles, oysters, clams or shrimp, sometimes used with sliding sinker rigs. During winter, sheepshead can be found along deeper artificial reefs at depths between 35 and 60 feet. Sheepshead have a very light bite and are renowned as bait stealers, and thus can be a frustrating species to fish. They are not an aggressive strike fighters; very tough on light tackle. Pulls hard and uses flat shape to advantage. Ssheepshead have very stout and sharp spines and should be handled careful.
During the winters, many anglers will head to the end of pier to fish for sheepshead. As sheepshead are crustacean and bivalve feeders, favorite baits include shrimp, sand fleas (molecrabs), clams, and mussels. Sheepshead have a knack for stealing bait, so a very small hook is necessary. Locating sheepshead in a boat is not very difficult: look for rocky bottoms or places with obstruction, or try around the pilings of a bridge or pier.
Light spinning and baitcasting tackle are tops for sport, but rodtip should not be too soft, as the tough and toothy mouth makes it hard to set a hook. Best baits are fiddlers or other small crabs; cut pieces of blue crab; live or fresh-dead shrimp (threaded on the hook); pieces of oysters and clams. Sheepshead will readily hit slow-moving jigs tipped with these baits and, occasionally, will take the bare jig.
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