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Sheepshead bite heating up with cooler temperatures

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Jan 21, 2022

Over the years my blood has apparently thinned out and now my electric heater and meter are working overtime trying to keep the house warm. If you’re sampling Southwest Florida winter fishing for the first time and are seeking some free advice at the local dock, look for the folks dressed in long pants, hats and coats. Avoid the red faced guy in a sticky T-shirt, shorts and sandals, as he probably just arrived yesterday. Local knowledge is hard to beat.

Nothing like a cold snap to get the sheepshead bite active and the most activity still seems to be on nearshore GPS numbers. Use fiddler crabs if you have them, with shrimp always a good second choice. Don’t be afraid to experiment with baits; for example, clams can sometimes work well. If you can’t get offshore, then any major inshore structures like oyster and barnacle-covered bridges and docks, channel markers, seawalls, bars with drop-offs, even island points, all can host cold water sheepshead.

Back in the spring of 1982 while fishing in Louisiana, Wayne Desselle caught a monster of a sheepshead that tipped the scales at the 21-pound, 4-ounce mark, setting a world record that still stands today.

Funny thing about records is that they not only get broken, but sometimes even get eaten, like George Perry’s 1932 world record largemouth bass. In the winter of 2009, Jacksonville angler Tony Eden caught a whopper 27-inch-long sheepshead that also became a great dinner. Mistakenly thinking that the Florida state record stood at 21-4, he knew his weighed, measured and photographed, 17 pounder wouldn’t compete, so he did the logical thing and ate it. Not sure when he found out his jumbo sheepie was indeed a record breaker, weighing nearly 2 pounds over the still standing 15-pound, 2-ounce, and Florida state record fish. Eden caught his fish using half of a blue crab.

Perry caught his bass on his only lure, a Creek Chub Fantail Shiner, cast next to an old cypress log while momentarily stopping for a few last casts before heading in after a rather unsuccessful day of fishing with his pal.

Actually, Perry’s long-standing 1932 world record 22-pound, 4-ounce bass was beaten by one (1) ounce in 2009, by Manabu Kurita’s 22-pound, 5-ounce bass caught in Japan on a live bluegill. Because the official weight must be two ounces over the current record to officially beat it, Kurita’s catch is officially classified as a world record tie.

In all likelihood Perry probably still caught the bigger bass. The story goes that his fish spent a few hours drying out and certainly losing weight before being officially weighed at 22-4.

The race continues for the most sought after fishing title on the planet, the world record largemouth title. Although Florida has always been referred to as the bass capitol of the world, the west coast is the place to wet your line if you’re seriously looking to break the current record, which has been unofficially broken there more than once already, with a 25 pounder taken but unfortunately, hooked on the outside of the lip, disqualifying the catch.

Rigging for sheepshead can be as simple as loading a lite jighead with a small chunk of shrimp and lowering it down right next to a piling. Add a hook to your leader and a split shot a foot above the hook or try this rig using an adjustable slip bobber for accurate depth control. Use small, thin wire, ultra-sharp hooks to get in between those dentures.

When the winds permit a safe trip, mangrove snapper and grouper await you on your favorite offshore ledges and rock piles. On the way back in, poke around the pass edges with lite tackle and small, shrimp-tipped jigs hopped off the bottom, to hopefully add some delicious pompano guests to your snapper cooler.

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