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Fishing | Don’t be surprised if you catch a sheepie while casting for something else

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - Fishing | Jan 11, 2024

Capt. George Tunison

With winter sheepies typically hanging around rocks, docks, pilings, bridges and oyster bars, casting anglers are often surprised to encounter big sheepshead patrolling the mangrove edges and hitting lures designed for redfish and snook.

Sheepshead are always associated with some type of vertical bait fishing using shrimp or fiddler crabs, oyster bits and even oddball baits like recent video clips of anglers loading up on big specimens using live crickets another using earthworms. More videos show anglers dock walking and catching whoppers by dropping down very life-like plastic imitations of small crabs. D&D in Matlacha has an interesting selection of these lures. My biggest shallow-water specimen was just a tad over 10 pounds caught in Matlacha on a mangrove point after eating a gold redfish spoon then producing a memorable fight on a light snook rod.

An oyster bar next to a channel can be a prime spot for a shallow encounter, otherwise, traditional drop the bait down to them spots like the Boca Grande phosphate docks and all the area bridges are worth checking as well as several stretches of the Cape and Matlacha canals and docks. When fishing docks always try to be a good ambassador for the sport and respect people’s property and privacy. If a homeowner is uncomfortable with you fishing their dock, don’t hassle, just move on. It’s a big pond.

Before the fronts, nearshore reef anglers where doing well on not only sheepshead but also catching the usual variety of snappers, and if and when the weather allows, that fishing should continue. For those that venture further out, red grouper remains open in state and federal waters with a 20-inch total length the ticket to legally take some home for dinner. Black grouper fishing is also open year-round in state waters with a four-fish, 24-inch limit to harvest. Best advice, let the weatherman and common sense be your guide when running offshore.

When deciding to relocate to Florida, living on Florida’s east or wrong side is something I didn’t choose to do, due to, at that time in early 2000, population density and hurricanes that always hit Miami then up the east coast to the Carolinas, then out to sea. Good fishing, less folks and near zero hurricanes drew me here to Southwest Florida along with now many more folks and, of course, hurricanes. East coast angling does offer great opportunities, including great inshore angling but also fantastic pass, along the beach/coastal and relatively close to shore “offshore” fishing. The east coast mullet run draws huge tarpon, sharks, jacks, snook and big redfish almost to the beach for, at times, fantastic non-stop action for skiff and beach anglers. Wading in the surf isn’t a good plan during the mullet run feeding frenzy.

Up north along the Space Coast really big tripletail lurk under Canaveral buoys and inshore the state’s biggest seatrout, as in double-digit trout, are likely to hit your Skitter Walk in skinny lagoon waters. Jumbo cobia ride the backs of incredibly huge manta rays right outside the surf zone chased by tower boats looking to lure 50-pound cobia to a brightly colored jig. Right now sailfish alley is lit up all along the coast all the way down to Key West, and something to cross off your angling list. Catching a sailfish on a fly rod is one of my most treasured angling memories. Want to try a test of wills and tackle with a 50-pound or larger jack crevalle? Head over, he’s waiting to hurt you.

Actually Southwest Florida not only offers great angling but within 2-5 hours of here heading either north to fish Mosquito Lagoon for giant trout or Lake Toho for a giant largemouth, east to fish the Atlantic side or south to Biscayne Bay, Florida’s back country or casting to Key West winter tarpon and permit, Cape Coral is Florida fishing central. I’m not moving.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or via email at captgeorget3@aol.com.