SHEEPSHEAD (Archosargus probatocephalus) OTHER NAMES: Convict Fish Bait-stealer
RANGE: All Florida salt waters.
HABITAT: 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.
DESCRIPTION: 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.
SIZE: Common from less than a pound to 4 pounds. Fairly plentiful at 57 pounds. Fish approaching 10 pounds, and occasionally surpassing 10, are taken each year in North Florida, especially from offshore wrecks and navigation markers in late winter and spring. World record 221 pounds, 4 ounces; Florida record 15 pounds, 2 ounces.
FOOD VALUE: One of the best, thanks in great part to its shellfish diet
GAME QUALITIES: Not an aggressive strike; very tough on light tackle. Pulls hard and uses flat shape to advantage.
TACKLE AND BAITS: 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.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Still Fishing.