Give Thanks for Sheepshead
N ovember on lower Laguna Madre is a quiet time. Most sportsmen have turned their attention to their deer leases and their quest for a trophy buck for the wall and meat for the freezer.
Some are following various high school, college, and pro football teams. Many of the rest simply don’t fish in the winter, and focus on the NFL and NBA.
That doesn’t mean there’s no good fishing to be had. It’s still there for the diehard few willing to take advantage of the beautiful, mild days of November and venture forth onto the water.
When the water begins to cool after the first substantial cold front of the season, sheepsheads, those toothy piling-dwellers in the prison stripes, begin moving around. They’ll congregate in good numbers around any structure that has good water depth nearby.
Shorebound anglers, including winter visitors who make their annual pilgrimage from the cold, snowy north, usually focus on the Brazos-Santiago Jetties, Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier, the old Queen Isabella Causeway, and the various piers and seawalls.
All these areas hold excellent numbers of tasty panfish, with numbers increasing steadily until March, when the fish are in the middle of their spawn. All three also offer excellent opportunities at a wide variety of other species such as speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sand trout, and whiting.
Any fisherman with access to a boat that wants to have the opportunity to tangle with some larger than average sheepshead (those measuring in the 20-inch range) will want to turn their attention to the “Y.” The Y is the linking point between the Port Isabel Navigation Channel and the Brownsville Ship Channel and derives its name from the Y-shape created by the spoil island that bifurcates the confluence.
Both the island and the mainland shorelines are good spots to begin fishing. Locate the edges of the drop-offs and fish with a live shrimp under a popping cork. Hook choices may vary from fisherman to fisherman. A 1/0 short shank hook such as an octopus can be very effective and hooks in the corner of the jaw, which makes handling fish much easier (they aren’t as destructive as a treble hook, either). When sheepshead are short striking, a #2 long or extra-long shank hook may be a better choice. Break the tail off the shrimp and thread it onto the hook.
This is where the popping cork proves its worth. It isn’t used as a noisemaker, as when fishing the flats for trout and redfish. Rather, the float serves as a strike indicator when sheepsheads are being their bait-stealing best. When the cork sinks, or moves off to the side, set the hook.
Some sharp Winter Texans have brought some of the quill floats they use for trout fishing and have adapted them to this application. The quills are much more effective at detecting the subtler strikes and I have seen these old birds catching sheepie after sheepie while other fishermen were just feeding fish and talking to themselves.
The bend immediately west of the Y is another excellent spot for sheepshead. The fish hold on the down current side of the bend, where eddies naturally form and make it easier for these fish to suspend in place. Again, the standard shrimp/cork presentation works well, but if the fish are holding deeper in the water column, you may want to remove the cork and free-line your shrimp (this is also an effective way to happen upon some of the big flounders that take up residence around the bend).
Keep a finger on your line and wait for the bump that means a sheepshead has picked up your bait. As the fish starts to move off, set the hook. Braided line is very helpful because of the extra sensitivity it provides.
November around the Y also means redfish. Fish topwaters and gold spoons along the mangroves that line the shore and watch for drains where water flows in and out of the flats behind the trees. Keep a sharp eye for tailing redfish, or solitary fish just “resting” by the drain. You can sight cast to these fish, although they can be a bit spooky on a clear day. Use as much stealth as you can.
The shallower water makes using standard LLM redfish techniques prohibitive, but the fish are there for the innovative angler. A Strike King Redfish Magic Spinnerbait is perfect for this situation, and every angler should have a spare rod rigged with one. Fishermen who want to practice their poling and stalking techniques will find this great sport, especially with a flyrod and the standard collection of redfish flies.
Texas Parks and Wildlife, in an attempt to help preserve and enhance the sheepshead fishery is in the middle of an annual upgrading of minimum-size limits for them. This year, sheepsheads have to be over 14 inches in length in order to be retained, with no maximum size limit. This is a good thing, because four of the last five state records have come from Lower Laguna Madre, including the current record of 15.25 pounds.
That’s a big sheepshead, and there is no reason to believe that other members of his flock aren’t out there.
THE BANK BITE
Location: Arroyo City
Species: Speckled Trout
Tips: Fish Adolph Tomae Park Pier at night with shrimp under a popping cork
Email Calixto Gonzales at ContactUs@fishgame.com