Time To Catch Sheepshead and Drum At The Jetties

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It’s time to catch sheepshead.

Texas coastal waters are filled with these hard-fighting, excellent tasting fish that get little respect despite the aforementioned attributes.

These fish congregate in the greatest numbers in our jetty systems and right now is an excellent time to catch them as they begin gathering in large numbers of the spawn which will take place next month. The specie’s unique dentures give them an edge on picking baits off of a hook.

My favorite method for catching them is using a 1/4-ounce jighead rigged with a small piece of shrimp and fished vertically over rock outcroppings at the jetties.

I use a light braided line like Berkley Fireline, which has eight-pound diameter and 20-pound test. The low stretch line helps with hookset in the hard mouth since there is no stretch and it also aid with sensitivity.

The sheepshead’s bite can be so slight you actually have to watch the line because it can be virtually impossible to detect otherwise. A braided or fusion line can help overcome this but it can still be tough at time. Many times they thump a jig pretty hard but when they go stealth few fish can pick a bait off of a hook quicker.

Fishing a live shrimp under a popping cork is also a great way to catch sheepshead along the rocks. Interestingly, from Dec.-March they will gobble up dead shrimp but after that these picky fish seem to turn their nose up to the dead stuff at jetties.

When the water clears up, these fish can be line shy so use a fluorocarbon leader under the cork for best results. Fluorocarbon virtually invisible and it also has low-stretch properties, which enhances its sensitivity.

Many anglers use small treble hooks which the fish ingest, but with regulations that require us to throw back many of the sheepshead we catch that is probably not a good idea. I have my best luck with thick, short-shanked hooks. Hook girth is something to consider due to the fact these fish often bite through thin hooks. I have actually had them bite through thick hooks as well but it is a rarity.

In the bayous and marshes Carolina (fish finder) rigs work the best. Use as light an egg weight as you can get away with because finicky sheepshead will back away when they feel too much pressure.

If you are serious about catching sheepshead, especially the big ones, you will need lots of patience and focus to get the job done. When they feed aggressively anyone can catch them but when they are being sort of snobbish it takes true fishing finesse.

The big, over-sized black drum are also present in the bay and jetty systems now.

At the jetties in particular, the drum will gather and feed as the forage moves through the boat cuts and around the southern tip of the rocks and around any deep holes. They also gather up over shell in the channel and around big drop-offs in the ship channel areas.

I prefer to fish for drum with heavy tackle, in the 30 to 50- pound class. Crab is the best choice for bait. Broken in half, and hooked through the carapace, the stuff has a long hook life and is irresistible to drum.

Drum are a pecking fish and sometimes they will not just take your bait and run with it. When you see something pecking on your line, pick it up and wait until you feel pressure on the other end. At that point, pull back and brace yourself. There are plenty of bull reds around now as well and they will take the same baits as the drum, although the absolute best bait is live croaker.

Anglers can catch oversized redfish in the exact same spots as they do the big bull drum and in fact will probably hang into a mixture of both.

black drum at ate a sand flea

This chunky black drum tried to make a meal of the sand flea still on this hook.

Winter not only brings opportunities for these overlooked fish but also for using some baits that few anglers ever consider. They are as follows:

*Sea Lice—These strange looking creatures marine parasites that feed on the mucus, skin and blood of host fish. They look like a crab crossed with something from the “Alien” films and they make great bait for black drum, especially the really big ones.

A number of bait camps along the coast carry these disgusting looking creatures. Besides drum, they are effective for sheepshead and redfish.

*Fiddler Crabs—The little crabs with one giant pincher and another small one are perhaps the best bait for sheepshead. They are hard to take off a hook and sheepshead will seemingly take them before they will anything else.

Some catch fiddler crabs in dip nets while others set traps. They are not so easy to catch but if its sheepshead you want, fiddlers are the golden ticket. Black drum have a fondness for them too.

Winter saltwater fishing can be fun and there are few anglers out on the water. Some of the most peaceful and yet action-packed fishing trips of my life came during the winter, usually anchored up somewhere at the Sabine Jetties soaking shrimp or crab for sheepshead and drum.

It’s simple and despite the appearance of the fish, it is a very beautiful thing.


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