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Summer fishing is in full swing, which means fish are present and feeding but not exactly jumping into the boat or onto the pier during the middle of the day. There remains a good bit of action, although the bite is often very early or after dark.
One fish that is around during the summer that often goes unnoticed is the sheepshead. Sheepshead, named for their sheep-like lips, are a black-striped structure-oriented fish that hang around piers, bridges, docks and any pilings that have barnacles on them. They feed on the shellfish attached to the pilings by biting into the shell with their sharp little teeth.
The reason most anglers never catch a sheepshead is that their bite is almost impossible to detect. Although they will strike some commonly fished bait like shrimp, most fishermen never even know when a sheepshead has come and gone. It takes a bit of skill to learn to feel the soft bite of a sheepshead, which is sometimes only detectable when looking at your rod tip.
Sheepshead fishermen are the nervous sort who set the hook if they feel even a twitch on the line. Those that target sheepshead go after them with specialized bait and tackle. Fishfinder rigs with a sliding egg sinker or other very simple one-hook bottom rigs will catch them if you know what you are doing. Anglers often use stout line and a strong leader of heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon line, because once hooked, sheepshead will fight hard and run your line right around the nearest piling or rock.
Good baits for sheepshead include fiddler crabs, live shrimp, chunks of blue crab, sand fleas or clumps of barnacles scraped off of pier or dock pilings. You can often see sheepshead in the water as they float sideways picking at the barnacles of the pilings. But seeing them doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to catch them, trust me.
This year there have been some good catches of sheepshead on our piers and around the bridges and jetties. They are often found with black drum, a similar-looking fish that eats the same baits but is a little easier to catch. Both sheepshead and black drum are delicious fish with chunky white meat, except for the occasional large black drum, which aren’t good to eat and should be thrown back.
Most of the action during the day comes in the form of flounder fishing right now. Live bait and scented soft lures fished slowly around structures have taken some big flounder. This is the time of the year when you may not catch a lot of flounder in a day but you might run into a huge doormat fish. Big female flounder in the summer generally eat about one meal a day and it is usually a big baitfish.
There have been some off-and-on speckled trout runs in the mornings. Trout will hit live shrimp under a popping cork or the scented soft baits when the tide is running well. If you are lucky, you might find some feeding in the morning surf that will hit live finger mullet or a MirrOlure plug.
Some surf fishermen have also done well on the pompano. The bite of a pompano is not hard to detect, and they are running in and out of the surf right now gorging on sand fleas. This is also the time of the year when you can land some nice 2- or 3-pound pompano.
As with every summer, fishing is hit or miss due to the heat. Concentrate on structures and times when the tide is running well, in or out. The fish are there but they are getting a bit lazy, so try early and late and fish a little slower with your live bait or lures. There is a ton of bait in the water right now, and you can be sure some nice fish are out there feasting on it.