Monday, March 28, 2011

Rigging For Sheepheads

Edited to add : These fish are also known as Sheepsheads , but it just sounds bad to me. What kind of fish is that? It's a troutsfish. See what I mean? The s bugs me even if it is correct. JM - 3/30/11 - " I swear I'm not crazy "

I haven't talked about any rigging basics here on the blog for quite a while. I hate that I sometimes stray from what I originally wanted Something's Fishy to be when I got into this whole blogging thing. Today , I want to share what I use when I target Sheepheads and Pompanos from piers. The same basic principles are also used by boaters and kayakers who target these species and Tautog or Blackfish around bridges here on the East Coast.

These fish are often caught right against pier pilings and the concrete pillars that support many of our bridges that span the bays and inlets. The Sheepheads feed on barnacles that attach themselves to these structures by crushing them with their powerful jaws and stout teeth. There are usually several Sheepheads around because of their tendency to travel in schools and feed together. Once a barnacle is cracked open and it's unfortunate resident extracted the fish will swarm the pilings picking up any stray pieces. Pompanos and other smaller fish will often feed nearby or even under the Sheepheads , picking up anything that the larger fish drop.

When rigging for these fish , I recommend a stout rod with a lot of backbone so you'll be able to steer the bigger fish away from the pilings. Tangles and lost rigs are very common when doing this type of fishing , mainly because you have to fish so close to structures that the fish can (and often do) get you wrapped around. For this reason , I always try to get by with the cheapest terminal tackle possible. I use 50 lb. mono to make my rigs and 2/0 heavy wire hooks for Sheepheads because of their crazy teeth. <=== Seriously , check out the link. I've heard they are capable of breaking light wire hooks and I don't doubt it.

The rig I use is very simple , consisting of a swivel , a  single dropper loop and a pyramid sinker. I try to watch under the pier for activity and vary the placement of my dropper loop according to the depth at which the fish are feeding. Sometimes a hook 2 feet off of the bottom will work , but I've often had to use a 5 foot rig when they are feeding higher up. Some people will also use a second swivel underneath the dropper loop and then attach a lighter piece of line between the swivel and the pyramid sinker. This is done to prevent the loss of the whole rig in the event of a tangle. My favorite baits are Sand Fleas , pieces of shrimp and fresh clams.

Cleaning a mess of Sheepheads
Fishing this rig is also very simple. All I do is drop the rig straight down beside the pier pilings VERY SLOWLY. If you let it drop too fast the resulting splash and commotion will spook the fish. When these fish are present , you'll often see people bent over the railing and fishing straight down . It takes some practice to keep from getting tangled and to do this type of fishing without spooking the fish , but it can be a very exciting day of fishing. Sheepheads are also excellent table fare , so be sure to try some!

Have a great week!


  1. Years ago when I was still in warehousing, I was invited to take a trip out to the Farallon Islands outside San Francisco to fish for Sheephead. The boat trip didn't cost me anything so when the big fish pool was made, I declined. Remember, I'm the guy who never wins anything. Give you one guess who caught the biggest fish of the day.


  2. LOL , sounds like my kind of luck. I guess you caught a nice one though and I do believe I'd rather have that than the money :)

    Big difference in your West Coast Sheepheads and ours here in the East , but from what I've heard they are both delicious!

  3. Love those sheepshead, crazy looking teeth on them and good fighters as well, especially the ones over 5lbs!

  4. Thanks for stopping by Troutdawg! Good looking blog you've got!

    I like to catch sheepheads that big , but they aren't so good to eat. I say put em back so they can make babies :)


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