Capt. Pete Rapps
Winter time here in SW Florida is synonymous with the arrival of huge flocks of snow birds, but did you know that convicts arrive here in big numbers too? Yes it’s true, and these are much welcomed convicts… AKA Sheepshead fish. These fish arrive in good numbers each winter to spawn. They inhabit many of our near shore structures, oyster bars, and the deeper mangrove pockets in the back county river mouths. We call them convicts because of the black and white stripes they bare.
In addition to being called Convicts, Sheepshead are sometimes referred to as the convict fish, Seabream Sheepshead, and Southern Sheepshead. They are distributed in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, with the densest populations being here in southwest Florida. Sheepshead are also found in smaller numbers off the Caribbean coasts of Central and South America, south to Brazil.
The teeth of the sheepshead include well-defined incisors, grinders, and molars. In the front of its mouth are the incisor-like teeth. These teeth look nothing like any other fish’s, but more resemble that of a human. I had an orthodontist outon a charter, who was completely intrigued with the teeth of the Sheepshead. It was funny. He spent a good part of the day admiring the fish’s teeth.
Sheepshead are most commonly caught in our area in the 2-5 pound range and average 12”-18” in length. They must be at least 12” to keep and currently the catch limit is 15 per person per day. They are thought to live about 20 years and can grow to about 20 lbs. They reach reproductive maturity in about 2 years. During the Fall and Winter spawning season, they are thought to lay between 10,000 to 70,000 eggs every 28 days.
Sheepshead are omnivorous fish, feeding primarily on small Crabs, Oysters, Clams, and Shrimp. The sheepshead uses its impressive teeth to crush shelled prey and to scrape barnacles from rocks and pilings.
Sheepshead are highly valued for human consumption due to their mild flavor and delicate white flesh. They are difficult to clean and fillet because of the sharp spines on their back and thick skin and scales. At the fillet table, I like to use a pair of thick gloves to handle thefish, and an electric fillet knife to cut through their thick skin.
When fishing for Sheepshead, I like to use live shrimp with a 2’-3’ long leader made of 20# test fluorocarbon, and a #2 hook. They will feed very lightly….. you will think a small Snapper is nibbling on your bait. The trick here is to let him eat for a few seconds before trying to set the hook. It takes patience and discipline to hook these tricksters, but once you do it a few times, you will get the hang of it.
Captain Rapps’ Charters & Guides offers year round expert guided, light tackle, near shore, and backwater fishing trips in the 10,000 Islands of the Everglades National Park, and spring time Tarpon-only charters in the Florida Keys. Capt. Rapps’ top notch fleet accommodates men, women, & children of all ages, experienced or not. Between our vast knowledge & experience of the area, and easy going demeanors, you are guaranteed to have a great day. Book your charter 24/7 using the online booking calendar, and see Capt. Rapps’ first class web site for Booking info, Videos, Recipes, Seasonings, and more at www.CaptainRapps.com