By Ed Snyder/Outdoors
Archosargus Probatocephalus, or Sheepshead, are often mistaken for black drum due to their similarity and lack of fish knowledge by anglers. To be sure of what you have just check out the teeth. Drum have no jaw teeth but Sheepshead have a very impressive set of molars resembling rabbit teeth. Besides, the Texas fish limits are different with 5 fish/14-to-30inch for black drum and 5 fish/15inch for the Sheepshead. So an expensive fine could be issued from your mistake.
Sheepshead can weigh up to 20 pounds or more. It’s coloration is silvery black, to yellowish white, with olive-brown back and five or six dark diagonal bars along each side. Mostly an inshore fish, sheepshead are found in the bays, passes, or in the brackish areas of estuaries. Having rabbit like teeth and strong jaws that can crush mollusks, crabs, or scrap barnacles from rocks and pilings, the sheepshead can, and often do cause painful bites to unwary anglers.
A very wary fish, they are primarily bottom feeders over structure, wrecks, and pilings of piers and docks. The sheepshead often bite so fast they can steal your bait without you even knowing it, and if you do see, or feel the bite, you’ll find them very difficult to hook. They are infamous for nibbling your bait from your hook so lightly that they are often called robber fish.One way to catch these bait thieves is to chum an area with bits of shrimp, shellfish, or cut bait. After they begin to feed, cast into them and they‘ll feed on your bait. On light tackle this is a sporty fish to catch. Use a medium/light class rod with a baitcast or spinning reel spooled with 10 to 15 pound test mono line, or 10-lb braid that has a 6-lb circumference. Around reefs and wrecks, use a 3ft long heavier class leader, with a single hook or a 2-hook bottom rig, using hook sizes from #6 to 2/0. They are hard fighters and give good credence to their ability.
For bait, fish with live bait, cut or natural baits such as fiddler crabs, shrimp, mussels, squid, ghost shrimp, hermit crabs, or strips of cut bait, with fiddler crabs and ghost shrimp being the best choice. (Fiddlers can be found on sandy beaches and ghost shrimp are found along the surf line where slurp-tubes are used to catch them.) The best time of the year to catch sheepshead is in early spring during their spawning periods at ebb and slack tides.
Although sheepshead rarely take artificial lures, they will however take small jigs tipped with fresh dead shrimp or slivers of cut bait. A light rod and 1/8th oz yellow feather jigs will keep you busy catching them around boat docks, fishing piers or pilings for quite awhile. Sheepshead are fun to catch and very good to eat.
During their Spring spawning season, sheepshead gather in large schools and move into shallow water to deposit their eggs. Many are caught at this time. I managed to catch a 12-lb 4oz specimen while night fishing in a Hitchcock area bayou while fishing live shrimp on a popping cork floated over an oyster bed.
Sheepshead can be prepared in several different ways. A very versatile and tasty fish it is quite often referred to as the “The Poor Mans Lobster” due to it having a delicate lobster like flavor. But first you have to separate the flesh from the bone. This can be frustrating to beginners as sheepshead aren’t that easy to clean. The fish have a very large rib cage area and the edible portion is aft of that ribcage. Approximately 1/3rd of the sheepshead will survive the fillet knife. It’s scales are large and crusty also so it’s best to fillet the flesh from the skin. Just start your cut aft of the rib cage down towards the tail then flip your fillet and cut between the skin and the flesh for a clean filet minus the scaly skin. Wash filets and soak in milk for about one hour or so. Place on paper towels to pat dry before cooking.
Those sheepshead fanciers who enjoy a sushi style repast will cube raw filets into 2 inch pieces and squeeze lime juice over the flesh for cooking it. Then dip their sheepshead morsels into a blended mixture of melted butter and lemon juice to enjoy its delicate lobster like flavor. And I must say this recipe is very tasty having an excellent flavor to it. Your choice of white or red wine will enhance this meal.
Another excellent way to cook sheepshead is to Blacken it Cajun Style. Just filet the fish then use your favorite Cajun blackened fish recipe for cooking and serve hot on a bed of dirty rice with cheese stuffed boudin sausage balls on the side.I enjoy a hard lemonade with this meal but a chilled can of your favorite blend of malt and hops will work just fine.
FRIED! No problem, just filet the sheepshead and cut into 2 inch pieces, then coat with Cajun fish fry and deep-fry in peanut oil until crispy brown. Dish it up with fried shrimp, French fries, cole-slaw and serve up with your favorite chilled brew.