By Captain Brian Lemelin, Optimus Fishing Charters

With snook, trout and redfish closed by the FWC, the go to fish for table fare this time of year is sheepshead.

This year, the sheepies have already shown up strong and signs of spawning have already occurred. Sheepshead can be caught in numerous locations, mangroves, bridges, rock piles, artificial and natural reefs, pretty much any structure, but my favorite place is what I call the sheepshead hole.

Located about half a mile off the shipping channel on the St. Pete side is an old rubble dump ground. It ranges around 9’-13’. When the water is clear, you can see all the rock and ruble. This area is a major spawning location for sheepshead. 50 plus fish days are not uncommon once the spawning season kicks off.

This past week, we had two children on our charter and they did a great job of hooking and landing these great light-biting, hard-fighting fish. In addition to the sheepshead, they also caught some groupers, grunts, mangrove snappers and sharks, all in the same spot. The day before, they caught around 30 redfish, trout and snook amongst the mangroves. Both of these young men caught their first inshore slam (snook, trout and redfish).

There are many ways to catch sheepshead. At my favorite spot, I simply use a jig head with shrimp. The size of the jig head is dependent on the tide (current). You need to get the bait down to the bottom, amongst the rocks. The key is feeling the nibble and setting the hook.

It’s one of the few species of fish that I tell our clients that it’s ok to set the hook with braided lines. They are notorious bait stealers, but once you get used to the technique of hooking them it becomes fairly easy. When fishing in this area, bring plenty of leader line and jig heads, as you will get snagged in the rocks and end up with some break-offs.

Although closed, winter trout season is in full swing. Trout are abundant and eager to bite both live bait and artificial baits. Oftentimes we’ll catch bonus fish in the same locations. The ‘Sun City Crew’ had a spectacular day catching trout and got a bonus with a big pompano and sheepshead. A 50 plus fish day, they kept enough for their fish fry and released the rest.

If you’re looking for a great day on the water, give me a call and I’d be happy to show you how much fun our fishery can be. Hope to see you on the water. Tight lines.