Many anglers think nothing about reaching into the mouth of a fish and grabbing by the lower jaw — “lipping” the fish.
Saltwater anglers have learned that lipping most saltwater fish can cost you a piece of hide off your hand at best and possibly an entire appendaget. From those circles rose the popularity of the Boga Grip and similar mechanical devices that allow for a secure grip of the fish’s mouth in order to bring him onboard or hold for that photo.
Sheepshead don’t particularly fit either bill.
You certainly wouldn’t want to stick a finger in a sheepshead’s mouth. Its name is derived from its set of particularly human-looking incisors that also resemble the teeth of a sheep. On top of that, the pressure of a sheepshead’s jaw can crack oyster shell.
Neither are mechanical devices a favorite because sheepshead don’t have particularly deep mouths: There’s a set of choppers, a rubbery lip, and that’s it.
Guide Johnny Spitzmiller uses a unique approach that is especially useful for larger sheepshead — landing and boating the fish on its side.
"I don’t even remember who showed me this, but I’ve been doing it for years," Spitzmiller said. "Once the fish is played to the side of the boat, he tends to naturally roll over on his side at the surface. By placing your hand under the fish’s mid-section, the head and tail will fold over, and that puts the fish in a kind of paralysis.
"It requires a bit of balance and practice, but then you can lift him right over the side of the boat."