South Carolina fishermen can find plenty of cold-weather sheepshead action off the Mount Pleasant Pier, including good numbers and hefty sizes — if you know how to catch them and don’t mind cold weather.
Gerald Grenier of Charleston, aka “Jiggin’ Jerry” fits into both categories. He has fished the pier, since it opened in 2009 and has caught plenty of sheepshead that broke the 10-pound mark, plus a 9-pound, 1-ounce monster he caught on Jan. 29, 2015, on ultralight tackle. He is sold on the pier’s sheepshead fishing this month.
“Winter is a great time to fish off the Mount Pleasant Pier, because there are very few people competing for the fish,” Grenier said. “There are plenty of sheepshead around the pier in January and February, and it is always good for big sheepshead. We catch some sheepshead in the 8- to 10-pound range, and we have caught a few in the 12-pound range.”
Beginning early in the morning, Grenier will stay out waiting for that magic hour when the fishing turns on — usually a one-hour window before or after the tide changes.
Grenier starts fishing hard two hours before low tide on the Cooper River side of the pier, and on the outgoing tide, he will fish the harbor side of the pier.
“The best sheepshead fishing is close to high tide, but they can be caught on low tide also, from the middle to the end of the pier. The trick is to fish the deepest water and fish in the direction that the current is flowing under the pier.”
Although most anglers prefer fiddler crabs for bait, they are hard to come by in the winter. Chris Pounder, who manages the pier, said that fishermen will primary switch over to using shellfish: clams, mussels and oysters.
Grenier normally uses fiddler crabs, but when the water temperature drops to around 60 degrees, he will switch over to shellfish.
“Any kind of shellfish is good,” Grenier said, “but my favorite baits are barnacle clusters, clam meat, oyster meat and black mussels.”
Because sheepshead are structure-oriented and hang out around pier pilings, casting ability is unnecessary. Grenier will drop his bait down beside a pier support and let it hit bottom, then reel his rig in about a foot and hold it there.
“I try to hold the bait in that position until I feel or see a faint strike,” he said. “Then I apply a small, sharp jerk to set the hook. You have to set the hook before they hit. Sheepshead will definitely humble any fisherman.”
Grenier fishes a Carolina rig with a ½- to 1- ounce egg weight. He uses an 18-inch fluorocarbon leader and attaches it to 8-pound monofilament with a barrel swivel. Using a No. 4 or No. 2 SSW Owner hook, Grenier will lace the barb of the hook through the bait several times. He said smaller hooks work best because they can be well-hidden in the bait.
Grenier uses a 7-foot ALX baitcasting rod with a reel that has a clicker on it.
“Reels with clickers are better because when the reel is in a rod holder, it will start singing when a fish is on the hook,” Grenier explained.
Pier fishing requires specialized tools, and some are provided by the pier, but not rod holders. Grenier likes to bring his own homemade models that either clamp onto the pier railings or can be tie-wrapped around the railing supports or attached with thick Velcro straps.
Another important tool is a pier net, a net threaded onto a circular frame, with ropes tied on at three spots. Grenier said he lowers the net into the water, works the fish over the net and pulls the net back up.
“You can hook all the big fish you want, but you won’t land them without a pier net.”
Bench seating is available on the pier, but many anglers bring their own chairs for comfort. Shade isn’t as important as it is in the summer, but many anglers bring their own umbrellas. Anglers also like to use wheeled carts or wagons with rod holders because they have to carry a lot of gear.
“I can haul enough gear to comfortably fish all day on my cart, and I can wheel it with one hand,” said Grenier, who loads his pier cart with six to seven rods of various sizes but always two dedicated to sheepshead. Also loaded on the cart is a tackle box, a 52-quart cooler, an aerated livewell, a bucket filled with bait and a net.
Pounder and Grenier, who has published a series of instructional videos about pier fishing on YouTube (“Fishing with Jiggin’ Jerry”) agree that fishing for sheepshead will remain good through February. And a daily limit of 10 sheepshead, 14 inches or longer, isn’t out of the question if you’re in the right spot at the right time.
HOW TO GET THERE — The Mount Pleasant Pier is at 99 Harry M. Hallman Jr. Blvd. in Mt Pleasant, just off US 17 north of the Ravenel Bridge. Take US 17 east across the bridge; it will turn into Ben Sawyer Blvd. Take a right on Patriots Point Road and a right on Hallman Blvd., to the Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park and the pier.
WHEN TO GO — Sheepshead can be caught from the Mount Pleasant Pier year-round, but the cooler months are more productive. January is an extremely good month.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Fish two hours before and after tide changes, with the best fishing usually around the high tide. Fish vertically, dropping your bait around pier pilings. A Carolina rig is very common as far as terminal tackle is concerned. With fiddler crabs largely unavailable, many fishermen use other shellfish for bait: clam, oyster and mussel meat, plus barnacle clusters.
PIER DETAILS — The Mount Pleasant Pier, which opened in 2009, is 1,250 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 12 to15 feet above the water. It is run by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, www.charlestoncountyparks.com. Parking is free, and daily fees are: $8 for adults, $5 for Charleston County residents, $3 for children under 12 or seniors 60 and over. Annual or multi-visit passes are available. Pier hour are 6 a.m.-11 p.m. from May through September, and 8 a.m.-11 p.m. from October through April. For information, call 843-762-9946.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Charleston County Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.charlestoncvb.com.