Sheepshead are heavily targeted over the winter at the nearshore reefs off the South Carolina coast, where fish are thick in the chilly weather. As summer arrives, few anglers think much about the striped bandits, but those who love the power of a sheepshead under duress, the bite takes off along the rock jetties of Murrells Inlet.
Summer sheepshead fishing is a favorite of J Baisch of Fishfull Thinking Guide Service because of the overabundant group of fish that visit the jetties each summer.
“We have a fantastic winter bite at the reefs every year, and then they move inshore in May,” said Baisch (843-902-0356). “They first show up at the jetties, and most of them stay right there.”
The jetties are perfect habitat for sheepshead, with massive boulders subject to barnacle growth and a platform for saltwater mussels to adhere to as well. Baisch’s No. 1 bait comes right from the boulders themselves.
“On low tide, we scrape off the jetty rocks the mussels that are covered in fibrous growth, because the fibers allow us to hook these mussels on the hook securely,” he said.
Sheepshead eat a wide variety of foods, including live shrimp, small crabs and other crustaceans, including mussels and barnacles. Baisch will also use fiddler crabs, but other fish that use the jetties in July can be troublesome when using fiddler crabs.
“Fiddler crabs work well, too. Sheepshead love fiddlers, but pinfish, sea bass and other pickers will terrorize (them),” said Baisch, who hooks mussels on No. 2 treble hook with a small split-shot or no weight at all depending on the current.
Sheepshead will use the entire jetty at this time of year. They eat the barnacles and mussels that grow all over the submerged rocks. Baisch will slide out on one side of a jetty, fish for 15 minutes and then move down the jetty if he isn’t getting bit.
Sheepshead will feed on both the incoming and outgoing tides, but Baisch prefers to fish on lower ends of the tide.
To increase his odds, Baisch will keep a buckets filled of barnacles and mussel scraps for chumming.
“Sheepshead respond to chumming well,” said Baisch, who will anchor on the edge of the rocks or right over them.
“We will lose some rigs this way, but the fish are right on the rocks,” he said. “So, we will get right on the rocks and drop our lines down right next to the boat.”
Sheepshead have hard mouths and big, clunky teeth. Baisch will use a medium-heavy action rod with a soft tip to feel the gentle bite.
“The bite is going to be faint, but when they do bite, set the hook hard and hold on,” he said.