Most fishermen think of fiddler crabs as the top sheepshead bait, and they catch fish with them. Fiddler crabs are most often seen just above the water’s edge in salt and brackish estuaries. They can live in water for a fair length of time and occasionally must as unusually high tides flood their burrows.
While there are actually numerous species of fiddler crabs, they look similar. They are small, with box-shaped shells and one claw that is noticeably larger than the other. Fiddler crabs shed their shell as they grow, and one unique trait of many species is that if they lose their large claw, it will return on their next molt on the other side, and the lost claw will regenerate into a smaller claw on its same side.
Sheepshead like fiddler crabs and have a unique ability to suck the crab out of the shell without disturbing a fishing line enough an inexperienced fishermen realizes he is getting a strike. However, after eating several fiddler crabs and not being hooked, a sheepshead sometimes becomes lazy or bold and just grabs the next one, allowing itself to be felt and hooked.
Sea urchins are small, spiny, round shellfish that inhabit all oceans and most coastal waters. They are slow moving, and their spines are their only defense. Sea otters, wolf eels, triggerfish, sheepshead and other species that feed on them and have developed ways of handling the spines.
Capt. Matt Lamb believes sea urchins are the ultimate sheepshead bait. He said sheepshead like the flesh of the sea urchin so much they will crunch through the shell hard enough to be easily recognized by the angler. Lamb uses a pair of scissors to trim the needles from a sea urchin before putting it on a hook, and he said sheepshead consider this haircut an invitation to dinner.
Most fishermen can gather a bucket of fiddler crabs fairly easily if they are willing to slog through the marsh a bit. Sea urchins are another matter altogether. They may live along bulkhead and on pilings, but can be rather difficult to gather. With gasoline at roughly $4 a gallon, sea urchins are a deal at $4 a dozen. Some tackle shops, including Lamb’s Chasin’ Tails Outdoors in Atlantic Beach, keeps them in stock along with fiddlers.