Charleston-area fishing guide James LaVanway typically concentrates his angling efforts on redfish this time of year, but with a couple of his clients reeling in 15-pound sheepshead in the past couple of weeks, he's suddenly smitten with another species.
"We're just lucking up and catching these big fish," LaVanway said. "But I think I'm going to start fishing for them a little more now." The state record for sheepshead is 15 pounds, 12 ounces, and was caught at the Charleston jetties on Dec. 29, 2001 by Douglas Hoover of James Island. Hoover's catch topped by one-half pound the previous state record that had stood for 32 years. Now the record could be in danger again. "Hopefully we'll beat that this year," LaVanway said. "I hooked a big one back in the 1980s that I filleted and ate. Now I'm more aware of what the (state record) is." The biggest sheepshead of late was caught two weeks ago by John Polle, a 20-year-old fisherman from Lexington, Ky., who was visiting family in the Charleston area. "It was the first time I had been fishing since my wreck," said Polle, who lost his left leg and was hospitalized for 3 1/2 months after an auto accident 10 months ago. "It felt good to fish again. When that rod bent (with the big sheepshead), I was right there." Polle is having his 15-pound, 1-ounce catch mounted. Clams have proven to be an effective bait for the sheepshead, although Polle caught his 15-pounder on half a blue crab. LaVanway has been using medium- to heavy-action Ugly Sticks equipped with Ambassador 6000s and spooled with 20-pound Cajun Red line. Most of his fishing has been done around docks and piers along feeder creeks of the Intracoastal Waterway, with the bites coming in fairly shallow water, typically around 5 feet deep. "These are the biggest sheepshead I've ever seen," LaVanway said. "And I know we've lost a few big ones -- a few just bent our hooks out."