With the cold winter months in full force along the shores of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, sheepshead is a prevalent fish. The name sheepshead refers to both a freshwater and saltwater species. The saltwater version is a prime target for fishermen because of its tasty fillets, while the freshwater sheepshead is considered a throwback fish. What is a sheepshead, and where can they be caught?

How do you identify a sheepshead?

The sheepshead fish looks a bit like a prehistoric creature. The scale layer of the fish is very rough, and it feels similar to armor plating. Other types of species in the same region are much softer and more slippery than the sheepshead. Take a glance at the mouth, and you may think you’re looking at yourself in the mirror as the teeth are similar to those of a human. Its sides are black and grey striped from head to tail like the appearance of a jail suit, thus the reason for them being called convict fish. 

Where are sheepshead found?

This type of fish can be found in a variety of places, both nearshore and offshore. 

  • During the colder winter months, take a peek over the side of the dock or on a piling. You will see a sheepshead hanging on these and sometimes right at the surface, looking for the next meal more times than not. 
  • A little deeper in the water column are submerged oyster beds. Another spot that they meander as they munch on oysters.
  • Don’t assume they are just an inshore fish: shipwrecks and underwater structures at much deeper depths up to nearly 120 feet will hold convict fish.

How big do saltwater sheepshead grow?

Most sheepshead average around three pounds and measure fourteen inches in length. They can grow much larger, up to around fifteen pounds. The smaller fish are that are of legal size to harvest are better in taste.

Are Sheepshead good to eat?

Keeper sized sheepshead are a prized possession for many anglers. Convict fish meat has an excellent taste mostly due to its diet. One drawback is that even the largest of fish do not yield a high percentage of meat. The framework of sheepshead is extremely bony, so attention to detail is required when filleting them. Pack a sharpener; the course skin will dull your knife in no time at all.

Sheepshead fish is equipped with large sharp teeth because of the food that they eat. 

-Clams

-Oysters

-Mussels

-Crabs

-Fish

-Shrimp

Considering most are shellfish, the large teeth can grind through the shells to get to the meat inside.

The diet of sheepshead is some of the top seafood options that a human would consume. As a result, the fillets are full of flavor. Not only is the meat white and flaky, but it has a mild, sweet, shellfish taste. 

Considerations when catching sheepshead

When you consider the size of the teeth, these fish can be a challenge to catch. A sheepshead can quickly chew through fishing lining without you even having a second to tussle with it. Beyond break-offs is the fact that they are difficult to hook. Sheepsheads are notorious bait stealers. The mouths of convict fish are small, making them difficult to hook, so consider using small terminal tackle. 

In what methods can the sheepshead be cooked?

When preparing a sheepshead for dinner, they can be cooked in a multitude of ways. The fish can be served whole for those not skittish of the entire fish sitting on the plate. Most prefer the sheepshead filleted. The fillets can be baked, broiled, fried, or grilled much like any other white fish. 

The next time you’re heading out fishing in the southeast’s coastal region, keep an eye out for cruising sheepshead. While you don’t always have to spot them, sight fishing can be even more successful. Convict fish put up a great fight and are great to serve as the daily fresh catch. Head out to the water and try your luck at catching sheepshead.