Sheepshead… Looks like a jail break!

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Posted by: Captain Woody - Comments Off on Sheepshead… Looks like a jail break!

An old Chinese Proverb once read, “A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study, so take time to learn something new.

Knowledge to the mind is what exercise is to the body. Generally, people underestimate their capacity to think, learn, and shape their own futures while others still determine their lives by chance and circumstance. Living in democratic society with the ability to make our own choices we are free to choose our own direction and must believe our futures are in our own hands. Consequently, we must accept responsibility for our lives, achievements, and failures. Those applying dedication, determination, and perseverance to their life will ultimately determine their own successes and failures.

Recreational anglers, tournament anglers, hunters and outdoors men interested in attaining the pinnacle of success must set goals and devote enough time researching, reading, and lady-sheepsheadlearning new techniques to obtain those goals. Failure to or the unwillingness to educate ourselves often prevent people from reaching higher levels of achievement.

Many seasoned anglers get the idea they know everything especially when it comes to fishing. They have the boat, tackle and plenty of experience but when it comes to knowing everything remember, there’s always room for improvement.

Here’s a story of how learned and gained knowledge from my experience with a stranger at the Clearwater, Florida boat ramp. The experience started on a negative note but ended very positive, this story and conversation with an old angler was worth gold, and something I’ve remembered forever.

Running a charter one winter morning my clients had caught some nice trout and a couple of redfish and where keeping a few for a good fish fry later that evening. As I approached the cleaning station an old man, maybe in his 80’s was cleaning a Sheepshead. He wore an old denim shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and floppy straw hat, and his skin looked like leather under his patchy gray beard. Approaching the table I said, “How you doing.” Never looking up he replied, “Do you really care”? Taken back momentarily by his curt answer I responded, No, not really, was just being friendly.”

Not easily intimidated, I continued, “Looks like you really got on them today.” Seeming to warm a degree or two and realizing that I was not going away, he replied, “Fish only for Sheep’s this time of year, and do ok”.

I got him going now I thought to myself and continued pressing the conversation in hopes of picking up a tip or two about catching whoppers like those in his bucket. “Never target Sheepshead, I said. Most of my clients are interested in other species like Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, or Trout.” Knowing I was about to venture onto some soft ground I asked, “Got any tips on catching nice ones like those.

For the first time in the conversation, he looked in my direction with a slight grin saying, “You’re a guide you should know everything.” Smiling, I said, “Yea sure.” “I have a good understanding about catching fish but it looks like you got me skunked on Sheepshead.” He continued cleaning his fish without replying.

Finishing up, and at a seemingly loss for something else to say, I turned toward my clients, handed them their dinner and thanked them for their business. As we started walking away, I heard him say, “Boy,” if you got some time, stick around… I’ll tell you how I do it.” Not believing my ears, I replied. “That would be great I would appreciate anything you can teach me.”

By the time I loaded my boat the old man was finishing up. Grabbing a couple of cokes and some boiled peanuts from the cooler, I walked toward him and introduced myself, he replied, “names Gus, let’s sit here on the bench cause my old legs get tired standing.” Sitting down, I handed him a coke and offered some peanuts. For almost an hour, we sat there drinking coke, eating boiled nuts… him talking and me listening like a school boy.

“These little bait stealer’s” are great eating…. hard to clean but great eating never the less. Their fins are hard as nails and sharp as tacks and if you’re not careful they can really do some damage. Sneaky and quick these guy’s they can nibble away your bait and never move your float.” He explained.

“The secrets in the bait, you need something hard to get off the hook. Lots, of folks use fiddler crabs and shrimp and others use mussels or oysters. They all catch fish but you spend a lot of the time baiting your hook.” “So what do you use?” I wanted to know. Reaching into his shirt pocket, he handed me a piece of cheesecloth about 3 inches square. “Take this, and wrap a couple oysters or mussels inside then put it on the hook. When they start nibbling, they begin getting the flavor and when they can’t get small pieces they grab it like they stole something. Now you got em.” He smiled.

“Do you use light tackle of something larger?” I asked. “I got a couple of cheap spinning rods and reels with braid line. These new braids are great stuff for feeling em bite.” I use about a foot of thirty-pound leader, a #1 hook and a sliding sinker. Not too heavy on that sinker, he emphasized, only enough to hold against the current.”

“I use a float and small shot weight around shallow-water oyster bars, pot holes, and rock piles, “he said. “Keep an eye on that float because the slightest movement could be a bite. Sometimes it goes down just a little or moves off to one side. When it does set the hook, if you feel him… set it again they got hard mouths.” “That’s about all there is too it, hope it helps.” Oh, he said, “Just one more thing, no matter what you’re trying to catch, remember slack line is not your friend, you can’t hook em if you can’t feel em so keep that line tight.”

“Thanks for the coke, son.” he said. With that, he slowly walked off toward the parking lot, got into an old red Chevy pickup with a small boat in tow and disappeared down the road. I have never seen Gus since that day and often wonder what he’s up to or if he’s still around catching Sheep’s.

For several minutes sitting in my vehicle I reflected back on how it all started. That old man’s probably forgot more about fishing than I will ever know, I thought. Makes you wish you could pour his years of knowledge into your brain before he departs for a better fishing hole.

Since that day Sheepshead are on my list of fish to catch. In addition, my encounter with that old man, taught me well and I am catching plenty. Clients seem to enjoy something out of the ordinary often remarking, “These fish really fight.”

If you’re looking for some new angling excitement and think sight fishing for Reds is tough, test your sight fishing skills against open water Sheepshead.

Never pass up the opportunity to learn something new and when a conversation starts out negative take the challenge to turn it around. Always remember, the best rule in any conversation is never saying anything, you later wish was left unsaid.

This article is owned by Capt. Woody Gore and is copyright protected. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by Capt. Gore. wgore@ix.netcom.com