They’re supposed to hang around docks, bridges, sea walls. They’re the ones the dart in and out of the shadows, much to the delight of gawking tourists strolling waterfront piers and boardwalks.

Well, sheepshead definitely do frequent these areas, but that’s not the only zip code they favor. Spend a day fishing nearshore reefs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Carolinas and you’ll stand a good chance of encountering a few ‘heads—either directly or indirectly.

The black and white stripes do resemble classic prison garb, but the nickname “convict fish” comes more from the sheepshead’s bait-stealing tendencies. They’re not the only thieves on the reef, but they certainly demonstrate larcenous behavior—especially when anglers fish with shrimp, crabs, or shellfish.

Quick on the bite, these pesky nibblers will use their prominent incisors to peck away at baits, while avoiding the hook. Balancing their bad habit, sheepshead offer tasty fillets well worth the challenge of intentionally engaging such a sneaky fish.


Your best bet is downsizing to small light wire hooks that’ll quickly snare your quarry. Try a light Carolina rig with a 12-inch fluorocarbon leader and a 1/0 hook baited with a thumbnail-sized chunk of shrimp.

Braided line helps you feel the subtle bites and quickly come tight on a sheepshead, while a rod with a soft tip and plenty of backbone allows the fish time to get the bait—and allows you time to get the fish.