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#12540498 - 12/16/17 01:22 PM Sheepshead 101
Shoreboundangler Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 07/06/15
Posts: 32
It looks like we are having an earlier than normal winter this year, so I thought I'd share an article I wrote for the Shoreboundangler website a few years ago about Sheepshead fishing. I hope it's not so long that you can't get through it without falling asleep!


As a dedicated Texas jetty fisherman, I frequently catch Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus).† Although present year-round, I target them only in winter.† Looking at past entries in my fishing journal, Christmas day seems to be as good as any for the official start to Sheepshead season here at my local jetty.† The fishing will remain good all through winter and usually peaks in February-March.

The Sheepshead diet consists mainly of barnacles and crabs, both of which are found in abundance at most Texas jetties.† They occasionally eat the green algae growing below the water line on the rocks.† This becomes apparent in February when many of the fish I clean have stomachs stuffed with algae.† Because their preferred meals are found on or in the jetty, fishing for Sheepshead means being up close and personal with the rocks.† Although I have caught the occasional fish while bottom fishing away from the rocks or even in the surf, I catch 90% of my fish while fishing in between or on top of submerged rocks.
Sheepshead are well adapted to their lives near the jetty.† They have burly scales to protect them from scrapes and an amazing set of choppers for grazing in and around the rocks.† Up front they have incisors that look like a human in need of an orthodontist.† Inside their mouths are covered with crushing teeth similar to molars.† All of these specialized teeth make hooking and catching a Sheepshead somewhat difficult.† Specialized gear and tactics are required to catch Sheepshead consistently.

Sheepshead are pretty particular about what they eat.† They almost never bite cut bait or lures.† Instead they prefer fresh or live bait.† Small live shrimp are a good option.† Fresh dead shrimp will work when the fish are feeding actively. † Live shrimp will always out fish dead shrimp though.† And if your dead shrimp is old and stinky, forget about it.† Small live crabs work very well, but are hard to come by.† Iíve read lots of information on using Fiddler crabs for Sheepshead bait.† Iíve personally never used them, although I have on occasion tried unsuccessfully to catch them.† Seeing the giant claws on Fiddlers makes me reluctant to use them anyway.† There have been occasions, especially in mid-winter, when my pint of live shrimp will have a small stray blue crab mixed in.† Although these are not technically legal for use as bait, I have used them with success.† Again, small crabs are not easy to come by, and for me not part of my usual repertoire of baits for Sheepshead.

My personal favorite Sheepshead bait is live ghost shrimp.† Ghost shrimp are found along open beaches of the Gulf.† Their burrows are visible at the tide line where they look like a hole or a small volcano in the sand.† The best time to catch them is when the tide is super low.† Check the tide charts and pick a day with the lowest possible tide along the beach front.† Use one of the sand pumps made out of PVC pipe that are available at most local tackle shops for around $30 bucks.† Suck the ghosties from their burrows and put them in a small bucket with a little sand on bottom.† If you plan to use them right away they will usually stay alive for a while without any special care.† If you plan to hold on to them for a while use a small aerator or change their water every so often to keep them alive.† They will work when dead, but as with all other types of bait, they work best when fresh and lively. †In Texas you can only take 20 ghost shrimp per person per day for bait.

My second favorite Sheepshead bait is live sea anemones.† I learned about them from an old salt at the Fish Pass jetties in Mustang Island State Park.† He was consistently catching Sheepshead while I fished right next to him getting skunked.† Eventually I got up the courage to ask him what he was using for bait.† At first he wouldnít tell me.† Later, when he had his limit and was packing up to leave, he handed me the bottom of a Styrofoam cup with a bunch of goo in the bottom.† He called them ďnemoneesĒ and told me I could get them by flipping rocks and scraping them off the bottom.† I did catch a couple fish myself that day with the nemonees.† It was several years later before I flipped rocks and scraped up some for myself.† They really work.† One good side effect of using anemones is that hardly anything but Sheepshead will eat them.

Once youíve got your bait, itís time to rig up.† The conditions will play a role in how you rig, but some basic principles for terminal tackle can be applied to most circumstances.† You will be fishing tight to the rocks and†you will lose tackle!† If youíre not getting hung up occasionally, youíre not fishing the right spot.† Bring plenty of spare hooks and weights.† I like to use a standard drop rig tied on a 30lb mono.† Tie a suitable sized weight to the end of your line.† About 12Ē to 18Ē above your weight, tie off a loop on a byte using an overhand figure eight knot.† To tie the figure eight, pull a loop of line off the side of the main line, and then tie it with a one and a half overhand knot.† If you tie a single overhand knot, the line strength will be compromised at the knot, and the loop will pull closed when you hook a fish.† Push the loop through the hook eye and then over the entire hook.

Standard practice when choosing the size of your weight says to use just enough to allow you to cast and hold your bait in position.† Iíve found that using a larger than normal weight has some distinct advantages.† A larger weight allows you to hold the bait in position and prevents the current from washing your rig into the spaces between rocks.† Also, you can keep a bit of tension on your line that allows you to feel subtle bites.† It seems counter-intuitive that larger weights would help prevent hang-ups, but in my experience they do.

Iíve suggested using 30 lb mono for rigging.† In the past I would use my standard 7í spinning combo spooled with 15 lb mono, and then tie my drop rig on a long section of 30 lb clear monofilament leader attached to the main line.† This worked well, but it was a pain to re-rig. † Nowadays I use an 8í heavy action rod and a large spinning reel that I can spool directly with 30 lb monofilament.† Tying my rig directly on my main line saves time when re-rigging as opposed to having to tie on a leader every time you break off.† The heavier line also helps with abrasion from the rocks, and makes it easier to land fish without a net.† These days the only time I use the lighter rig is if the water is super clear.† If Iím feeling rich Iíll use fluorocarbon instead of mono for my leader material, but mono works just fine.

Now that youíre rigged itís time to fish!† Iím pretty familiar with all the best spots at my jetty. †The best spots seem have a few things in common.† It seems obvious, but I prefer spots where I know I can put a bait out on bottom and retrieve it without getting hung up.† Finding these kinds of spots for yourself will take some trial, error, and tackle!† Another thing to look for is any break or change in the jetty rocks.† Big gaps between submerged rocks are great.† Fish directly in the gap.† Large rocks displaced from the main jetty always deserve a look.† Also, donít be reluctant to fish the immediate edge of the submerged rocks right at your feet.

One trick that has worked well for me is to closely observe underwater structure on days when the water is really clear.† Near the end of the Packery Channel south jetty there is a big shelf on the channel side that is about 6í under water during normal tides.† Thereís a spot on this shelf where one of the boulders is rolled out and away from the jetty, leaving a big gap where the boulder used to be.† I noticed this setup during a super clear day in summer and put it in my memory bank.† Since the gap was not visible with the normal winter water clarity, I was able to find it using an adjacent landmark on the jetty.† Sure enough when I fished the gap the following winter, it was loaded with Sheepshead.† Once youíve found a productive spot remember it and return to the same spot on later trips.

Once Iíve picked a spot, Iíll bait up with my ghost shrimp by piercing them multiple times on my small hook. †I usually use a #1 or maybe a 1 ought J hook. †Then I ball the bait up in the hook gap. I frequently use an underhand cast so I can accurately target my spot which will be very close to where Iím standing.† Let the weight carry the bait to the bottom where it should be either sitting right on top of a submerged rock, or right where the bottom of the rock meets the sand.† Tighten the line just enough so you can feel your weight, but not so tight that you drag the weight along the bottom.† Now wait.

A lot has been written about how Sheepshead steal baits.† People report losing baits without ever feeling a bite.† My experience is that you will first feel a sharp tap, followed by either nothing, or by the line pulling tight.† Once you feel the tap, wait to see if the line pulls tight.† When it does, swing hard to set the hook. † If you feel the tap followed by nothing, wait a couple seconds then gently lift your rod tip.† If you feel weight or the line tightens, swing and set the hook.† I feel like that first tap is pretty distinct.† So much so, that I believe I can call my shots like a big leaguer calling out a homerun.† Feel the tap, know that itís a Sheepshead, and swing for the fence.

In support of those who like the light bite theory of Sheepshead fishing, I can report that on numerous occasions I never felt the bite. † Only when I went to reel in did I feel the weight and realize that I have a fish.† This happens frequently enough that I do believe youíll get some light bites.† However, if youíve rigged like I suggest using a heavier than normal weight, and fish on a tight line, most bites will be felt.

Once youíve hooked your fish youíve got to land it.† Since I usually use pretty stout tackle, I tend to lean on them pretty hard and horse them in.† Obviously if youíre tackle is lighter, the drag must be correctly set and you can fight the fish slowly and wear him down.† One thing for certain is that the Sheepshead is a fair fighter.† He will not run into the rocks grouper style to try and break off.† Rather, he will usually make a quick sprint away from the rocks and use his body broadside to resist your efforts to land him, kind of like a bluegill on steroids.† Keep pressure on the line and when you get him close either grab the line and lift the fish out of the water, or use a long handled landing net.† Be aware though that a big Sheepshead in a landing net usually ends up in a long untangling session.† I recommend using heavy enough line that you can lift or drag your quarry up onto the rocks and avoid the net altogether.

Sheepshead are good to eat but tough to clean. If you do plan to keep a couple, I find it best to cut their throats to the gills and let them bleed out while still at the jetty. †Once bled, pack them in ice and keep them cold until youíre ready to clean them. †Fish cared for in this way have firm flaky fillets that are as good as anything we catch, except maybe flounder!ve firm flaky fillets that are as good as anything else we catch (except maybe flounder!)ll have firm flaky fillets that are as good as anything else we catch (except maybe flounder!)
=

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#12540641 - 12/16/17 05:40 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
karstopo Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 05/22/16
Posts: 500
Loc: Brazoria County
Thatís a lot of great information. I learned a ton.

Iíve tried and almost always failed at getting them to take a fly. I see them around oyster reefs and grassy shorelines quite a bit. One winter, I saw dozens and dozens placidly grazing on the algae growing on the oyster reef. I threw ever little fly I could at them and got 2 brief follows for my efforts. I think Iíve succeeded 3 times in hundreds and hundreds of tries. Only one was sight cast to and went for the little olive colored pattern. The other two were dredged up around some oyster shell.

I had a pretty good one attack a big skitterwalk in West matagorda Bay once.

They are neat fish. Thanks again for the great information.

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#12541123 - 12/17/17 10:48 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Meadowlark Offline
TFF Team Angler

Registered: 11/04/04
Posts: 3091
Loc: East Texas
That's one excellent post. I qualify as an "old salt" but never heard of using ďnemoneesĒ for sheephead bait. The Sheeps are excellent eating fish, one of the best.

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#12541281 - 12/17/17 02:28 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
V-Bottom Offline
Extreme Angler

Registered: 06/18/16
Posts: 1944
Loc: Hitchcock,Tx.
Sand Fleas for bait rigged out using a SMALL version of a Carolina rig (6-8" leader line). Find you a piling. Ease the rig down to the bottom next to the piling. As soon as you feel the lead hit bottom, pull the weight up just off the bottom. Sheepshead will bite the bait BUT you will BARELY feel it. It's a soft bite. That's when you snatch it's lips off. The hook is rather small and adjust your egg weight according to the current.
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#12541691 - 12/17/17 08:23 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Divothead2 Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 12/02/11
Posts: 81
Loc: Colleyville TX
Super info! Filleting can be frustrating. The rib cage goes high so resulting meat is smaller than you might expect. Worth the effort.

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#12557833 - 12/31/17 08:30 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: V-Bottom]
Shoreboundangler Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 07/06/15
Posts: 32
I've read a bunch about Sand Fleas, and I've even seen a couple when sucking up ghost shrimp. As far as I can tell though, there's no reliable way to obtain them here in Texas. I guess I'll make a quick run to Florida and pick up a pint! (or pound, cup, kilogram .... whatever the going unit for a mess of sand fleas is)

Small hooks definitely help. The challenge is finding small hooks that can hold up to catching more than one sheepy. Tiny trebles work well, but tend to get crushed by those gnarly teeth.

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#12558102 - 12/31/17 11:24 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Ledeez Offline
Extreme Angler

Registered: 09/01/15
Posts: 1152
Loc: Lake lavon
Super read! Thanks for sharing thumb
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#12558220 - 12/31/17 12:48 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
karstopo Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 05/22/16
Posts: 500
Loc: Brazoria County
http://www.gamakatsu.com/fishing-hooks.php?pid=1221
http://mustad-fishing.com/am/product/tarpon-c68snp-dtc68sz/

Fly hooks are pretty strong in relation to their size. Hereís a couple that are extra strong.

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#12558493 - 12/31/17 03:20 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
V-Bottom Offline
Extreme Angler

Registered: 06/18/16
Posts: 1944
Loc: Hitchcock,Tx.
Originally Posted By: Shoreboundangler
I've read a bunch about Sand Fleas, and I've even seen a couple when sucking up ghost shrimp. As far as I can tell though, there's no reliable way to obtain them here in Texas. I guess I'll make a quick run to Florida and pick up a pint! (or pound, cup, kilogram .... whatever the going unit for a mess of sand fleas is)

Small hooks definitely help. The challenge is finding small hooks that can hold up to catching more than one sheepy. Tiny trebles work well, but tend to get crushed by those gnarly teeth.


Look real close at the beach waters "swash" or "Lip" zones and you'll see the water make a "V" shape. When a sand flea burrows into the sand, it's "antennas" are sticking out of the water which causes the waters V shape as he water recedes. There are specially made "net type rakes" you use to scoop them up.
_________________________
Texas Anglers Recognition Program
TPWD Official Weigh Station,77563
Coastal Bend Weigh Team, Cert. Weigh Master
USMC66'- Transocean.com






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#12559405 - 01/01/18 10:07 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: karstopo]
Shoreboundangler Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 07/06/15
Posts: 32
Thanks for the hook links Karstopo. I've always figured that there are small/strong hooks out there. Those Gamakatsus look particularly good. Makes sense that those fly guys would have a high $$$ solution to just about any problem!

All kidding aside, the price (for me) really is an issue. I'll routinely lose 4 or 5 hooks a session when targeting sheepshead. Looks like those strong Gamakatsus are up around 50/60 cents each. That's 2 or 3 bucks a session. Multiply that by a few sessions a week and costs add up. You're talking to a guy who'll use discarded cast net weights and the occasional spark plug just to save a buck!

One thing I've been trying to experiment with is different weights. Seems to me that most hang ups are from the weight getting wedged in cracks in the rocks as opposed to the hook snagging. If I can figure out a weight set up that I can free more easily from the rocks I might be able to afford to use a better hook. So far I haven't found the perfect solution. I remember a few years back buying some "no snag" weights that were some kind of a woven nylon tube with split shot in it. The rig was flexible and I guess could flex its way out of a snag. I recall that it worked OK, but I haven't seen them on the racks at Academy since.

Thanks again, got me thinking ......


Edited by Shoreboundangler (01/01/18 10:09 AM)

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#12559451 - 01/01/18 10:36 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
karstopo Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 05/22/16
Posts: 500
Loc: Brazoria County
http://store.hookhack.com/Mustad-Hooks-34007-Size-6/productinfo/34007HI/

These work out to about 13-14 cents per hook. Not my favorite hook since they are stainless, but all little more affordable.

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#12559532 - 01/01/18 11:44 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
karstopo Offline
Pro Angler

Registered: 05/22/16
Posts: 500
Loc: Brazoria County
Iíve caught only 3 sheepshead on fly hooks and the fish werenít very big but the sheepshead didnít damage them. I was using Gamakatsu size 2 SC-15. They are very light wire hooks, super sharp, and weirdly strong. 100 can be had for about $ 28-29. One thing about sharp light wire hooks is that they generally set very easily and stay set.

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#12559885 - 01/01/18 03:38 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Jim Ford Offline
Extreme Angler

Registered: 01/28/12
Posts: 1578
Loc: Texas
"One thing I've been trying to experiment with is different weights. Seems to me that most hang ups are from the weight getting wedged in cracks in the rocks as opposed to the hook snagging. If I can figure out a weight set up that I can free more easily from the rocks I might be able to afford to use a better hook. So far I haven't found the perfect solution. I remember a few years back buying some "no snag" weights that were some kind of a woven nylon tube with split shot in it. The rig was flexible and I guess could flex its way out of a snag. I recall that it worked OK, but I haven't seen them on the racks at Academy since."

I haven't tried it around rocks, but a rig I used when I used to fish a lot of fresh water worked very well around brush, with very few hangups. The few we got, we were generally able to jiggle the rigs loose. We took a brass brazing rod and cut it into various (generally 4"-6"; heavy enough to control a minnow) lengths. We'd hammer the ends flat and drill a small hole, and insert a split ring. Put a crappie hook on one end and tie your line to the other. The crappie weren't turned off by the brass rod hanging over their minnow. The rig had a name, but I don't recall what it was now. Anyway, they might be worth a try for your application.

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#12559928 - 01/01/18 03:57 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Huckleberry Offline
TFF Guru

Registered: 10/10/07
Posts: 17470
Loc: Lake Gaston, VA
Just wanted to share ... I grew up in Lake Worth Florida and as a kid became the master at catching sheepshead on bridge pilings. Pictured below is the Lake Worth Bridge ....see those square based pilings ... magnets for sheepshead. After capturing a bunch of fiddler crabs on a low tide intracoastal beach I would pull my 11' Boston Whaler up to the piling base and get out onto the base. I would take a hoe and scrape off some barnacles for chum, lower a fiddler crab down to the bottom along side of the base and pick it back up about 6". I would very slowly raise and lower the bait just a few inches and when I felt the least bit of resistance while raising the bait, set the hook. I would catch 40 or 50 a day with the occasional black drum, sometimes all from one piling. I would take them to the local fish market and get .45 cent a pound. They're favorite food is a fiddler crab ... the bigger the claw the better!!


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#12561733 - 01/02/18 06:32 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
lite-liner Offline
Capt. CUDA

Registered: 07/01/04
Posts: 6539
Loc: Fulton, Texas
there is so much killer info here. Thanks for filling me in!
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#12573842 - 01/11/18 11:38 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
ingvar3000 Offline
Green Horn

Registered: 03/27/15
Posts: 16
I've been using tiny saltwater hooks that I've only seen at the Academy in Corpus. I think they go down to size 4 and they're as thick as a 0/8 circle hook. Caught a few sheepshead and mangrove snappers with them. They're small enough that they'll get sucked into panfish mouths along with the live shrimp. Sorry, forgot the brand name.

Of course I'll use size 12 or 14 fly tying hooks when I'm trying to clean out some of those @$%%!!$ pinfish.
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#12574775 - 01/11/18 09:00 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Shoreboundangler Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 07/06/15
Posts: 32
Holy [censored]. You guys are making my gears turn. OK, let me think this through.

Huckleberry, my deal is that I'm fishing from the shore. Specifically, these days, my local jetty. #shoreboundangler Imagine standing on a jetty and casting out. Your bait settles to the bottom on or near the rocks. When you retrieve, your rig wants to go into the rocks.

Fishing vertically around bridge pilings stacked with sheepies sounds amazing. It's just not what I am doing. I can see myself, in early retirement, showing up at the local fish marked with a hundred fifty pounds of fresh sheepshead and pocketing $60 bucks though!

Jim Ford, I think the biggest difference is rocks vs. submerged brush. Also, I think like sir Huckleberry, you are fishing vertically. Your blacksmithing ambition with all the hammering and drilling sounds awesome hobby wise. But as soon as I start dragging that rig thru the granite at the jetty, well, I'll need a bunch of those braizing rods. Sounds like you may be describing a Lindy Rig? Not sure, since I don't soak a lot of suckers for Walleye, but I'd like to!

Awesome input by the way. I'm listening. Also, I'm planning a Sheepshead trip this Saturday and hope to post a positive report.

Maybe I can figure out how to post pics.?!

bugs the shoreboundangler

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#12579092 - 01/14/18 10:56 PM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
Duckcreek Davy Offline
TFF Celebrity

Registered: 05/12/03
Posts: 8668
Loc: Wylie, TX. USA
Here's the lazy mans method to catch crabs. I like to fish the small piers at night under the lights. Many nights you will have a constant presence of small crabs floating by on the surface. I just take a long handle bait net and an extra bucket with me and gather them up until I have enough to suit me. They are candy to sheepshead.
_________________________
Dave Morris



"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." --Thomas Jefferson,

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#12595004 - 01/25/18 10:05 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
sfotw Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 03/18/05
Posts: 185
Loc: Killeen
Spot on with your techniques and tactics!

One technique I would like to add is using a cane pole. Picked it up from some of the old timers I donít see around the jetties anymore. You need a real cane pole, a thick single piece 12 to 20 footer. Not those 2 or 3 piece $1.99 bargain bin things for kids and bluegills. Best of luck finding the right ones new in a store though.

Anyway, a good stout cane pole and strong line a few feet shorter than the length of the pole with a sinker and a small J hook. A Float is optional, depending on the current and winds, using any of the baits you talked about you just swing the line out and bring it back to the edge of the rocks and wait for the bite. That cane pole provides the power and leverage to pull the sheepie right out of the rocks.


Edited by sfotw (01/25/18 10:06 AM)
Edit Reason: Spelling

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#12595096 - 01/25/18 11:09 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: Shoreboundangler]
parttime Offline
TFF Celebrity

Registered: 01/10/09
Posts: 5670
Loc: San Antonio
Lots of great info guys, thanks!
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#12597455 - 01/27/18 12:49 AM Re: Sheepshead 101 [Re: sfotw]
Shoreboundangler Offline
Outdoorsman

Registered: 07/06/15
Posts: 32
Bitchin' I like it. Fast forward to guy trying to find a big stout cane pole. I wonder if they make a modern version out of graphite or fiberglass. I've seen some suited to crappie fishing, but they seem too light for sheepiees ...

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