Anyone who knows me is aware of my addiction for catching fish on a BreamBuster pole. For me there is no better fight than with a simple pole and line combination. So, when I heard of how Dereck DeLoach, of Waycross, uses his BreamBuster to boat sheepshead by the cooler fulls, I knew I had to get in on the action myself.
When I first spoke with Dereck about doing this article for GON, he was more than eager to share his tips for September success.
“Year in and out, Georgia has some excellent sheepshead fishing up and down our coast, but this year it has been phenomenal. Everybody has been catching limits, and man they have been running big,” said Dereck.
A few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to see just what he was talking about as we launched from the North River St. Marys Boat Ramp in Camden County. A calm morning made for a smooth ride in Dereck’s 15-foot jonboat, as we raced the morning sun to see who could make it to the jetties first.
As we began to reach the backside of Cumberland Island, we pulled onto the sand as Dereck threw his anchor and grabbed a 5-gallon bucket and a lime-green children’s dip net out of his boat.
“The first thing we’re going to need is bait, and a lot of it. You can catch fiddler crabs all over the place in the marsh, but the sandy shores of Cumberland make getting them a lot easier,” Dereck said.
As we climbed over a small dune, I couldn’t help but appreciate Cumberland’s beauty as the marsh was filled with wild horses grazing in the morning sun. I also could not help but notice the gold mine of fiddlers that moved in every direction. Dereck began to scoop them with his net by the dozens.
“I never buy bait down here during the summer,” said Dereck. “At $15 a pint, it will sting the wallet pretty good.”
There are currently no restrictions or regulations on the harvest of fiddler crabs for recreational use. With that said, always double check rules and regulations to be sure none have changed.
After gathering about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket in all of about five minutes, we climbed back in the boat and headed for the jetties. As we rounded the corner of Cumberland, I was surprised to only see one boat off in the distance. As we motored closer to the jetties, Dereck killed the engine and dropped his trolling motor into the water.
“I like using the trolling motor for sheepshead fishing to cover a lot of water, but the main reason is for safety,” said Dereck. “Some guys like to throw an anchor and fish for them, but if your anchor pulls loose, you’re gonna be heading straight for the rocks, and what could be a pretty bad day.”
As we got ready to start fishing, Dereck went over his simple but effective sheepshead fishing tackle. He uses a 13- to 15-foot long BreamBuster and stated that the brand really doesn’t matter.
“You can spend as much as you want to on one, but these big sheepshead and reds out here will break them,” said Dereck. “I’ve been through 10 or so in the past year, so I wouldn’t recommend spending too terribly much. Just always remember to bring several poles just in case you break a few.”
Dereck then ties on a piece of 17-lb. Trilene XT, approximately three-quarters the length of his pole, and attaches a Sea Striker Got-Cha Grub Head. He prefers a 1/4-oz. red head. He told me that the jig head seems to work better for detecting the sheepshead’s delicate bite, thus improving his hook-up percentage. Lastly, he threads a fiddler crab on the hook completing his rig. He noted that with smaller fiddlers, he will put two or even three on the jig head to boost its appeal.
“You have to pay attention out here, especially in a smaller boat,” Dereck said as we started fishing. “Always check the wind forecast before you go, and whenever you’re on the water. Unless you have a large saltwater boat, I would recommend staying on the river side of the jetties and avoid going around to the Cumberland side. Conditions can change quickly, and waves can make coming back nearly impossible.”
Less than 10 minutes in and I had our first fish on the line, and 20 seconds later Dereck managed to net the 17-inch trout. Before I could get the fish unhooked, Dereck connected with our second fish of the day, and after a brief struggle, he swung a 12-inch redfish aboard. He unhooked and tossed the juvenile red back in the water.
“A real plus to targeting sheepshead on the jetties is you’re going to catch trout, reds, flounder and of course the sheep. It sure makes for great action and some great table fare at the end of the day,” said Dereck.
As we fished the next couple of hours, the action was steady. Dereck mentioned that regardless of tide conditions the action is usually pretty constant since sheepshead will always be as far up in the rocks as they can get. Before he could finish explaining, Dereck’s rod arched and went into a u-shape, and before I could blink, his line popped, sounding like a crack from a .22 rifle.
“That had to be a bull red! You win some, you lose some, I guess,” said Dereck. “Some guys put braid on their BreamBusters to keep from breaking the line, but with a fish like that, he would snap that pole in half.”
As the tide continued to rise, so did the action. As the water began to slosh through the rocks, we approached a particularly large boulder that formed a calm eddie up against it. As I lowered my jig into the calm water, it took all of about two seconds for a spunky sheepshead to latch on to my jig. The prison-striped fish tested my pole to its limit, and after a couple of attempts, we managed to get the 4-lb. fish into the net. After we snapped a quick picture and put the fish on ice, Dereck headed back for the same eddie.
“Sheepshead, particularly big ones, are schooling fish,” he said. “Just like trout and reds, when they find a good food source or piece of structure, they really stack up on it. When you catch a good fish out of an eddie in the rocks, it is always a good idea to fish that spot for a few more minutes.”
No sooner than he finished his sentence, his rod arched and his line began to sing. After a tedious fight, Dereck boated another stout sheepshead that was almost identical to mine.
For the next 30 minutes, we continued to fish the small area up next to the rock and boated four more fish heavier than 3 pounds and lost a few more at the boat.
“On these flimsy poles, you’re going to lose some fish. It’s all part of it. It’s hard to hold them, but it’s a pile of fun!” Dereck said with a smile.
Moments later I was able to see exactly what he meant. After hooking into a large fish, the battle was on. After several hard runs toward the rocks, I had the 7-lb. plus sheepshead boatside. As Dereck made a quick move to net the fish, it pulled down with one final burst of energy, snapping my pole in half and taking 6 feet of BreamBuster with him. At that point, I could definitely appreciate the power Dereck was talking about.
We fished a while longer and managed a few more fish before heading in. We fished a little more than four hours and ended up with an impressive 15 sheepshead and a trout, throwing back some short fish and breaking off a few monsters. All in all, I would say it’s one of the best trips I have been on in the salt.
At the ramp before we left, Dereck mentioned that you can also catch sheepshead anywhere there is structure this month.
“If you can find a dock, a seawall, rocks, shells, whatever, you can bet your fiddlers there will be sheepshead hanging around, and this is without any doubt the very best year I have seen,” Dereck said.
This month I hope you have the opportunity to give the sheepshead a try. You will be glad you did, and when you fry them up and pair them with some cheese grits, I’m sure you will be back for more.
Fiddlers At Home
When you’re done fishing, you don’t have to throw those fiddlers back. Put some saltwater in your livewell or a cooler and some sand in a 5-gallon bucket.
When you get home, put the sand in an old cooler or storage container, and saturate it with the saltwater you collected. You want the sand moist, but keep some of the sand dry.
Add your crabs, and put a half a handful of dog food in for them to eat. Change the sand and water out every few weeks, and remove any dead crabs you find.
Keep the crabs in a cool shaded area, and they will live good for a few months. The real plus is next time you go fishing you will already have your bait!