It’s a well-known fact that Georgia has some of the best early spring reef fishing for sheepshead along the Atlantic Coast. Virtually every nearshore reef is loaded down with huge convict fish that are ready to do battle, and March often yields some of the largest fish of the year.
For Robbie Hullet, of Waycross, March is one of his favorite months to tangle with big sheepshead, but you won’t find him offshore doing it. As many anglers battle March winds out on the reefs, Robbie chooses to fish inshore areas that offer protection from this month’s unpredictable weather.
In fact, on most days, he will load a cooler up with these tasty fish without going more than a mile or two from the boat ramp. Robbie was happy to share his tips for a successful sheepshead trip this month with readers, and we made a late February trip to Darien to see just how well the fish were biting.
When we met up the morning of our trip, Robbie was feeling good about our chances to get on some good fish.
“It’s been warm the past few days, and that should have the fish feeding good. I’ve had a lot of good trips this time of year under similar conditions,” said Robbie.
We launched his 14-foot Alumaweld jonboat, equipped with a 35 hp Evinrude, at the Blue N Hall Marina in Darien.
Then, Robbie and I, along with his girlfriend Mandi McLaughlin, headed into the marsh. After a short ride, we made our first stop of the morning at a small boat dock. For this type of fishing, have an anchor strong enough to hold you in place with the tides.
“Lots of folks think that all the big sheepshead are offshore right now, but that’s just not true,” said Robbie. “I catch big sheep 12 months out of the year around boat docks, bridges and other structure inshore. To top it off, on a windy day like today, you wouldn’t be able to fish a reef.”
After getting both ends of the boat tied off, Robbie handed me a medium-heavy baitcasting outfit spooled with 50-lb. braid. Threaded on the braid was a 1-oz. egg sinker Carolina rigged with a barrel swivel and a 6-inch leader of 17-lb. Cajun Line tied to a No. 3 heavy gauge snell hook. Robbie grabbed a bucket of fiddler crabs he had caught the afternoon before in the marsh and threaded one on the hook from its rear end to its mouth.
“As long as the weather is fairly warm, fiddlers are rather easy to catch yourself. They get a little pricey if you buy them at the bait shop,” said Robbie. “The marsh all along the coast is slam full of fiddlers. Just grab a 5-gallon bucket and put on your rubber boots and go out and get them.”
Robbie then dropped his line to the bottom and reeled up a few cranks.
“You want a vertical presentation. Anything else and you will never feel the fish bite. Try to get your rig just off of the bottom, as close to the structure you’re fishing as possible,” Robbie explained.
After about 15 minutes with no action, I felt a hard thump in my line and immediately set the hook to no avail. As I reeled up my line, I was greeted to a hollow crab shell.
“He got you, brother, robbed you good,” Robbie laughed. “If you feel a thump in your line, you are already too late. It’s a really sensitive bite, but you get better at feeling it with practice. The bass-fishing tackle helps out a lot with detecting subtle bites, but you still have to get a feel for it, and that takes some time,” Robbie said.
We fished the dock for the next hour with little action, moving about a boat length every few minutes, fishing each of the dock’s posts.
“They just aren’t holding around this dock today. If they were here, we’d have a few in the boat already. They tend to stack up on certain docks certain days. The best thing to do if they’re not biting is to keep moving until you find the fish,” Robbie stated.
We moved down the river to another dock. After dropping my line, I felt a slight pickup and set the hook. Trying to get the fish away from the pilings proved to be quite a challenge, but after quite a battle, Robbie managed to slip the net under a stout 4-lb. sheepshead. After unhooking the fish, Robbie instructed me to drop another crab in the same place.
“Most of the time if you catch one next to a dock post, there is another one that will bite, too. They tend to all pile up together around certain posts,” Robbie said.
Robbie connected on the next fish a few minutes later, and after wrestling him away from the pilings, we managed to drop another solid 4-lb. sheepshead in the ice box. Not wanting to be left out, Mandi set the hook into a nice 3-lb. convict fish and fought him to the boat.
“That braided line does two things. First, it gives you extreme sensitivity to detect bites, and secondly it gives you the power to wrestle fish away from piling quickly. If you can’t move the fish away quickly, you’re in trouble,” said Robbie.
We spent the next few hours working the posts around the dock, picking up several more quality fish. Suddenly, Robbie set the hook into a fish that he struggled to work to the boat. After a tense battle that lasted more than a minute, he finally managed to bring the 10-pounder boatside. As I netted the dock donkey, he thrashed in the net, actually bending the net and breaking one side!
“Did you see that? What a fish! That’s why I fish docks year-round. I’m just not believing he broke my net. That was an 80-dollar net! These are some powerful fish. I’m shaking like crazy! If there is fishing that is more fun than this, I haven’t found it yet,” Robbie said excitedly.
After taking some pictures of the giant fish, Robbie dropped his line back into the same hole and managed another good fish almost immediately.
“There aren’t any secret holes. It changes day to day, but if you’re fishing a piece of wood structure with barnacles, you can bet there are some sheepshead nearby,” said Robbie.
After an hour with little action, Robbie began crushing up fiddler crabs and dropping them by the pilings next to our lines. He said that if you have excess crabs, chumming can send the fish into a feeding frenzy. Moments later, my rod doubled, proof that the chumming had worked, but the fish somehow managed to get off right at the boat.
“Sometimes, it’s just plain hard to keep a big sheepshead on the hook. The teeth in their mouth make a good hook set difficult to achieve,” Robbie said.
We fished the dock a little while longer with no success and headed back to where we started the day. When we pulled up to the dock, we ran into some other sheepshead fisherman, Jon and Glenda Taft, who were also having a good day on the water.
“Jon is the man who taught me how to catch sheepshead,” Robbie said.
Jon replied to Robbie’s comment saying, “The fishing is only going to get better. March, April and September are some of my favorite times of year to target big sheepshead inshore.”
After fishing for a half hour with only a missed bite to show for our efforts, we decided to call it a day as Jon and Glenda decided to try the dock that we had fished earlier. Before we could get the boat loaded up, Jon had already texted pictures of three fish he had just caught at the dock we had fished earlier in the day. We ended our day on the water with almost a dozen fish that averaged an impressive 4 pounds apiece in just more than five hours of fishing.
Blue N Hall Marina is located in Darien, and boats can be launched seven days a week with no fee to use the ramp. Robbie was quick to point out that Darien isn’t the only area that offers up some fine springtime sheepshead fishing.
“The inshore waters up and down Georgia’s coast harbor excellent populations of sheepshead year-round just waiting for anglers to drop a fiddler crab to them. In March, the inshore bite is really going to be on fire,” Robbie said.
If you have never given dock fishing for sheepshead a try, maybe you will find time this month to do it. And if you’re planning on targeting sheepshead offshore, it might just pay to visit a dock or two on the way to the reef. If you do, you’re liable to load a cooler down with sheepshead and come back to the ramp with a boat full of gas.