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By ED WALKER, Times Correspondent
Published January 19, 2008
This is the time of year that sheepshead migrate from their normal inshore hangouts to the reefs and wrecks offshore. January, February and March are the spawning months, and the biggest fish will congregate on just about every structure they can find.
Although usually considered an inshore species, they can be found as far as 25 miles offshore during the spawn. Not only are the fish generally larger out in this area, they are in larger schools. It is not uncommon to see aggregations of several hundred fish hovering over the artificial reefs and ledges.
The right bait
Although these fish stack up in such places every winter, few anglers target them. This is likely because a sheepshead will not bite the bait typically used by offshore bottom anglers. One could anchor over a swarm of sheepshead and fish for hours, but if the right bait is not used, that angler would never know the fish were down there.
Small crabs, such as fiddlers, are the top choice, but any crustacean or mollusk will work. Crabs are better than shrimp or clams because unwanted reef fish such as grunts and spot tails seldom bite them.
The rig for fishing the offshore sheepshead is simple. A small egg weight, slip sinker and a No. 1 or 2 short shank hook. Put one or two fiddler crabs on the hook and send it to the bottom. When you feel a slight tap, set the hook. Timing the hook set is very tricky, but after awhile you develop a feel for it.