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Description:The sheepshead has an oval-shaped, deep body with a blunt snout and small, nearly horizontal mouth. The posterior nostril is slit-like in appearance. Dorsal and anal fins include stout, short spines. The second spine of the anal fin is enlarged. Pectoral fins are long, extending beyond the anal opening when appressed (pressed close to the body). The caudal fin is shallowly forked. The adult sheepshead is silvery to greenish-yellow with an olive back. There are five or six dark vertical crossbars along each side, which are most distinct in young individuals. The caudal and pectoral fins are greenish while the dorsal, anal, and ventral fins are dusky or black.

Other fish that are similar in appearance to the sheepshead include the black drum (Pogonias cromis) and Atlantic spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber). However, the black drum has barbels on the lower jaw and reaches a much larger adult size than the sheepshead. The Atlantic spadefish has a very short snout, a much rounder body shape and a larger soft dorsal and anal fin than the sheepshead. Additionally, the vertical bands on the sides of the black drum and Atlantic spadefish tend to fade with age much more so than the markings of the sheepshead. The sheepshead's teeth include well-defined incisors, molars, and grinders. At the front of the jaw are the incisor-like teeth. The molars are arranged in three rows in the upper jaw and two rows in the lower jaw. Heavy, strong teeth are necessary for crushing and grinding the shelled animals that are prey for this fish. Sheepshead lack tooth patches on the roof of the mouth.

Similar Fish: Seabream, Striped Porgy, Convict Fish, black drum & Atlantic spadefish

Where Found: The distribution of the sheepshead in the western Atlantic Ocean includes coastal waters from Nova Scotia (Canada) through the Gulf of Mexico with the densest populations occurring off southwest Florida. Sheepshead are also found, albeit in much lesser numbers, off the Caribbean coasts of Central and South America, south to Brazil. Sheepshead are absent in the Bahamas, West Indies, Grenada, and Bermuda.

Primarily occurring inshore around rock pilings, jetties, mangrove roots, and piers as well as in tidal creeks, the euryhaline sheepshead prefers brackish waters. It seeks out warmer spots near spring outlets and river discharges and sometimes enters freshwater during the winter months.

Size: Although it reaches a maximum size of about 29.5 inches (76 cm) and 22 pounds (9.6 kg), adult sheepshead are most commonly about 1-8 pounds (.5-3.6 kg) and 14-18 inches (35 cm).

Maryland State Record:7 lbs. 8 oz. by angler Raymond Daniels July 25, 2004 at Ocean City Inlet, Ocean City, MD

DE State Record:13 lb 11 oz. 27.5" by angler Frank Piectrazak September 27, 2000 Atlantic Ocean - Haystack

World Record:21 lbs. 4 oz, La.

Baits used: Fiddler crab, green crab, clams, peeler crabs

Tactics to catch: Rig consists of 10 to 15 pound test line on a light action spinning reel. small a slip sinker and a leader about 12 inches long and a number 1 or number 2 circle hook. Hold the rod as steady as you can. The trick is to realize when the fish is munching on your bait. Slowly lift your rod checking for pressure, continue to lift the rod if you feel any pressure and as the fish realizes you are taking away his prize he will begin to move with it and as he moves increase the pressure he will have the circle hook firmly placed in the side of his mouth. The roof of his mouth is impossible to hook. Gently, firmly and cautiously play the hook. As you work him to the surface have your net ready to scoop him up. Using green crab, sand flees and wharf crabs are great bait to use in and around bulkheads and jetties. There are numerous charters who will take you offshore to wrecks and find great tog fishing during the cooler months.

Climate: 60 to 65 degrees

Spawning habits:This fish moves to offshore areas in later winter and early spring for spawning, which sometimes occurs over artificial reefs and navigation markers. Juveniles live in seagrass flats and over mud bottoms. Populations of sheepshead in mid-Atlantic coastal waters and the Mississippi Sound spawn in primarily in the early spring although pelagic larvae have been recorded from January through May in the Gulf of Mexico. Adults migrate to offshore waters to spawn, later returning to nearshore waters and estuaries. Spawning frequency ranges from once a day to once every 20 days. Little is known regarding spawning behavior. Depending upon their condition, females may produce from 1,100 to 250,000 eggs per spawning event.

One study determined that those fishes found closer to shore averaged 11,000 eggs per spawning event while those offshore averaged 87,000 eggs per batch. The buoyant eggs are approximately 0.8mm in diameter, hatching 28 hours following fertilization at 23°C. The larvae rely on the attached yolk sac at lengths of 2.0-4.5 mm. When the larvae reach 4mm in length, the caudal and anal fins are well developed. Pigmentation of the larval sheepshead is brownish with a median ventral line. Black spots are located behind the isthmus, base of the pectoral fin, and anterior to the anal fin. Two dark specks are also located at the base of the anal fin. Juvenile sheepshead (25-30mm) have a forked caudal fin, a lateral line and exhibit adult patterning. They are most abundant in seagrass flats and above mud bottoms, feeding on copepods and algae. At lengths of 50mm, the juveniles leave the grass flats and congregate with adults around jetties, piers, and pilings.

Table food:An excellent food fish due to its fine white flesh and mild flavor. However, its heavy scales and strong fin spines make it difficult to clean and fillet. Marketed fresh and frozen; eaten broiled, microwaved and baked.

Consumption Concerns:N/A

Feeding habits: The sheepshead is an omnivorous fish, feeding on invertebrates, small vertebrates and occasional plant material. Large juveniles and adults prey on blue crab, oysters, clams, crustaceans, and small fish including young Atlantic croakers (Micropogonias undulatus, Sciaenidae). The sheepshead uses its impressive dentition to crush heavily armored and shelled prey and to scrape barnacles from rocks and pilings. The diet of juveniles includes zooplankton, polychaetes, and chironomid (midges) larvae.

Remarks:Maximum known lifespan of the sheepshead is at least 20 years with maturity typically reached at 2 years of age.


Fish Base

Florida Museum of Natural History prepared by Cathleen Bester and Robert H. Robins

http://saltfishing.about.com- Ron Brooks

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