Sheepshead rigs and tips!

Capturing Convicts

This post covers some of the best rigs for year-round sheepshead fishing in North East Florida. Many people do not have problems catching convicts but everyone does it differently and there is always a new way to learn. They are great tasting, fun to catch, and a good option when the weather is poor and Redfishing is slow or your clients are die-hard bass fishermen that “set the hook” a little too much. If you would like to learn more about catching sheepshead or have a special way that you do it, drop a comment at the bottom.


The Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) are chewing right now in St. Augustine. With even some of the most novice anglers racking up double digits in a weekend, there are no secrets on how to catch them. Everyone does it a little differently even though most anglers say they do it the “right way.” Here is a little bit about what has been successful for me sheepshead fishing around St. Augustine for many years.

Photo courtesy of Florida Memory “Sheepshead boy” Note: Not me…

Photo courtesy of Florida Memory “Sheepshead boy” Note: Not me…

I mainly use three different techniques for capturing convicts. The most common way is with a slip sinker rig, next is with a jig head, and last is with a speargun or gig. Usually the most successful days come from using the traditional slip sinker rig but I have racked up some serious meat with the speargun.


Mustad O’Shaughnessy live bait hook Extra Short 1/0 or 2/0

These are great hooks for tucking a fiddler crab or two on. Occasionally, I’ll use a double strength version of these hooks that is even better for fishing the nearshore wrecks and other deep water.


Hooks are some of the most important choices in fishing.. obviously. These hooks have rarely failed me on all kinds of fish including on sheepshead.

Leader: Following is a six to eight inch section of 20 pound monofilament leader tied using Uni-Knots directly to the hook and swivel. Swivel strength is always a bit heavier than the heaviest line I might use.

Weight selection: I use the lightest weight I can to get to the bottom. A 1/2oz to 3oz weight. Anything heavier than 3oz will make it hard to feel the sheepsheads bite and react before they are gone.

Rod & Reel: A bait caster reel thrives when fishing for sheepshead. I stick to the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur series. Either the S, C3, or C4 models are great choices depending on budget.

Abu Garcia

Choosing the right rod for sheepshead should be based on strength, longevity, and length. A shorter rod with more back bone will help you tremendously when wrenching that convict out of the pilings. Save your money on buying super high-end fishing rods while sheepshead fishing because if you go enough, you will break a tip, bust an eye, or scratch it up on the barnacles around pilings.

Shoreline / Shell bottom fishing for Sheepshead

This is a very fun way to get into the convicts. Sometimes they are really chewing on the shell banks and other rock bottoms around this area. The traditional sheepshead rig will not be very effective in this situation because you will miss many bites.

Try using a jighead combo on spin tackle with a fiddler crab or shrimp.

Here is how:


An 1/8th oz head with a 2/0 hook is just the right size for keeping a crab on the bottom long enough to get the bite. Following that is about a 2 foot piece of 20lb or 30lb Monofilament tied line to line to the main line using a double Uni-Knot. If you have the crabs to spare, using two fiddlers on one hook with a jighead will catch more fish.

As a disclaimer, you should always adjust your tackle to your fishing conditions regardless of what you are fishing for. Tides, wind, water clarity, and bait all play a factor in line choices and hook sizes. Sometimes Sheepshead are wide open and others they are very picky and need a little bit of encouragement.

Bring a shovel to crush up chum, like oysters, and to scrape barnacles off of pilings. The investment of time collecting a full bucket of chum will go a long way.

Remember to be respectful when fishing around docks and scraping peoples pilings, they paid a lot of money for their docks and sometimes forget that they do not “own” the water underneath it.

Be safe and Catch fish!!