With my bluefin tuna catch on the Eclipse August 2nd, there’s only 1 fish left to catch to complete the Top 10 for the year and accomplish one of the fishing goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year.  Last year, I got one in May that was a legal pinky.  I was really motivated though to get a big, mature, black and red model before the end of the year.  I was able to finally accomplish that feat on the very last trip of the year, December 30th on the Pacific Islander at Santa Rosa Island.  This year I got another pinky in February on the San Diego.  I didn’t even bother to measure it and threw it back.  Here we are six months later and that damn fish is dogging me again.  Lots of time for sure.  I’m not going to stop going offshore to focus on this fish, but I will be looking for my opportunities.

I’ve never really liked the sheephead page that I did early on, so now is as good a time as any to reset and review what I’ve learned about this fish…

So what’s this pinky business about?

All sheephead start out female and pink, then develop that distinct black and red coloring with the white goatee when they mature and turn male.  I’ve read that they turn around 7 or 8 years old, but I think it has more to do with environmental factors as I’ve seen little fish that are black and red, and big ones that are still pink (it’d be just my luck to catch one of those).

What big teeth you have!

sheephead_teethThose big canine-looking teeth are used to bite into shellfish.  Favorite food of the sheephead are clams, crabs, mussels, sea urchin and other hard-bodied sea creatures.  I haven’t tried it myself, but I hear that freshwater crawdads are a very effective bait for sheephead (they probably look like appetizer size lobster to a sheephead).  Often times, I see anglers bring their own shrimp on the boat, specifically to target sheephead.  Just as often (and this was the case in my big one last year), I’ve seen them taken on squid when people weren’t specifically targeting this fish.

How do you catch them?

Good question…I’m not really the person to answer it either 😉  What I do know though is that I’ve most often seen them caught in the kelp, oriented to structure, and fishing the bottom.  Makes sense right?  The stuff they like to eat is typically attached to or lurking around the rocks.  I’ve most often seen these fish caught when fishing in shallower waters, say 150 feet and less.  A diver friend of mine says that if you crack a crab or sea urchin underwater, that scent gets out and they start showing up.  For that reason, I’m really intrigued to try some Unibutter when I go out next to target this fish.  The most common rigging I’ve seen them caught on is a dropper loop and on a sliding sinker rig.  That said, I saw my buddy Jimmy Bass take one on a P-Line diamond jig, and I talked to a guy who said he caught one once on a flylined sardine!  However you decide to do it, you should definitely have your drags buttoned down and be prepared to horse this fish out of the rocks.  A big one can feel like you are stuck on the bottom and if you let them get into a crevice where they can flair their body out and wedge themselves in…it’s game over.

Eating them

Claire's preparation

Claire’s preparation

Many people say that this fish almost tastes like lobster.  Considering it’s diet, it’s not hard to imagine why.  Your typical filet in the frying pan is not the best way to cook it.  The meat falls apart.  It still tastes good, but it doesn’t make for a great presentation.  I found out at one point, that the commercial fishery for sheephead was primarily to sell to Asian restaurants.  When I finally caught my big one last year, I took it to my friend, Claire Shen’s house.  She’s Taiwanese-American and she made a broth out of the head, then steamed it using that liquid.  It was absolutely delicious, and the steaming method kept the meat firm and intact.

Also try the Salt Crusted Sheephead!

The quest continues…

So that’s what I know about the California Sheephead.  If you have any tips, please comment here and share them with me and your fellow readers.  If you are so fortunate to catch one yourself, tag me (Facebook, twitter, Instagram) and I will repost them until I finally get one.  Wish me luck!   Tight lines!

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