Flats Fishing For Sheepshead

Fishing the backwater canals

On Monday my son and I headed out on the water in our flats boat. First we went south to Oak Hill to get fiddler crab bait, but the bait shop was out. They said they had been out since Saturday. Not a good sign. Our local shop was also out, so we got live shrimp instead. The crabs are a favorite of Sheepshead fish and that was what we were after…. like everyone else it seems! They are very good eating because they mostly live off shellfish and have the teeth to chomp them too! How nice it would be to have a nice fresh fish dinner of sheepshead… yum.

Many boaters decided that Monday was an excellent day to go out on the water because the boat ramp was nearly full at 11:00 AM when we arrived. We usually get a late start. My son is not an early riser.

Fishing the backwater canals
Fishing the flats

Pylons and bridges is where the Sheepshead tend to congregate. My son was bummed about the lack of fiddler crabs, so we went into the backwater area to see what we could catch with our shrimp. Immediately I pulled in a foot long trout and threw him back. After that we hooked some small mangrove snapper, as usual, and a few other things that we didn’t keep.

We saw Redfish swimming past the boat as we traveled down shallow canals near the mosquito cuts, but never hooked any. My pole fell off the boat, which was annoying, and I had to get into the water to get it. Now the pole has to be taken apart and cleaned… Grrrrr…..

BUT… I did catch one sheepshead! Yay… but it was a couple inches too small. (Here’s a link to the regulations on sheepshead fishing in Florida.) We were in the backwater area and it gave us hope that maybe there were more larger fish around, but no luck. It’s tough to get photos of the fish we catch because I can’t hold the pole and the camera and my son also had a fish on the line. It usually never works out that we can photograph our catches, unless we keep them – which happens rarely…haha!

Mosquito cut

Usually we see very few boaters when we go out on weekdays. We wondered if it was a holiday or something because boats were everywhere!

We stopped at an island and boats were flying past. That never happens! I took a walk down the shore searching for something interesting, like a big, beautiful, empty seashell, but only found hermit crabs.

boats on Indian River
For some reason Monday was a busy boating day

High tide is never a good time to go beach-combing and it was high tide, or close to it. My son relaxed on the boat while I took a stroll. I was surprised no other boats were stopped at this island. I guess everyone was up by the bridge fishing for Sheepshead!

Flats boat at island beach
Our boat beached at an island
Hermit crab inside a big Tulip shell.
Hermit crab in big tulip shell near shore

I saw two large Tulip shells with big hermit crabs inside. They hide quickly when they hear me approach, but if I have the patience to stand still, they will come out of the shell and continue on their way.

waves on beach
High tide with waves from a passing boat

This is the river area which has islands all along the ICW. We are behind the main channel here, and there are no waves unless a boat passes. The water was very calm until later in the day when the wind picked up and it got choppy.

Eventually we headed down to the bridge at the South Causeway in New Smyrna. By then the tide was really moving and the wind had picked up. It was difficult to fish by the bridge so we moved down near the Marina and fished behind Pelican Island. I’m not sure if that is the island’s real name, but it is full of pelicans!

ICW Indian River in New Smyrna
Fishing behind Pelican Island near South Causeway

The water here was around 7-9 feet deep at the time, so we decided to see what we could get. Right off I pulled up a huge catfish and then snagged a Ladyfish. That one was fun… it kept jumping out of the water as I reeled it in. I didn’t know what it was, but my son did. They are not good to eat, but it was big and shiny.

It was getting late and we were about done for the day so we dumped the rest of our bait shrimp into the water and headed to the ramp. We have tried cooking and eating our leftover bait shrimp, but it is gross! So it’s better to just let them go. We’ll be out shrimping soon to refill our freezer with lovely fresh shrimp.

The water was nice with a temp around 68-71 depending on where we went. Nearly warm enough for the manatee to return. The sun hid behind clouds a lot so it wasn’t too hot. It was a very nice day out on the water, even if we went home without supper.

The video here shows how to catch sheepshead when you find them. It was filmed down by the space coast in Titusville, just south of us.

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