(Dec 17, 2015 - High Island, TX)
Archosargus probatocepha, alias Convict Fish, or just Sheepshead belongs to the Family Sparidae, or PORGIES, are blackish silver in color, with 5 or 6 distinct vertical black bars on its sides, but not always the same on both sides. These hardy fish have conspicuous human like teeth, including incisors, molars, and rounded grinders, that can mangle or slice off fingers of unwary anglers. They have no barbels on lower jaw but do have strong and sharp spines on dorsal and anal fins, which can cut the anglers hands.
Similar fish: black drum, Pogonias cromis; Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber (black drum have barbels on lower jaw, sheepshead do not. Vertical barring on sides of black drum and spadefish disappear as fish mature, with spadefish having small, brush-like teeth.
Sheepshead are an inshore species that hang around oyster reefs, seawalls, pilings and tidal creeks. They move near shore in late winter and early spring for spawning, gathering over rocks, artificial reefs, and around navigation markers.Often diificult to catch the Sheepshead are famous for stealing your bait clean off your hook without the slightest sign of a bite. Small croaker hooks baited with fiddler crabs, mussells, or live shrimp rigged up to medium light tackle will put these wary critters on your supper plate. They are great fighters when hooked as well and will often hit artificial baits such as Berkely Gulp.
They average 2 to 3 pounds inshore, but can reach 6 to 8 lbs when offshore. This writer/angler caught a 12 lb sheepshead back in 1980 while night fishing an oyster reef in Jones Bayou, near Hitchcock TX. I didn't know that it would’ve been a Texas State record at that time, so it ended up as supper on the dinner table!
Many anglers say the Sheepshead is the poor mans lobster when baked, while others say it has a sweet like texture when fried or grilled. Myself, I'll lean towards an almost oyster like flavor. My preference is to lightly saute' filets in olive oil then plating over wilted lettuce with sliced tomato on the side. But here are some tasty sheepshead recipes for you to try.
Baked Lemon Sheepshead
• 2 lbs sheepshead fillets- 3 tbsps lemon juice- 2 tbsps melted butter-1 small onion, chopped- 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped- salt and pepper- dill- olive oil-
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle sheepshead fillets with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Coat with butter and place in oiled baking dish with lots of room. Mix parsley and onions and place around sheepshead. Sprinkle a little olive oil and dill on top. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake 12 minutes or until done. Serves 5.
Broiled Whole Sheepshead
• 1 whole sheepshead, dressed, about 3 to 5 pounds- salt and pepper-cup butter, melted- juice of 1 lemon- seafood seasoning
Prepare and clean a large sheepshead, scoring the sides deeply. Season with salt and pepper and broil, basting with oil. Meanwhile, melt half a cupful of butter and add to it the juice of a lemon and the seafood seasoning (to taste). Pour sauce over the fish and serve.
Spicy Sheepshead Nuggets
2 lb sheepshead fillets, cut into bite-sized chunks- 3 eggs, slightly beaten- 1/2 cup milk- 1/2 cup beer- 3 tbsps prepared mustard-1 tspn Tabasco sauce-2 tspns salt, divided- 2 tspns black pepper, divided- 1 tspn cayenne pepper, divided- 3 cups fine yellow corn flour- vegetable oil
In a mixing bowl whisk together eggs, milk, beer, mustard, Tabasco, and half of the salt and pepper. Place fish in egg mixture, coating well; cover, refrigerate, and let soak for about 1 hour. Mix corn flour with the remaining salt and peppers in a shallow, wide bowl. Preheat oil in deep fryer to about 370 degrees. Remove fish from mixture and dredge with corn flour mixture. Fry fish until the fish nuggets float to the surface and turn golden brown, taking care not to overcook. Place fish nuggets on paper towels to drain. Serves 4-6.
A bit harder to clean than most fish, the sheepshead harbors only the portion behind its bony rib cage as edible. But the extra care in cleaning is well worth the dining on your supper table.
Favored baits for catching sheepshead are mollusks (clams, mussels) , squid, live shrimp, ghost shrimp, or crustaceans such as fiddler crabs and barnacles. Notorious nibblers, Sheepshead anglers have a saying that “anglers must strike just before they bite” holds true for being bait stealer's for the most part, but are excellent fighters when finally hooked and landed.
A favorite catch by most “Winter Texans” who visit our lone star coast each year, the sheepshead are given another alias as a “Tourist Trout” for those snowbirds who enjoy catching and eating them. Either way you enjoy them the term of sheepshead is due to its looking like a Sheep's Head, complete with Bovid overbite.
Texas fishing limits allow five (5) fish per day with a 15inch minimum size limit.
The Texas state record is is a 26.5 inch fish at 15.2 lbs caught in '02 by Wayne Gilstrap in the Laguna Madre on live shrimp.
This Ed Snyder/Outdoors Article Sponsored by; Miss Nancy's Bait Camp- Crystal Beach Local News.com- Beach Triton News- Fishing World.com