Last Updated on January 20, 2023 by Eric Bonneman
Crystal River is one of the most active inshore fisheries found anywhere, during any time of year. Sheepshead climbs to the top of the list fairly quickly among the species we like to focus on in winter. As we roll deeper into winter, sheepshead start getting really active inshore, making it the perfect time for targeting them during wintertime charter trips. Let’s look at the “when and how” for targeting this fun and tasty species along The Nature Coast.
Sheepshead Season in Crystal River
The primary months for targeting sheepshead in Crystal River are December, January, and February. Though ramp-ups in inshore sheepshead activity can start in November, the excellent fishing can last until March. The best thing about this style of fishing, especially starting in January, is you can target a mixed bag in one day. Alongside sheepshead, healthy winter reds are out there; seatrout and pompano can be targeted simultaneously.
Sheepsheads love two things, structure and crustaceans. Thanks to barnacles, nearly any structure can attract sheepshead. While traditionally, anglers will target sheepshead on bridge and dock pilings; oyster beds, rock formations, and mangrove root systems can also attract sheepshead.
The go-to bait for sheepshead is shrimp. Artificial lure anglers will find that scented soft plastics, such as Berkley Gulp Shrimp, can achieve similar results.
Bait Rigs for Sheepshead
When utilizing shrimp, a weedless and lightly weighted setup is the most popular (also known as the Texas Rig). This one involves just a simple bullet weight (3/16 oz will work in most applications, but this can be adjusted up or down for conditions) on the leader above the hook and a J hook (or Octopus Hook) in sizes between #1 and 1/0 (depending on the size of your shrimp).
Once that setup is together, the tail is broken off the shrimp, and the hook is sent through the body (starting where the tail was). The hook is then rotated and brought back through the bottom of the body, about 1/4 of the way down. The hook is then pulled until the eye of the hook is back out of the tail area, but the tip of the hook is still in the meat- facing up. The hook should now be set so that the shrimp is backward (or facing the opposite way of line retrieval) with the weight resting just above the hook eye. This creates a weedless setup.
Other Common Bait Setups
Another option is bottom-weighted rigs. These rigs are similar to “dropper rigs,” except utilizing just one hook and no three-way swivel. A leader is made with a bank weight tied to the bottom, and a smaller leader that is tied above the weight, up the leader, with a hook tied to the end. This allows the bait to drop in deeper waters or fast currents but leaves the shrimp dangling in the target zone off the ground.
Another prevalent and straightforward option is to freeline a live shrimp on a hook. No weights, just a leader and hook set through a live shrimp that is allowed to swim around.
Let’s Go Fishing!
With his extensive knowledge and experience fishing in the Crystal River, Ozello, and Homosassa areas, Captain Louie promises to give you the most productive and enjoyable day possible. His specialties include sight fishing for the famous Florida redfish, tarpon, tripletail, and cobia, casting lures for trout, plugging for grouper, setting live and cut baits out for sharks, throwing crabs for black drum, and anything that makes the drag produce that sound that we all love so much.
With his passion for fishing and his goal to make the fishing adventure memorable for his clients, you’re sure to have a great time on the water with Captain Louie. If you’re ready to experience some of the best inshore fishing that all of Florida has to offer, book a trip with Captain Louie Argiro of Florida Fishing Adventures.