- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Sheepshead have a compressed body with a shape somewhere between the round disk of a spadefish and the elongated form of a bass or trout. Coloration is silvery to yellowish white with an olive-brown back and five or six distinct black vertical bands on the side (from which they get their common name convict fish, with the oddity that some fish have a different number of stripes on their two sides. These stripes fade with age. The mouth is small to medium size and the have long, flat, incisor-like teeth that they use to crush the shells of mollusks and crustaceans.
Sheepshead are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the northern Gulf of Mexico but excluding the southern Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Bermuda and Grenada. Along the United States coast they are rarely found above the Carolinas in winter.
Sheepshead are associated with underwater structure such as jetty rocks, piers, pilings and bulkheads and can also be found near navigation markers. They inhabit water up to 50 feet in depth in bays, estuaries and along mangroves, and often enter brackish and even freshwater areas. Because of their feeding habits they can often be found around oyster bars and seawalls. The only migration sheepshead undertake is out to sea in cold months and back inshore at spring. They prefer water temperature at 60 F or above.
During the spawning season, which occurs in late winter or early spring, sheepshead assemble into schools and move into shallow water to deposit their eggs. Spawning occurs over debris, artificial reefs and around navigation markers. Eggs hatch in about 40 hours at water temperatures of 77 F.
Sheepshead have specially designed long, flat teeth for the crushing of mollusk and crustacean shells so they are able to consume the soft animal inside. Sheepshead are browsing feeders that forage by bouncing alone rock pilings, wharves, jetties and other structures. They travel in schools while they feed. Favored prey include oysters, mussels, sea urchins and crabs, especially fiddler crabs. They also consume numerous barnacles.
Sheepshead are considered excellent table fare, though they are difficult to clean. They are not particularly renowned for their fighting ability.
Because sheepshead are bottom feeders, the best strategies to catch them are bottom and float rigs fished around barnacle-encrusted structures. They do not bite readily on artificial lures so anglers should use live bait such as fiddler crabs, barnacles, oysters, clams or shrimp, sometimes used with sliding sinker rigs. During winter, sheepshead can be found along deeper artificial reefs at depths between 35 and 60 feet. Sheepshead have a very light bite and are renowned as bait stealers, and thus can be a frustrating species to fish. Anglers should also keep in mind that sheepshead have very stout and sharp spines and should be handled with caution.
- Sheepshead are the most popular member of the Sparidae family of porgies among saltwater anglers in the U.S.
- Sheepshead are famed nibblers of food and are thought to have inspired the fishing phrase anglers must strike just before they bite.