Top 3 Types Of Bait For Targeting Sheepshead

Note: This very popular post on the top baits for targeting sheepshead was originally published on September 9, 2022. But since then, we’ve had TONS of very helpful info added to the comments, so be sure to read the comments section too. Enjoy!

What is your go-to bait for targeting sheepshead?

Sheepshead are starting to show up again in mid-Atlantic waters!!

So what do you need to know to target these fish?

Find out below!!

Bait For Targeting Sheepshead [VIDEO]

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Sheepshead Feeding Habits

Younger sheepshead have slightly different diets than older, larger sheepshead.

The cut-off point is typically around 14-15 inches.

When sheepshead are younger and smaller, they focus more on eating mollusks like clams, mussels, and oysters.

Once they reach the 14-15 inch mark, they start to diversify their diet and expand the menu.

They will begin to target crabs and sand fleas as well as minnows or blood worms.

1) Shrimp

Shrimp is an outstanding bait for pretty much anything that swims inshore.

The only main drawback to using shrimp are nuisance fish and poachers that want to steal the shrimp off your hook.

However, shrimp are an absolute must because sheepshead will seek out and eat shrimp.

Shrimp can be live or frozen and I prefer to rig them up on weighted jigs.

It is a quality presentation for inshore fish and helps prevent possible snags and hang-ups.

A great way to maintain a shrimp presentation without the real thing is using the Power Prawn USA.

The best time to switch over to artificial for sheepshead is when the tide slows down and you can creep up on bridge pilings and structures without battling the current.

2) Sand Fleas

Sand fleas are an excellent bait up and down the east coast.

Live sand fleas or even dead ones work best but you could also fish with frozen sand fleas as well.

Keep in mind, that frozen sand fleas need time to thaw out a bit, or else they may thaw underwater and fall off the hook.

As far as rigging, as mentioned previously with rigging shrimp, I prefer to use bottom sweeper weighted jigs.

The sickle-shaped hook design is perfect for rigging up sand fleas.

You don’t want much hanging off the hook for a fish to come and steal your bait.

Once I rig the sand flea on the hook, I twist it around and on top of the weight so it rests just underneath the barb of the hook.

Now, the fish has to put the hook in their mouth if they want to eat the sand flea.

Sand fleas often die quickly when using them as bait and the most common reason for this is they die from the urine that accumulates in the container fishermen keep them in.

Make sure you are keeping an eye on live sand fleas throughout your trip.

3) Fiddler Crabs

There are so many species of crabs out there that whatever is available in your local tackle stores will work.

However, if you have the option, always go for the fiddler crabs when targeting sheepshead.

Usually, you have to go out and catch them so if there is a local store that sells them near you, take advantage!

As far as size goes, the dime to nickel-sized fiddler crabs are best.

The smallest fiddler crabs hook into the biggest sheepshead.

When rigging fiddler crabs on hooks, I always use the bottom sweeper style jigs as mentioned above.

When it comes to rigging, I like to slide the hook into the last two legs of the crab until the barb is secure.

Then the crab almost ‘hovers’ above the jig.

So when a fish comes to eat the crab, they end up snagging the hook in their lip as well.

Also, it is definitely helpful to remove the larger claws off of fiddler crabs so as not to give them anything to grab a hold of the hook with.


how to catch sheepshead using live shrimp

Sometimes the smallest baits catch the biggest fish!!!

Sheepshead are so much fun to target and with surging numbers up in the Northeast, it is a perfect time to get out and look for these fish.


Do you have any questions about targeting sheepshead or other questions about types of bait?

Let me know what you thought of these tips down below!!

And if you know someone who wants to learn more about the top 3 types of bait for targeting sheepshead, please TAG or SHARE this with them!

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Stew Headrick
4 months ago

I have a lot to learn.

4 months ago

Great fishing tips. What are some of the best ways to cook ?

Ted Berrian
1 year ago

What weight and hook size are recommended?

James Chiras
1 year ago

Good info

Darin OBrien
1 year ago

Excellent Intel on how hook and present the baits. Thank you

Mark Johnson
1 year ago

Great tips, and I have to agree with you completely…..shrimp and sand fleas have nev er failed in 40 years of FL fishing when it comes to Sheepshead.

Richard Natoli
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Johnson

Thanks Mark. Great to hear validation. It just goes to show that the baits that work in the Mid-Atlantic work all the way down through Florida.

1 year ago

Where on the Northeast Mainly New.york.can I find sand fleas?

Richard Natoli
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeffrey

You can find your own sand fleas on the beaches in the wash all the way up to around Cape Cod. To do this you can either just dig down into the sand as the water retreats or you can use a sand flea rake (which is my suggestion). Many bait and tackle shops along the coast are likely to carry sand fleas as well. I’d recommend reaching out to a few local shops to see if they carry them. If they are difficult to find in your area I would suggest raking your own on the beach and freezing them for use later. While frozen sand fleas are not quite as good as live…they are still a solid bait for sheepshead.

Steven Free
1 year ago

Yea my only problem is I sick at catching anything with bait live or dead most probably because I have zero confidence in baitand don’t have the patience because bait fishing is a waiting game that’s probably why I never really liked deer hunting that much either I have always been a stalker so small game and or artificials that I use and am always on the move have always worked for me but I rarely caught anything with bait and even though I dont hunt anymore considering how hot it is here in Florida I do fish my rear off I have seen Luke and Joe both do a segment on fishing artificial fiddler crabs for sheepshead and I do have some but even with lures I still hear fishing for sheepshead is still a waiting game maybe someday we will just have to see thanks for the info and all you do😉👍

Richard Natoli
1 year ago
Reply to  Steven Free

I have to laugh when I read your post Steven because I am equally as impatient with bait fishing. I do my sheepshead fishing in short bursts of an hour to 2 hours at a time to combat the waiting game. I have also found sheepshead to be less of a waiting game than many other species. As I fish a structure I work the water column on the way down and only allow the bait to sit at one depth for about 30-45 seconds, then I drop it 3 feet. If I’m not getting bites I’m out of that spot within 5-10 minutes max and onto the next. Usually you’ll know if they are there and biting within seconds of the bait hitting the right depth.

Neal Hagood
1 year ago

Great video! Very informative! Some serious rod bending slabs!
I agree with Ricky & would also like to see the actual bait hooking methods in action.
A general question for all/any… For keeping/eating sheepies, what is the best size range. I know this for many other species, but realized I have no clue for best eating size sheepshead.
Thank you! & Tight lines!

Richard Natoli
1 year ago
Reply to  Neal Hagood

Thanks for the feedback Neal. I wish I could tell you the best eating size from personal experience, however as with the fish in the video I have released 100% of the sheepshead I’ve caught. Based on feedback from the guys I fish with they prefer the 3-5lb sheepshead if they are going to keep one…but again I can’t tell you from my own personal experience.

Mark Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Neal Hagood

Neal….we require a minimum of 15″ on my boat, here in SW FL. Anything smaller is unfit for getting much usable meat off of. 25 years ago here in FL there were people keeping 5 gallon buckets of 8″ fish not realizing you’d only get about a quarter size filet off it. With a minimum of 15″, the whole fish usually feed one person. The problem with sheeps is the huge chest cavity! If you can get them 18″ even better! Cheers!

Last edited 1 year ago by Mark Johnson
Dell Murray
1 year ago

There is another bait that almost out fishes all the others, that is the Sea Roach. As kid I often fished the old Titusville fishing pier and Sheepshead was my target. Not having much money to spend I caught sea roaches for bait. Thier soft bodies released a lot of juices when hooked and the sheepshead loved them. Fished on a homemade stout short cane pole with 30lb mono right up against the barnacles of the pilings it was a deadly combo. Great fun. Try catching some sea roaches at the shoreline in the seaweed and rocks. Give them a try!

Richard Natoli
1 year ago
Reply to  Dell Murray

Thanks Dell that’s an interesting one! I’ll try to grab some next time I am out on the water. Thanks for the tip!


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