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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Sheepshead

Marine Fisheries

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Sheepshead

Sheepshead

Archosargus probatocephalus

AKA: convict fish

Description: Sheepshead are greenish-gray with a laterally compressed body marked by five or six vertical dark bars on the sides. They have prominent teeth with incisors, molars and rounded grinders that enable them to crush shellfish and sea urchins. They have strong, sharp spines on the dorsal and anal fins.

Size: Sheepshead are common at around 30 inches and 5 to 15 pounds. Citations are given for fish weighing 8 pounds or more.

Sometimes confused with: black drum, spadefish

Habitat: Sheepshead are found in saltwater and brackish coastal waters around jetties, wharfs, pilings, shipwrecks and other structures covered with barnacles, mussels and oysters.

Eating habits: Sheepshead have well-defined teeth to scrape and crush mollusks and crustaceans, such as fiddler crabs.

Life cycle: Sheepshead spawn offshore in the spring and return to nearshore and estuarine waters. Juvenile sheepshead are most abundant in grass flats and over muddy bottoms. As they grow, they begin to leave the grass flats and congregate with adults around jetties, breakwaters, piers and wrecks.

Fishing tips: Sheepshead are difficult to hook because they take the bait fast. To catch sheepshead, fishermen may choose hand lines, cane poles and spinning tackle and use fiddler crabs, barnacles, oysters, clams, crabs and shrimp for bait. Some anglers chum the area with crushed oysters or crabs before fishing. Many anglers fish next to a piling. Others anchor their boats adjacent to a jetty and allow the tide to carry the bait across the rocks.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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