Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sheep At Sea

 The Archosargus probatocephalus bite is on!
Grab some fiddler crabs and meet me at the nearest rockpile.

Captain Denny ties in to a good Cedar Key Sheepshead.

I sat on this post for about a month as a favor to the sheepshead of the Gulf of Florida.

During the spring, for a few short weeks, the sheepshead congregate around underwater structure in preparation for spawning. Even the smallest limerock ledge or rockpile might attract dozens of randy sheepshead.

Obviously, this makes for good fishing, but it can make for bad OVERfishing too.  I didn't want to advertise the fact that they were clumped together and waaaaay too easy to catch while that was the situation.

By now the party is over and the tired, happy sheepshead are dispersing again to places where they are not so easy for we fisherfolk to find.

We caught a bunch of them on this beautiful spring day, but only kept a small fraction of the overly generous legal limit, since it was spawning time.

Stripes like this on fish are called "disruptive coloration". It is a form of protective coloration where the "intent" is to break up your fishy outline rather than match some background color perfectly.

Fish books will say, "Sheepshead are also called 'convict fish' due to their stripes."  
If you say so, but I've been around sheepshead and sheepshead fisherfolk all my life and I have NEVER heard anyone call them convict fish.

I mean, I get it and all, but I just have never heard that name used.
Have you?

The business end.

This is the last thing a fiddler crab ever sees if it is careless in sheepshead country. The sheepshead is a nibbler. They seek out rocks, oyster bars, pilings, ... any kind of structure that might support barnacles or small crabs. Then they go to work ... nibbling with these specialized teeth.

A lot of sheepshead fisherfolk carry a flat blade shovel in their boat so they can scrape barnacles off bridge pilings to chum the water and  stir the sheepshead into a feeding frenzy.

Sheepshead are crustacean eaters and as you might expect of an animal that eats other delicious animals, they are fantastic table fare.

The meat is sweet. REALLY, it is.
The sweetness just jumps out at you when you bite into a bit of sheepshead

The sheepshead that we did keep went on to the ice immediately. The ice serves two purposes. Obviously it keeps the fish fresh, but I think plunging fish into a cold slurry is just about the most humane way to dispatch an ectothermic fish on those days when we do take some home to eat.

In another post, we'll chat about the cooking of sheepshead filets. This post is just about the gettin'.

(Miz S, go ahead and google myomeres and myoglobin so you are prepared for class.)

One of the neatest things about this fishing trip was the Seaview camera that Denny brought along. He's had it for a few years, but the thing keeps on ticking. It's a waterproof video camera with about a hundred feet of cable and an onboard viewing screen.


When the fishing lulled momentarily, Denny tossed the rugged little video camera over the side and then dragged it across the bottom until the tiny artificial reef came in to view. This reef is primarily made up of old concrete culverts and the fish seem to approve.

Check out the video below, but remember ... it is a video of a video.  The topside part of the Seaview camera is a small screen inside a cone shaped ... cloaking device (no, Trekkies, not that kind) .  You put your face up to the cone and watch the video without glare from the sun.

So, just imagine my face and my camera smooshed into the viewing cone video recording the video recording.

Denny brings it along on some of his charters so nonfishers or kids can fish watch while the fishing is going on. He says it is extremely popular and I can see why.

Immediately below is a still picture from the Seaview and below that is a short video clip.


Is that addictive or what?



threecollie said...

Oooh, they are really pretty fish! With teeth just like sheep, except that sheep don't have top teeth in front. Back in the day when I took care of standardbred race horses one of the yearlings at the farm, my favorite, was named Sheepshead, after the fish. He was sweet too, in his own way.

kevin said...

For some reason Sheepshead Charlie comes to mind when you mention sheepshead people.

I thought the mouth and teeth were the reason they were called Sheepshead. And I've never heard them called Convict fish either.

Very tasty no matter what you call them.

Funder said...

Well, they're colored exactly like convict cichlids! That's about all I've got though :)

Caroline said...

Those are quite the choppers!

Anne McCormack said...

Cool video! Glad you waited before putting up your post about this gorgeous fish.

Miz S said...

I immediately googled myomeres and myoglobin, and the 2nd search result was: "(Miz S, go ahead and google myomeres and myoglobin so you are prepared for class.)"

Very cool fish which I have never heard of.

Dude, are you still on break?

Sayre said...

A sheepshead was the first fish I ever caught! Very cool and very yummy!

Love the video - that's why people have fish tanks. You can just sit and gaze...

Dani said...

They always remind me of the freshwater frontosas. Pretty, pretty!

Thunder Dave said...

They're not very good looking, but they taste pretty good!

edifice rex said...

Very cool post! and what bizarre teeth on those fish! I must admit, I had never seen a sheepshead fish before.

Barbie said...

Num,num num... EdR not weird - PERFECT for what they are designed to do. Chomping some serious shellies. Anyway Convict fish are SO not these fish. Convict fish are freshwater. Those people need to go back to school! LOL

SophieMae said...

DAWG! Almost missed this one! Addictive, indeed! I watched 3 times before I dragging myself away to comment. It's been way too long since I had one of my favourites, since time immemorial, for supper. I have heard that they are sometimes called convict fish, but don't rightly recollect ever hearing anyone actually call them that in any other context.

You might want to mention, for the edification of your unenGulfed readers practising their Flarda-ese, the second s is silent. 8-}

Martini Whore said...

I LOVE me some river chicken!

Bill said...

Fishin and TV at the same time! Wow! Here I thought you were the outdoorsy type, but you are a close techie. Never heard the convict fish reference either.


Floridacracker said...

They are really striking even in black and white. :)

Sheepshead Charlie ... wow, I had not thought of him in decades.

They do! Most modern jail attire is not black and white striped anymore so the convict name may be confusing to today's kids.

The better to eat barnacles, my dear.

It's the least we could do since we were going to eat some of them.

Miz S,
LOL! I had to google it too and got the same results. You are famous!
Break was a month ago and just one week.

I know I can ... sit and gaze at fish that is.

They do! Funny but I never catch baby sheepshead in my nets.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Carnivore. :)

Just find some piling in Mobile Bay and drop a fiddlercrab baited hook next to em. :)

Fish school? :)

That is true, you almost never hear anyone say sheepS-head.

Well, who wouldn't? LOL! They are pretty amazing on the plate.

I am the outdoorsy techie type.
And yes, a hopeless Trekkie too.

Tree Hugger said...

Something you'd like here and at school-

Floridacracker said...

We have it up and running every afternoon in the media center!
It is wonderful.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Are you sure you didn't get this out of an aquarium. I have never seen such a thing. Those teeth remind me of Uncle George.

Miz S said...

Wow, I am terrible at stalking you. A proper stalker would know your spring break schedule. Mine started today PRAISE THE LORD!

rick said...

AKA (Minorcan Delight)

LaDivaCucina said...

Wow, what teef on those fish! Strange looking too. I want to catch some good eatin' fish, we only catch pin fish and I got bored of that so don't fish anymore. : (

Maybe I have to find a new fishin' hole? Can't wait to see how you cook 'em up!