When I was diving a small natural reef in Southwest Florida I stumbled upon a sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) attempting to eat a smooth duck clam (Anatina anatine). It was neat watching this steadfast fish repeatedly pick up and drop the clam using its infamous human-like teeth to crush the bivalve.
Sheepshead are a popular saltwater fish belonging to the porgy family (Sparidae). These convict patterned fish are known for their great table fare and bait stealing abilities. Sheepshead can be found upstream in brackish rivers tolerating low salinities, intertwined beneath mangroves and bridge pilings or grazing near oyster and inshore reefs. The black drum (P. cromis) and Atlantic spadefish (C. faber) are often misidentified as sheepshead at first glance due to their similar coloration. The sheepshead is easily distinguishable by its human-like incisors that are used to shear barnacles off structures. These fish do not have chin barbels which are prominent in black drum and have a set of strong dorsal/anal spines which spadefish lack.
Sheepshead reach sexual maturity at about 2 years in age and have a known lifespan of at least 20 years. A common size for an adult sheepshead is around 14-18 inches in total length and weigh 1-8 pounds. The IFGA world record for sheepshead is 21 pounds 4 ounces caught in New Orleans Louisiana while the Florida record sits at 15 pounds 2 ounces caught in Homosassa.
Sheepshead are open year-round for harvest and current 2020 Gulf and Atlantic state and federal regulations are:
Minimum size limit: 12” total length (pinched tail)
Daily Bag Limit: 8 per person with a 50 per trip vessel limit only during the months of March and April
For information check out the FWC page on sheepshead https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/sheepshead/