Sheephead Fishing, Delacroix Louisiana
This is an easy fish to identify, with its very broad body, boldly marked with 5-7 wide, grayish-black vertical bars set on a light gray or white background. Any confusion can be set aside by inspecting the teeth, which look a great deal like human (or sheep) incisors. The dorsal and anal fins have large, very sharp spines.
The most interesting thing about sheepshead biology is their food habits. In a nutshell, they eat everything. A study in Texas showed them eating mostly plants and algae with a few crabs. In the Florida Everglades, fish over 3 inches long ate mostly mollusks (mussels, clams, etc) and barnacles. In Mississippi, researchers found that fish 6 to 14 inches long ate mollusks and plants. Larger sheepshead ate mollusks, crustaceans (crabs, etc), bottom worms and quite a bit of fish, mostly anchovies. They did note that when sea grasses or algae were plentiful, that sheepshead will occasionally feed heavily on them. A Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana study showed that by volume, 54% of their diet was plants, 19% mussels, 10% sponges, 8% clams, 3% croakers and other fish, and almost 2% mud crabs. Barnacles and blue crabs made up less than 1% each of their diet.
Sheepshead spawn in February, March, and April, with most spawning taking place during the last two months. Spawning takes place offshore, but near the coast. Some males and females begin spawning at 2 years old, but not all of the fish are mature enough to spawn until males are 3 years old and females are 4. Sheepshead will spawn several times during each season. Females will lay 14,000 to 250,000 eggs per spawn, with the average being 87,000 eggs. Sheepshead have been recorded as old as 20 years. Females grow more rapidly than males. At 20 years old, males average a little over 4 pounds and females about 5½ pounds. Growth is rapid until 6 to 8 years of age, after which growth slows dramatically, especially for males.