Other Names: Convict fish
Identification & Biology: The Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) is a member of the porgy and seabream species which are among the 120 species that make up the Sparidae family. The sheepshead is a large porgy. It reaches a maximum weight of about 20 pounds. Its coloration is silvery gray to yellowish white, with an olive-brown back and five or six dark slightly diagonal bars along each side. The stripes resemble that of a convict’s prison outfit. It uses its flat long teeth to crush mollusks and crabs and to scrape barnacles from rocks and pilings.
Its body is very deep yet compressed. The dorsal spines and anal fins are extremely sharp. Its diet consists of oysters, clams, and other bivalves, and barnacles, fiddler crabs, and other crustaceans. It has a very hard mouth with numerous rows of flat teeth that they use to crush up their food. Honestly, when you take a good close look at the teeth of this fish, it looks like it stole Grandpa’s dentures! This is quite a beautiful fish. They can grow to be 2 ½ feet long but they are commonly caught at about eight to ten inches long.
Range & Habitat: The Sparidae have a worldwide distribution in temperate and tropical waters, but are most common in warm coastal seas. It is found close inshore, often in the brackish zones of estuaries. In southern Florida, they can be found along inshore reefs, inside inlets, deep channels and along mangroves in the Florida bay area. The best time to fish for sheepshead are fall and winter during ebb and slack tides. During the spawning season, which occurs in the spring, sheepshead assemble into schools and move into shallow water to deposit their eggs. These species are also taken by bottom fishing structure and wreck fishing. The fisherman look for sheepshead along irregular bottom, wrecks, reefs and structure not too far from shore.
Market Description: This fish has a wonderful flavor, much like crab or lobster.
Flavor Profile: Small flake, firm flesh, delicate flavor
Fishing Technique: hook&line, trawling
Special Note: Named after its sheep like teeth and face
Suitable Sub: Triggerfish, Black Bass
Recommended Preparation: Good methods for cooking sheepshead fish include frying, sautéing, pan broiling, grilling, and baking. Sheepshead can also be used in soups and chowders, and they can even be used to make imitation crab meat. Because sheepies are very lean, you’ll need to cook them with fat of some sort. This might be butter, margarine, bacon drippings, olive oil, or vegetable oil. The fillets don’t have to be marinated… but if you choose to place the fish fillets in a marinade, you don’t have to leave them long. An hour is usually sufficient.