Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources announced a new state-record sheepshead was caught Sept. 17 from Tangier Sound. Angler Brian Summerlin from the small town of Princess Anne in Somerset County caught the fish from Chesapeake Bay’s eastern shore waters, just north of the Virginia state line.
“I thought it was a black drum at first, due to the way the fish was fighting with some big head shakes, but then I saw it was a very large sheepshead as it surfaced near the boat,” Summerlin said.
Summerlin knew his oversize fish was a contender for a state record after noting the current Maryland fish stats online. He then took his catch to Sea Hawk Sports Center in nearby Pocomoke City, where it was unofficially weighed and photographed.
From there Summerlin transported his record-size sheepshead to the Kool Ice and Seafood Company in the Chesapeake waterfront town of Cambridge for official measuring. There it tipped the certified scales at an official 16.6 pounds, with a length of 26.25 inches.
It tops the previous Maryland sheepshead record weighing 14.1 pounds, caught Aug. 9, 2020 by Daniel Mastronardi Jr. from southern Chesapeake Bay, who was using a crab for bait in 15 feet of water. (Curiously, Maryland keeps separate records for different water bodies; Summerlin’s qualifies as the Chesapeake Bay record. Another state-record sheepshead for the Atlantic division that weighed 18 pounds was caught in the Ocean City Inlet in 2017.)
Summerlin also used a soft crab for bait, and his new sheepshead record was caught in 15 feet of water, too. The crab was fitted to a sliding sinker “fishfinder rig” with an 8/0 circle hook. He used spinning tackle with 60-pound test braided line and a 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader.
Summerlin had been catching a mix bag of black drum, striped bass, bluefish, and other species before boating his state record-breaking sheepshead.
Sheepshead are a highly-sought marine sportfish, avidly targeted by anglers throughout their inshore, and near-shore ocean range. They have light-colored delicate flesh and are valued as table fare.
Sheepshead have teeth that look oddly similar to sheep’s teeth, hence their common name. They have hard plates in their mouths for crushing shells when feeding on oysters, mussels, snails, barnacles, and other crustaceans. Their teeth and hard mouth structure make them particularly difficult to hook, and they can be spooky, stealthy targets for anglers, who target them around submerged rocks, pilings, bridge abutments, and reefs.
Sheepshead range widely throughout the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, extending as far south as Brazil and north to New York. Much of the angling effort for sheepshead is in the southeast, from Maryland through the Carolinas and Florida and along the Gulf Coast, though record fish have been caught as far north as New Jersey.
The IGFA all-tackle world-record sheepshead weighed 21-pounds, 4-ounces, caught by Wayne Desselle in New Orleans in Apr. 1982. He was using 20-pound test line and shrimp for bait.
Aside from Desselle’s all-tackle 21-pound 4-ounce fish, Summerlin’s 16.6-pound Maryland record sheepshead is larger than any other current IGFA line class record.