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Updated: 03/27/2014 08:00:01AM

Tough teeth

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By Capt. Ralph Allen

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By all accounts, it’s been a banner year for sheepshead in Southwest Florida — both in numbers and in size of fish. At piers and on bridges, on the reefs inshore and offshore, around docks and rocks in the canals, it doesn’t matter. Anglers have been experiencing the head-shaking, bulldog pull of strong sheepshead just about anywhere that oysters and barnacles can be found. Plenty of sizzling skillets have been graced with firm, mild sheepshead fillets. And plenty of knives have been dulled by sawing through the heavy scales and thick ribcage bones that encase those fillets.

Many newcomers to our area have been introduced to sheepshead in recent months, and just about everybody who sees a sheepshead for the first time is fascinated by the teeth. The jutting incisors draw much attention, but the pharyngeals — the rounded crushers that lie just behind the front teeth above and below — are really interesting because they’re what allow sheepshead to easily feed on crustaceans and shellfish. Shrimp, crabs, and even oysters and barnacles can be ground up and swallowed by those crushers, and woe to any unwary angler who gets a finger caught in the mouth of a fresh-caught sheepshead.

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