My niece, Ali, and a sheepshead, with a smaller mouth. COLLINS DOUGHTIE

Nature has fascinated me since childhood, almost to a fault. Instead of looking straight ahead I find looking right, left, down or up allows me to catch glimpses of often overlooked marvels nature has spent millions of years evolving. 

The only time this might be considered a handicap is when walking down a crowded street. “Oops, sorry,” I say, as I plow into person after person – but overall I get to see pretty cool stuff. 

Just yesterday, my wife Karen and I were trying to salvage the plants in our yard that got whacked by that unseasonably cold period we had. Walking past a large planted pot right outside our back door, I noticed a perfectly camouflaged garter snake coiled near the top of the plant. 

I called Karen and asked her to take a look at the plant and, even though she was only a foot or two away, she didn’t see this resident beauty. Lord knows how long it had lived in that planter, but I suspect it has lived there for quite a while – and we walked by it daily none the wiser. 

Even after I scared it back down into the foliage, I came back outside an hour later and there it was in the exact same place. I think I am going to name it soon. 

As I mentioned in my last column, I plan to give you fisherman tips and techniques that might help you to come home with fresh fish for dinner. Having gone to other areas of the country, I know how hard it is to figure out the how’s, where’s and multitude of other things needed to successfully catch fish without spending days or even months figuring out the water in that area. It’s darn frustrating! 

This time I am going to concentrate on two of our local species, sheepshead and black drum, that might look almost alike but in fact are two very different species that from top to bottom require equally different ways to catch each of them. 

Both black drum and sheepshead have similar body shapes and what often confuses newcomers to these fish is both have nearly identical vertical black stripes along the length of their body. You might occasionally catch a black drum while fishing for sheepshead, but rarely do you catch sheepshead while fishing for black drum.

To correctly identify which is which, look at their head and, in particular, their mouth. Sheepshead have relatively small mouths due to what they dine on, but one dead giveaway are the chompers in their mouth. They have almost human-looking teeth and some are so perfect they would be an orthodontist’s dream. 

On the other hand, the black drum has soft rubbery lips, no teeth to speak of and, unlike a sheepshead’s smooth chin, a series of soft whiskers that dangle from that same area. 

Diets for two may overlap to a point but techniques for catching each require different hooks and other terminal tackle changes. One thing that is consistent is they both prefer structure, so that is where you should be wetting your line.

Starting with sheepshead, I use the same spinning rod loaded with 30-pound braid for most all our inshore fish. Set the drag tight. Your rod needs plenty of backbone but an extremely sensitive tip because these fish can strip a hook bare in seconds if you fail to watch even the slightest tick of the rod tip. 

I tell newcomers to sheepies to strike them fast and hard even if you think you see that rod tip move. The rig is simple. Using 20- or 25-pound fluorocarbon leader attach swivel above a foot or so above the hook. My go-to hook is a No. 1 Eagle Claw live bait hook. It is very small but is stout enough to handle those teeth that on lesser hooks can bite right through the hook. 

As for bait, fiddler crabs, clams, oysters or mussels are all on the menu. As for weight, carry 1.5-ounce to 2.5-ounce egg sinkers above the swivel using just enough to beat the tide. Fish straight down along pilings or structure, and when the sinker hits the bottom, reel it up one or two cranks. They are strong fighters, so be prepared to lose some rigs.

Black drum are a bit easier to catch. Maybe use a little longer leader and the same hook used for redfish. These bottom feeders just love stinky dead shrimp. 

While big sheepshead might be around 10 to 15 pounds, the state record drum weighed 89 pounds. 

Around inshore docks, drum average about the same as sheepshead. But, using the body of a blue crab with the legs and shell removed, and a larger hook and heavier rod and leader around the Broad River Bridge, for instance, giants are caught regularly. 

I hope this helps you put dinner on the table without buying some fish at the store and lying that you caught it. Hey, fisherman will do that!        

Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature.