I love fishing from the bridges in the Florida Keys. There is especial feel to it. At times I wish I could explain in more detail how it feels to fish in these special places. Sometimes you are the only person for hours fishing in a spot. The awesomeness of the ocean view as if viewing it from a Penthouse at cloud level except that in the bridge you are at water level which makes you feel like the king of the ocean. Sometimes is not just the catching of fish that pushes us to go fishing. Sometimes it is the sense of self fulfillment allowing us to get closer to our selves or to nature as a whole is what keeps us fishing. Well, lets get to the why we are reading this article. So why write an article on fishing the bridges? isn’t it the same as fishing from a pier? Lets just say that most fishing piers go out into the sea, the bridges on the other hand stand in between islands in the sea. Fishing is very similar but not quite for starters people think that there is not much sophistication when it comes to bridge fishing, but let me tell you it is an art form in its own right. There are special tools that can help you take all of your equipment with you, special tackle you need to use depending on what bridge you are fishing, and special tools that can help you land the fish, so lets take a look at those items first and then we will talk about the fishing it self.
Bring a cart, any type of cart will do. I used to have a garden cart that was very handy but it was heavy so I purchased an aluminum fishing cart. It makes life so much easier. Your local hardware store also has some aluminum hand carts that can help if you lack space in your car. These carts can be taken apart and put back together when you arrive at your fishing location. Another type of cart that is very usable but do not last long are the supermarket shopping cart they sell for less than 20 dollars. You know the ones to carry your groceries home, not the ones people take from the supermarket, LOL.
With bridge fishing long stout rods are essential but not a rule, 30lb test line will hold, but the more you fish in those bridges the heavier you will go depending on the species you are fishing for on those bridges. Spectra or braid is great line but mono seems to work better from the bridges when a fish decides to go under the footings that are full of sharp barnacles, so lets break it down by what type of fishing we will be doing:
Snapper and Grouper fishing: I like to use an 8 to 9 foot fishing rod. On my conventional reels I use 30 lb test line and 5 to 8 ounce egg or bank sinkers. When using spinning gear a 7′ rod would be a minimum and I do prefer a fast action type rod. On my smaller spinning reels I use 10 to 17 lb test line using 1/4 ounce to 2 ounce sinkers. I usually use a fish finder rig with 40 lb test leader on my snapper conventional rod, it allows the fish to take the bait and not feel the weight of the sinker. I like using circle hooks since the fish will basically hook them selves as they try to run off with the bait. For groupers I use my heavier conventional reels. I use 50 lb test line and 5 to 8 ounce egg or bank sinkers and 6/0 circle hooks. I also use a fish finder rig, but with 50 to 60 lb test leader when fishing for groupers. Many people have the mentality of “if I cast farther I have a better chance to get the fish” take that out of your mind and take a look below the bridge at the footings to be precise, that’s where most of the fish will be. At the footing of the fishing bridge or the driving bridge. If you like casting far then try casting next to the electricity poles that are about 100 yards from most bridges. There is a lot of action in that line of poles, especially sharks. Also look for dark patches as these might be rocks, reef, or grass beds where the fish hunt. Another great way of getting into the snapper fishing action under the bridge is to use spinning light tackle with troll right jigs (hookup lures), these jigs have a heavier bottom making it easy for your shrimp or strip of white bait (sardines, etc) to rest on the bottom in a way for the fish to notice it and pick it up easier, presentation is key. These type of jigs also help with less snags on the bottom.
Mackerels and Jacks: Spinning gear is best for these type of fish. silver spoons, sidewinder jigs, gotcha jigs,
1/8 of an ounce crappie jigs, 1/4 ounce white or flashy bullet jigs will work for them. If the jacks are big then take out you heavy conventional and a live sardine or live pin fish and get ready to have some fun. Sometimes you will not see the mackerels so just blind cast every now and then and you will see them swiping your jigs. You can use a #3 wire (less than 30lb test) if you start getting cut off, but do not use it at first and you may get more of their attention. If the current is too strong and you cannot use the jig as you normally do from a pier or a boat then try and allow the jig to flow with the current letting line go little by little, give it a few jerks. make sure you do so under the arches of the bridge and slowly let the line go and move left or right. there will be a point where the jig should start going towards the bottom. here is where you will need to jig it up and down almost like a yoyo style. With crappie jigs you will need to have little wind and little current. All you will have to do is cast it as far as you can and twitch it and twitch it until you see the mackerels or jacks going for it, if they miss it is because you rate of twitching is off a little, try to have a common rhythm going on since these fish are good mathematicians, they calculate where their pray is going to make and take a swipe at it. So make sure there is some sort of rhythm going on so they know where to strike.
Permit or Tarpon fishing: I also like to use an 8 to 9 foot sturdy fishing rod. On my heavier conventional reels for this type of fishing I use 50 lb test line and 5 to 8 ounce egg or bank sinkers and 6/0 circle hooks. For the tarpon and permits you can use a single bait, blue crabs, but calico crabs from the beach do work as well. You do not have to cast far to catch them, just throw the crabs near the pylons or under the bridge. If you want to have fun with Tarpon and not land them just flatten the barb of the circle hook and use shrimp or live thread fin herrings. you will get them to take the bait, they will run and do their famous jump where they will shake the hook right off. Sometimes it will take a couple of jumps but they will shake the hook off.
Barracudas: I love catching them on artificial lures, tube lures like the home made one below are great fun as
you do get to see them follow it and hitting it. As opposed to fast retrievals I use a very slow approach twitching the rod every now and then. The twitching action causes a reaction from the cuda to hammer the lure at great speed. Have a stout spinning rod for this since they like to go under the bridges at very fast speed, hence the reason I always recommend long rods for fishing these bridges. You can also catch cudas with big silver spoons, plastic sardine look a like lures such, and off course live bait. Catching them on live bait is best to use palm size blue runners, big thread fin herrings, grunts, or if you want to sacrifice a legal size snapper then that is your choice. make sure your live bait has a float about 2 to 3 feet from your bait. this will ensure that your bait does not swim and hide by the structure and will stay very visible to the intended pray. Black Tip sharks can be caught this same exact way. Another thing when using live bait for toothy critters is to ensure that you are using wire leader, the thinnest the better. But cudas can cut through anything below 40 pound test wire, so be aware of that. A great thing to do is to make sure your drag isn’t too tight, if it is you run the risk for the line to snap. Never leave a rod unattended when fishing live bait, if a big shark, ray, tarpon, or cda pick up the bait they might flip the rod over the side and all you will hear is zzzzzzz, flop! When I fish live bait the rod is always on my hands otherwise I place it in one of my fishing cart;s rod holders with loose drag but tight enough for the fish to hook it self and make the initial run.
A 7′ light tackle rod with 6 pound test line for bait and small mackerel fishing. Sabiki rigs with 1/2 ounce weights.
You really do not have to buy bait to go fishing on these bridges. You can catch your own. Get there before sunrise and take a lantern so you can lower it close to the water. The light will attract sardines, thread fin herring, some times mullet, and even goggle eyes in the summer months when the summer baits congregate in the shallows. The use of #4 to #6 sabiki rigs is very common. Also the bait can be at time visible during the daytime. Look for the shadow lines and if you see little dark dots cast your sabiki there jig it a few times and you will be able to catch some bait.
If you do not have a lantern then you can fish for pin fish. All you need is a small block of squid, you’ll be using only one or two squids. Cut the tentacles in very small pieces to bait the sabiki rig. Cast it out in the areas that are dark close or away from the bridge. These darker areas are usually grass flats where the pin fish congregate.
From time to time you will see schools of ballyhoo, if you have an 8′ cast net you will have the chance to net a few, if not then just cast a sabiki rig into the school and one may get tangled in it.
Landing Fish: Bridge gaffs will do for toothy critters but a landing net is much better since it can also help with the release of a fish.
Below is an sample of a Troll Right jig that can be used for Snapper, grouper, snook, as well as many other species.