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.
Nice article! Question… What’s the best bridge for fishing? I’m planning to go to Florida in a couple weeks, will love to catch a cuda like that one.
Thanks, you can do so at Channel 2, Channel 5, Long Key, Tom Harbor, and 7 mile bridge. Any of these are great to go fishing.
Long key bridge mm. Pylon
At the keys bridges you can catch permit by pylon #1 if you know how. It doesn’t matter as permit travel through all the pylons inspecting them for food.
Great article , I’m moving to tavenier in a few days and can’t wait to fish , this was very informative and clear thanks again.
I will be in Islamorada the last week of January. How is the bridge fishing this time of year? Any special considerations for the end of January?
Is always good to fish the bridges. A block of chum will get them close to the bridge. Might have a problem with sharks. Try getting very small pinfish in the grass flats at the beginning of the bridge to be used as live or dead bait. Don’t fish during a cold front, fish right before it or after it.
Helpful article! What time do you think is best to arrive if night fishing for snapper or grouper at one of these bridges?
Before sunset, if you can’t make it then one hour before the tide change. Hope it helps.
THANKS for the tips iam down here now I’ll give it a try?
You’re welcome, hope you catch many.
I always go to longkey. idk what it is one day it is on fire the other days i cant keep up with all the fish. i also go to #12 is that too far? so if u can tell me the better parts of the bridge to fish at this would help alot.
No is not too far, you can catch just about anything starting with snook, tarpon, snapper, permit, etc.. from the 1st pylon to the 6th. after that take away the snook but not always the case in Long Key. That basically applies to just about any of the bridges(some bridges are not that big). There is no secret spot just look for the rocks and the grass that tells us where the fish or the bait will be.
Great article. Thanks for sharing. I’m just starting to fish with my 2 girls that are 7 and 11 years old. Which bridge would be best for catching mangrove snapper? I imagine some bridges are better than others for kids. Thanks.
Thanks! Yes, Tom’s Harbour or Tom’s channel bridge are great for children since these have platforms, they are a short walk, and there are restroom facilities near by. There is usually a decent mangrove snapper bite from late afternoon to early morning. There are other species the kids will keep busy with like blue runners and mackerels. These do pass by from time to time.
Great advice and we’ll written. Will be in Marathon first half of October, bringing skiff but wife barfs when rough. What bridges and pylons for mangoes and Grouper. Are circle hooks required for lv or dead bait?
Hi and thanks! Atlantic regulations apply for all Monroe County state waters. So no circle hook is required, but I would recomend you use them as it makes it easier to release the fish that do not meet lenght requirements. A dehooker is required on board when fishing for reef fish. Mangrove snappers are all over the bridges so just pick a spot chum and fish the late afternoon to early mornings. Look to fish just outside the strong current in over 5 feet of water and near the pylons.
Thank you for the quick reply, does the current make a diff on chum slick, am sure just before or after tide change might be best? Tip jig with shrimp?
I live in Eastern NC and have a commercial gear license, thinking about de-capping blue crabs and quartering them, freeze in water and use fishfinder rig for them.
Being in Marathon at Key Colony estates should we try 7 mile or Conch bridge? BTW your website is best on bridge fishing info. Thank You so much. Capt. Ron
You’re welcome and thanks again. Yes, before and after tide changes is best. Blue crabs will work and you will catch tarpon and permit with them. 7 mile bridge is a great choice. Just watch your depth, look at the charts to be safe from running aground. You can catch pinfish over the grass flats with sabikis tipped with squid.
Coming down from WI Jan 27- 30 really looking for someone to give good tips and possibly would be available for guiding from bridge thanks for your consideration.
Hi Shawn, I don’t guide but if I am fishing that week you are welcome to join us. If I do fish the bridges that week it would be the 29th and the 30th. I will get in touch with a local boat captain that also does bridge fishing in the keys, perhaps he can help you.
Thank you for your excellent commentary on bridge fishing. Am heading down tomorrow to Marathon for a 3/2 day stay so I have to hit the ground running. Your info helps a lot. The bridges are the backup plan if weather precludes off-shore. So I may not make it to a bridge this time but will have my gear and do look forward to future trips where I learn all the nuances and become a competent bridge angler. Can you recommend a bridge? Also, how important are the tides and how strong is the current? Thanks again
Hi, Long Key is awesome, but if you do not like to walk so much the Tom’s Harbor bridge is small and the variety of fish is good just make sure to take some live small size pinfish up to 3″ long. You can catch them anywhere there is a grass bed near most bridged or the side of the road. The tides are very important, 1 hour before the tide change til one hour after the tide change. Will be the best hour. The tide can be brutal at full moon or new moon, is not bad after that but sometimes you will need an 8 ounce bank or egg sinker to keep the bait down. Good luck!
I want to first start by saying thanks for taking the time and doing this article. I’m taking my 2 boys down for spring break. We’ll be staying at big pine and then in marathon a few days later. I normally take a boat in tow but unfortunately due to engine failure we’ll be doing some shore fishing. Have you heard of any action happening down there. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Jorge
Thanks, you will be coming down in a great time for shore fishing. At Big Pine key you can go to Spanish Harbor bridge and No Name Key, while at Marathon try under the Vaca Cut bridge. Tarpon fun, snapper, yellow jacks (use shrimp or small pin fish), and other species will be after the mullets moving. You won’t need mullet, artificials and other baits will do.
Thanks for the quick response. My boat should be back up and running by mid April. I normally head out of P.E. or Haulover and if you ever wanna come along just let me know….always room for 1 more. Have a good one and tight lines.
You’re very welcome and thanks for the invite, I’ll keep you in mind.
Awesome article! Going to head down and stay on Conch Key in late June and will have a kayak available so any advice on how to fish the bridges or just general info? Would love to be able to catch a decent sized tarpon or a big shark while I am down there.
Well, you will be at an awesome area. Stay around Long Key and head to the grass flats to catch some decent size pin fish, as big as you can get them, put them in a bucket with big holes ( drag in water behind kayak). And simply look for the Tarpon rolling, slack tide is great and as soon as it changes start drifting the pinfish, shrimp, or crabs under the arches or between bridges. Hook one up and hold on. Sharks are all over the bridge, catch any fish and swim it. Jacks, snappers, small stingrays will work. Also you can go to any charter and ask them for the carcasses and use those.
Thanks Cudaman ! For all the great Info. We will be coming down on July 22 and was wondering how the fishing will be at that time, and what type ? And is there any good grass flats you can wade from off the bridge channels. Redfish etc….
Thanks so much ! Rick
Hi Rick, expect plenty of summer baits on any bridge and a good amount of snappers. Good grass flats to wade from are the Seaoats Beach at mile marker 74 for bone fish and then the beaches at Long Key park. If you venture close to Key West then try the flats around the South side of the 7 mile bridge. Not much redfish around the areas but you can find a few. Mostly bonefish, seatrout, snappers, jacks, snook, and tarpon. Good luck!
Thank you so much for the info. Cudaman !!! Your the best ! Cant wait to get down and do some Island Time !!!
I’m the guy that takes pictures of boats. Which bridges are going to have the most boat traffic?
Try Chanel 5 bridge and 7 mile bridge, but boat traffic is always good on all major bridges. Small flats boats small bridges like Chanel 2 have good traffic. Long Ke also sees it’s good share of small boats.
I will be coming down on vacation in mid July to marathon. I have been reading up on bridge fishing for tarpon. I will be staying 5 min from the 7mile bridge on the marathon side. I was wondering what tips you could give me? I’m really looking for what bridges or areas to fish from, what bait to use, when and what time to fish and where to cast and things of that nature. I am very interested in hookin up with a nice tarpon. I would greatly appreciate you’re Florida angling expertise!
Hi David, 7 mile bridge is great. Spanish Harbor and the footings of Bahia Honda are too. In Marathon best is Vaca Cut. Night time at the tide changes. Cast just on the outside of the shadow line of the bridge. For that you will need to fish from under the bridge. Cast a nice 2 ounce white buck tail jig or big plugs in the black or redhead/white will work too. Good luck!
Any hints on Cudjoe from a boat? Which bridge(s) do recommend? 1 houtbefore tide change? Great article – thks.
Hi, you got all the choices. Spanish Harbor on Big Pine Key or Niles Bridge around mm 25 would be my choices. Lots of Tarpon, snook, snappers, mackerel, and the occasional grouper and Permit around. Good luck!
Great article. I am going bridge fishing in FL in a few weeks. How do you release larger fish from bridges ? Just dump back over side or lower back down w net ? Reason I ask if perhaps hooked up with cuda would want to release with best chance of survival if it was brought all the way up. Also of course the bridges would be of varying height above the water line
Sorry I got to this so late, but for small fish we normally just drop them back in the water and you will see them swim without a problem but for big fish we do use a drop down net.