Friday, May 23, 2014

For many, fishing from a boat is not an option, whether that be by preference or the lack of owning a boat, there is plenty of opportunity for all anglers in Florida by land and by boat. Bridge fishing puts you in position to battle with some big fish, so you have to be as prepared as possible. If you’ve ever gone bridge fishing then you know what I’m talking about. It’s an all out battle when you hook a decent fish, and scraps, cuts, bruises and lumps are all part of the game. More often than not, the fish usually get the better of the battle! The following are some guidelines to get you started. As you gain experience you’ll use what works best for you and your style.
Rod Choice
The rod is the most important piece of tackle in bridge fishing, as this is your sole resource for getting the fish in your hands. Pick the wrong rod and you may very well see your trophy fish waggle a fancy goodbye as you curse yourself a fool. Your rod, along with your skills as an angler will help you control the fish and keep them away from the pilings, where they will always run to cut you off. If the fish wants the piling it will usually win because it’s coming toward you and you’ll have no leverage until it goes beneath you. With that being said a wise choice for rod length is in the 9- to 11-foot class, which will help you begin putting reverse tension on the fish as it makes a dash for the pilings beneath you. That extra 11 feet of rod, plus your two feet of arm reach and perhaps another 2 feet of body stretch can get that tension started 15 feet from the pilings, thus possibly halting the fish from ever reaching the piling and turning it toward open water, or at minimum get its head toward the surface where it’ll lose some fighting power and maneuverability.
You’ll also want a rod with an 18- to 24-inch butt if you’re going after big game. The extra butt length enables you to secure the rod under your arm to help you control the fish better. As an added feature, look for a rod with an extended front grip (forward of the reel) as this will help relieve some of the arm tension over longer battles by supporting the rod further up toward the tip. Never put your hand on the actual rod, as they aren’t designed for bracing beyond the grips.

Fast action rods that are stiff throughout the range are usually best when going after big fish. You want your tension to be placed on the fish quickly. A slow action rod will bend more, giving up crucial ground and allowing your fish more progress toward the pilings. Look for rods with more guides spaced closely together, which disperses tension along the rod better as well as takes some pressure off the tip and other guides—very useful when using braided lines that have a tendency to cut into lesser quality guides.

You need a big reel that will hold plenty of line and has a good drag system and a fast retrieve. I prefer spinning class reels when bridge fishing for fish that have a tendency to run. If I am going after fish that tend to hunker down and pull for bottom structure such as grouper, I will switch to a conventional reel. I know many anglers like to light tackle fish, but doing so from a bridge is almost certain disappointment when you hook a good sized fish such as a snook or tarpon. Your drag tension depends solely on you and your abilities, your line size, and rod length. I prefer to beef everything up and really let my line and rod take the torque. I would rather not try to pull a big fish from a piling beneath me, as the angles just aren’t in your favor. Regardless of drag settings, meaning if you tighten it down or leave it somewhat loose, you’ll want a smooth drag system. A rough drag really stresses your line, guides and your arms through the jerkiness of the drag.

Line is probably the second most important feature, as your line must be able to match up well with your rod. You should use heavy line to help prevent break offs and unnecessary line frays from the pilings. If you’re thinking 30 pound test, then think again! I’ve seen anglers, myself included, lose many fish on 50 pound test, even test up to 100 can be easily broken off upon contact with a piling. Of course, the smaller your line the better odds you have of getting a strike, so the tradeoff is time or a lost fish—you make the decision. The goal is to keep the fish out of the pilings, and as mentioned above, by getting your body, arms, and rod length involved to start tension well before the fish reaches the pilings, the line must be able to handle a tightened down drag.
If catching large, hard-battling game fish is not your goal, you can get by with light- to medium-action spinning tackle and 12- to 20-pound-test line. As a rule of thumb, I like to double my leader line above my standing line, such as a 15/30 setup. Because of the barnacles on the pilings, always use fluorocarbon leader.

I personally like short shank hooks simply because there is less metal showing. Long shank hooks offer a bit more security by keeping the leader away from the teeth when lip hooked. One thing that should always remain constant is that you keep your hooks sharp and rust free. I haven’t found much difference, if any in color preference so I use whatever I have on hand. For some reason, of which I do not know, I do not use gold hook unless they are on the end of a bait catching rig.

I use both live and cut bait for bridge fishing, and my preferences are based on what I am going after. Keep in mind that there are small bridges, shallow water bridges, deep water bridges, tall bridges—all kinds of bridges. For more detailed fishing tactics and methods, please check out my latest book entitled “Florida Inshore Angler.” You’ll find an in depth section on all the above and more.
NOTE: Bait listed is in order of preference. Also keep in mind that this is a rule of thumb, as some days the order can drastically change.

Snook- pinfish, shrimp, small ladyfish, finger mullet
Spanish Mackerel-Threadfins, any other whitebait, shrimp
Snapper- 1-2 inch pinfish, shrimp, greenbacks
Grouper- cut sardines, grunt heads, squid
Pompano /Permit- Sand Fleas, fiddler crabs, shrimp, squid strips
Tarpon- pass crabs, threadfins

The most important thing about fishing live bait from bridges is that you must make your bait look as natural as possible! Small baitfishes rarely swim against a high current, or remain suspended 15 feet off the bottom in high current. Now that doesn’t mean that you won’t get a strike, it simply means that your chances drop drastically. Remember that predator fish will feed into the current!
Bottom Fishing: A good rig is to anchor your weight on the bottom of the leader line, and use a three way swivel that attaches your standing line to your leader line. Attach your bait to the side position on the swivel and allow enough line to get your bait a few inches off the bottom, but never longer than main leader. This presents a natural appearance by allowing your bait to swim down to the bottom as it would naturally do to get out of the current.

Free line: Cast your bait up current and let it come back to the bridge. This resembles natural bait movement.

Time & Tides
The tide, as with any fishing plays an important role. With bridge fishing you don’t have the ability to run with the tide like you would in a boat, so paying close attention here really helps in your success. Concentrate on the changing of the tide, as this is where you make success when bridge fishing. Look to score mostly 1 hour before and 1 hour after the tide change. This is when the current is a bit weaker and the bait begins to swim more freely. Also take note that the major feeding periods around structure usually occur about 1 hour before sunrise and 1 hour after sunset.

Landing your fish
Hopefully the above will enabled you the thrill of hooking into a trophy fish, but now how do you get that 20 pounder over the rail from a 20 foot bridge? If you’re not packing a line gaff then you better hope your fish remains calm, hasn’t frayed your line, is hooked securely, and you have a steady enough hand to pull the line up without any bouncing! A bridge gaff is much easier so I suggest that you either rig your own or go purchase one. A bridge gaff is a large weighted treble hook attached to a 1/4-inch rope with enough line to reach the target. An oversized snap ring is attached to the hook eye, and once you’ve settled down the fish you simply clip it on your line and lower it to the fish and set the hook!
Keep your tip up^
story courtesy of Allen Applegarth/Florida inshore Angler

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