You don’t have to have a boat to get to some of this winter’s best fishing. Bridges, docks and piers provide anglers who don’t have a boat or don’t want to bother with one some excellent fishing opportunities.
Besides being a convenient access point over the water, their structure provides the perfect habitat for fish. A large variety of small baitfish, crabs, barnacles and other crustaceans call these pilings home and provide gamefish a refuge and an ambush point for feeding. The bridges that span the local passes are natural corridors for fish like pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and bluefish. These species migrate from the gulf to the local bays, feeding around the bridge pilings and fenders. Action on one species or another can be found year-round around local structures. That doesn’t mean that they are for shore-bound anglers only because boaters will find them a great place to fish too.
The old saying that the best time to go fishing is any time you can is a good one to follow. However, if you have the luxury of picking your time and tide, a morning incoming tide on bridges that span the passes is hard to beat. The second best time would be a late outgoing tide. Timing your trip to coincide with the beginning or end of the tide cycle will make it easier to deal with the often strong currents that course through the passes. That doesn’t mean you’re restricted to those times and there are ways to rig that will allow you to deal with any tidal stage. Many docks and piers don’t as strong a tidal flow but look for times when the water is moving.
When fishing the bridges, a medium weight spinning outfit is perfect. At least, depending on the species you’re targeting, a 10- to 12-pound outfit is recommended since you’ll have to hoist your catch from the water to the bridge. There are special nets available that can be lowered to help with this operation, but it is one more piece of equipment you’ll have to transport. With most catches a careful hand over hand retrieve will work just fine and your mobility will not be restricted. You can go lighter when fishing docks and piers but you’ll need to be able to control your catch when they get near the pilings.
Depending on your quarry, a few lures will suffice. Live bait is another option, but keeping it alive poses some problems. Swimming and diving plugs are effective but I prefer to shy away from treble hooks. One of the most effective lures is the jig. When the current isn’t particularly strong a jig tied directly to a 30-pound section of leader will work perfectly.
If the tide is strong, when fishing in or near passes, a weight will help get the lure down in the water column where most of the action occurs. To keep the weight from interfering with the jig, tie a section of 40-pound leader with a sliding egg sinker between two small swivels. Then add your leader and jig below. This rig can be also be used to get lures or live bait to the bottom. Another advantage of this rig is that as it is being worked across the bottom it sends up a small puff of sand that attracts predators like pompano.
Some anglers tie a short section of leader from the jig to a smaller jig of fly. One of the advantages to fishing from a bridge is the ability to easily move from one spot to another. This allows the angler to try near the pilings, on the edges of the channel, tide lines and areas where striking fish might be found.
If the action is slow or you’re exploring a bridge and pass for the first time, work both sides of the bridge. Vary your retrieve, working the lure fast and slow, exploring the water column. With obvious differences, the same applies to docks and piers.
Spanish mackerel and bluefish, two common species that frequent local bridges have sharp teeth and can cut through monofilament leaders. There are two options to protect your lure. One is to use a short strand of wire leader. The other is to use long-shanked hooks. A wire can keep fish from biting if the water is clear but you’ll lose a few rigs if you fish without it.
Whatever your fishing style, don’t pass up a trip to local bridges, piers and docks. The action can be spectacular and the effort required is far less than an outing in a boat. Anglers should be vigilant of the traffic when fishing bridges and always remember to look behind before casting. Some good locations to target include Longboat Pass, the Rod & Reel Pier, the Bradenton Beach Pier, the Anna Maria City Pier and the Manatee and Cortez bridges.
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