THE WA­TERS UN­DER THE BRIDGE

TOP TAC­TICS TO LAND GAME FISH AROUND BRIDGE PILINGS, FEND­ERS AND AD­JA­CENT WA­TERS

Sport Fishing - - GAME PLAN -

Bridges bring out the beasts of in­shore wa­ters. While high above, cause­ways pro­vide trans­porta­tion for mil­lions of com­muters; be­low, the py­lons and foun­da­tions of­fer safety and food for marine am­bush feed­ers — an ap­peal­ing rest stop for full-grown in­shore sport fish.

One of the trick­i­est as­pects to fish­ing bridges in­volves pulling fish away from the con­crete, metal, wood and rub­ble. If you plan on fish­ing bridges, make sure your tackle is up to the task. Whether in the At­lantic, Gulf or Pa­cific, bridge-fish­ing en­thu­si­asts should uti­lize the unique mix of deep water, cur­rent and struc­ture avail­able un­der­neath lo­cal bridges and cause­ways. The tar­gets and lo­cale might dif­fer, but chances are you can uti­lize the proven tac­tics high­lighted here.

TIDE OR NOTH­ING

Re­cently, I joined Capt. Jar­rod Tut­tle (gofish­ponce.com) and his friend Jaron Ben­nett to ex­plore the bridges that span the Indian and Hal­i­fax rivers near Day­tona Beach, Florida. The tar­gets were red­fish, tar­pon, snook, go­liath grouper and slam­mer blue­fish (that were prep­ping for their jour­ney back north).

“Each trip, we want to have a va­ri­ety of live baits ready in the well,” says Tut­tle. “Mul­let, pin­fish, po­gies, white­bait and mo­jarra are all good baits, but you’re never sure what fish want un­til you drop a cou­ple of baits deep.”

Tut­tle tar­gets bridge pilings and fend­ers with at least 10- to 15-foot depths. He has his fa­vorite ar­eas but isn’t afraid to move around to dif­fer­ent py­lons to find the best bite. Fish­ing from his 20-foot An­dros, he uti­lizes a mix of an­chor­ing, drift­ing or trolling to po­si­tion near the bridge.

“The Minn Kota Spot-Lock can re­ally come in handy, al­low­ing you to set your po­si­tion with your trolling mo­tor and hold in one area hands-free,” points out Tut­tle.

Cur­rent is an ab­so­lute must; oth­er­wise, Tut­tle won’t even con­sider fish­ing the bridges. The tides flush the food right to the game fish hid­ing within or near the struc­ture. The pat­tern is easy to vi­su­al­ize — game fish rest be­hind struc­ture, out of the cur­rent to con­serve en­ergy, and then pounce once a bait­fish or crus­tacean is close enough.

An an­gler’s num­ber-one job is to re-cre­ate this ex­act sce­nario with their live bait or lure. Too far away from the struc­ture? You might not get a sin­gle bite. Too high in the water col­umn? Noth­ing will see your pre­sen­ta­tion.

Ben­nett an­chored us about 15 feet up-cur­rent from the con­crete struc­ture. Next, Tut­tle and Ben­nett lobbed live pin­fish on bot­tom rigs to sep­a­rate cor­ners of the same bridge pil­ing. Nearby, two an­glers scraped bar­na­cles into the water to at­tract sheepshead. I cast a 3⁄8-ounce swim­bait far away from the bridge to al­low the tide to bring it back into the strike zone nat­u­rally.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, some­thing whacked my jig. I fought the fish cau­tiously around the boat and an­chor line un­til it fi­nally re­vealed it­self as an over­size red­fish.

“The way it was fight­ing, I would have guessed jack crevalle, red­fish or a huge blue­fish,” said Tut­tle. “You’re never sure what you might catch around the bridges.”

TACKLE AND RIGS

Ben­nett and Tut­tle pre­fer dif­fer­ent bot­tom rigs.

“I was los­ing so much ter­mi­nal tackle [to the struc­ture] that I switched to a [sin­gle] drop­per loop rig with a bank sinker,” says Ben­nett. “I didn’t lose as much leader, hooks and weights af­ter that.”

Ben­nett’s bait sits about a foot off the bot­tom. Tut­tle’s bait also sits a foot

off bot­tom, but he uses a slid­ing sinker rig. Nei­ther an­gler uses a swivel. In its place, both start with 10 feet of 50- to 100-pound mono leader tied to the main line with an FG knot. Tut­tle’s rig also in­cor­po­rates 1 foot of 100-pound mono tied at the tag end of his leader with a uni-knot. The uni-knot stops the weight from slid­ing far­ther down the line to­ward the hook.

“The 10 feet [of leader] al­lows me to re-tie three dif­fer­ent times be­fore I have to tie a new FG knot,” says Ben­nett.

The weight of the leader is di­rectly re­lated to the clar­ity of the water. “When it re­ally clears up, we have to drop down to 50-pound-test to get a bite,” says Tut­tle. “But then we also lose more fish with the lighter leader.”

Both reg­u­larly use 8-plus ounces of lead to combat heavy cur­rent — Ben­nett prefers bank sinkers, while Tut­tle uses egg sinkers.

“With an egg sinker, I can bet­ter con­trol fish at boat-side,” says Tut­tle. “Tar­pon and snook jump like crazy, but the in-line weight doesn’t fly around as much as a bank sinker.”

At our first stop, Ben­nett landed two go­liath grouper un­der 30 pounds while ev­ery­one else missed a num­ber of dif­fer­ent takes. I say “takes” be­cause snook, tar­pon, red­fish and grouper will thump your bait and then head straight for the struc­ture. This be­hav­ior forces Tut­tle and Ben­nett to use thick-gauge 5/0 live-bait hooks in­stead of cir­cle hooks.

“When you feel that thump, you have to set the hook and start crank­ing right away,” says Tut­tle. “If you let them take the bait with a cir­cle hook, your chances of get­ting a fish away from the struc­ture are low.”

AF­TER DARK

The best time to hit the bridges is when the lights go out. I’ve fished at night for gi­ant red­fish along the deep­wa­ter pilings that cross East Bay near Panama City Beach, for mas­sive snook around bridges in Stu­art, Florida, and for tar­pon out­side the bridge shadow lines in Mi­ami. Striped bass, seatrout and black on your re­gion. I’d say most in­shore species feed bet­ter at night than dur­ing day­light hours, hence the pop­u­lar­ity of dock-light fish­ing.

“We re­ally see the tar­pon and snook bite turn on af­ter dark,” says Tut­tle. “We’ll use the same baits and tac­tics, but we’ll also throw gi­ant swim­baits with high suc­cess.”

Night­time also sees some fish move closer to the sur­face near bridges. Top­wa­ter lures, or free-lined live shrimp drifted back to­ward a bridge shadow line, are pop­u­lar for red­fish and tar­pon. Plus, any bright bridge lights along the fend­ers are likely to at­tract bait­fish and game fish.

When cast­ing lures, make sure the lure swims with the cur­rent, says Tut­tle. With live baits, drift them back with the cur­rent. Con­sider your boat po­si­tion around a bridge: You might set up up-cur­rent to drop back live baits or down-cur­rent to cast lures.

The first night­time tar­pon I ever hooked was on a pur­ple de­mon Mir­rOlure sink­ing twitch­bait that a friend rec­om­mended. Ever since, pur­ple has been a pro­duc­tive night color, in my ex­pe­ri­ence. Tut­tle prefers char­treuse at times.

“On our most re­cent trip, the snook and tar­pon were an­ni­hi­lat­ing the lime­treuse swim­baits jigged slowly along the bot­tom,” he said. “We tried the pur­ple SpoolTek jigs, but the hits we had were more like body checks rather than com­mit­ted bites. I al­ways make sure to have a num­ber of dif­fer­ent color op­tions on the boat.”

CAST IN CON­CRETE: Day or night, make a stop at a bridge. Deep mov­ing water and pilings are a win­ning combo.

&DSW -DUURG 7XWWOH UHOHDVHV D FKXQN\ UHGƓVK WKDW smacked a swim­bait jigged near a bridge in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Work jigs with the cur­rent to­ward the boat for a nat­u­ral pre­sen­ta­tion.

Tar­pon are top tar­gets near bridges at night. Be ready to shoot the gap be­tween pilings when a large sil­ver king takes off run­ning.

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