Hittin' the Bridges

Capt. Bryan Pahmeier

Bonnie McIlrath hooked at small trout that was promptly eaten by this 36lb redfish

It’s Saturday morning and legions of redfish anglers are lining up at the ramps, quickly sliding their skiffs in the water and racing to their favorite flat. It’s a sure bet every boat load of anglers is thinking about the days action to come and each one is hoping for that trophy fish of a lifetime. The ironic thing is a vast majority of these anxious anglers are racing right over the very trophy fish they hope to catch and probably driving past bigger fish than they will catch that day.

I leave the ramp every day on my way to shallow water flats with hopes of having my client’s sightcast to redfish in the 20+lb range all day. Most days we can easily target these fish in the 3-5ft depths but some days it just doesn’t happen for any one of a variety of reasons. Weather, boat traffic & fishing pressure can all but ruin your chance at that trophy fish in skinny water.

When faced with such conditions you are faced with a choice. Either change your gameplan and target fish in shallower more protected waters OR if trophy fish is your goal, you can go to where a vast majority of these fish go when they don’t want to be on the flats.

What is this magical big fish haven you ask? Bridges. Hundreds of bridges line the coasts and while many of us grew up fishing area bridges as kids it is something many of us totally ignore when we get that first poling platform and push pole and immerse ourselves in sight fishing.

Bridges offer everything big fish could want. Deep water that the fish feel safer in, they create a funnel of any current that makes a natural ambush spot and of course then there’s the barnacle-encrusted pilings that have crabs, shrimp, muscles and many more morsels.

Finger mullet rigged on a jighead

Bridge artificials: take your pick!

For the Fly Guys: tarpon patterns on an intermediate line may do the trick

When fishing bridges I have found a tried and true pattern that is easy and almost always will result in a bull redfish if not several. First I will net up some finger mullet in the 5-7inch range. My rig consists of the same outfits I use to throw topwater plugs. 7’ medium hvy rod w/15lb braided line, I use a double uni-knot and attach a 3ft piece of 50lb mono and using a loop knot tie on a 3/8oz. live bait jig head. To this I impale a finger mullet from the bottom of the mouth thru the top of the head.

If possible I will position my boat facing the wind and using my trolling motor ease between 2 rows of pilings.

If you don’t want to lose $20 in jigs it is important to try and visualize how the pilings and barnacles are on the bottom. Casting right next to a piling will likely result in a breakoff. Think of the pilings as a Christmas tree with the bottom widening as it goes down. Typically I will try to cast about 4-5ft on the outside of the pilings so as not to get hung up.

Once in position I will start with the left row of pilings; the goal is to cast past the last piling let your bait get down and slowly bounce on the bottom along the entire row of pilings. After 3 or 4 tries on the left row of pilings I’ll switch to the right row. I will repeat this procedure row after row until I locate the fish.

Once a fish is hooked it is imperative to get away from the structure. Using the troller or outboard I will put the most pressure I can on the fish to pull it away from the structure so it can be fought in the open.

It is not uncommon to also catch trout in the 1-3lb range with this same technique. On 2 separate occasions I’ve had clients hook a small trout and while reeling it in a 30lb. redfish ate it!!

Artificial anglers using jigs and soft plastics like the D.O.A. baitbuster, terror-eyez & shrimp will have plenty of action. Although trying to place a fly in between pilings is no easy task, proficient fly anglers can also score at the bridges. 10wt intermediate line will work best. Tarpon flies like the cockroach, apte 1 & deciever will all produce.

Only once have I ever pulled up and immediately found the fish in the first set of pilings I hit. You can usually expect to spend several hours methodically working a bridge. Many anglers don’t have the persistence but if you put you time in your guaranteed trophy red.

Just pick your bridge and get jiggy wit it!

Staff writer Bryan Pahmeier is an inshore fishing guide located in Titusville, Florida. He owns and operates Get1 Charters


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