Bridge Busters

Along the stretches of tropically impaired South Florida, life is largely dictated by the low lying barrier islands that separate and protect the mainland from erosion and storm surge. During the development of Florida’s coastline the evolution of bridge and road construction was vital to the state’s growth in transportation and tourism, yet the formidable terrain with its numerous waterways and islands proved a serious challenge for builders. Engineers ultimately prevailed and numerous overpasses now link the mainland and barrier islands while also providing some of the most influential snook habitat in the state.


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Photo: Captain Carlos Rodriguez

Comprised of steel beams and concrete abutments, the abundant number of causeways and bridges spanning the Intracoastal Waterway and Florida’s vast canal system are key thoroughfares for cruising snook that many anglers neglect to investigate. Fishing the backcountry during daylight hours is a great approach, but if you’re looking to beat the heat and the crowds, then you’ll likely enjoy fishing at night. Providing a more peaceful experience, snook fishing from dusk to dawn has proven time and time again to represent the peak feeding period for the largest linesiders.

…the powerful bite a big fish boasts and brutal battle that follows is what keeps trophy hunters coming back for more.

Although well known snook causeways such as the Gandy Bridge spanning from Tampa to St. Pete, the Flagler Memorial Bridge in Palm Beach, the Caloosahatchee River Bridge in Ft. Myers and the Haulover Inlet causeway in Miami are home to truly giant snook, there are dozens of bridges in South Florida where super slobs lay in ambush waiting to strike. And don’t think that only big bridges attract big snook, because throughout many coastal residential neighborhoods even the smallest fixed bridges hold exciting opportunities.

With the Florida state record tipping the scales at a whopping 44 lb. 3 oz., snook are formidable opponents and you never know how big of a fish you may encounter, so you’ll always need to be prepared for that once in a lifetime bite. Sporting broad shoulders and defined pectoral fins, large snook appear very intimidating and the powerful bite a big fish boasts and brutal battle that follows is what keeps trophy hunters coming back for more.

After losing countless hours of sleep and many big fish over gut wrenching break-offs and straightened hooks, I’m well aware of the need for beefed up terminal tackle when attempting to control such commanding fish around unforgiving structure. Some of Florida’s bridges have been around for decades and the impressively engineered structures provide unparalleled habitat. Yet even the newest bridge pilings immediately attract marine growth that will give you nightmares when a determined snook drags your leader across the jagged edges.

Whether fishing bridges by land or by boat, to prevent losing fish in the structure it’s imperative you fish heavy leader material. Start by attaching a 100 lb. barrel swivel to your mainline with a clinch knot. From this point I prefer to rig with a 36-inch section of 80 lb. monofilament and a 7/0 medium gauge circle-hook attached with a snell knot.

If you plan on ruling large snook around any bridge or catwalk, you’ll want to come prepared with two outfits—one for fishing baits near the bottom and a second for surface and mid-water presentations. Snook can prove to be extremely finicky and will at times be focused on feeding in a specific level of the water column, usually determined by tidal flow, moon phase and water temperature. A 3-ounce slip sinker bottom rig will usually be sufficient enough for getting your bait to the strike zone. Remember that you could easily encounter a trophy 40-inch snook, so I highly recommend an 8’0″, 40 lb. class conventional rod with stout backbone and soft tip matched to an equivalent class conventional reel loaded with fresh 50 lb. mono. This outfit will provide the much needed leverage to pull stud fish through swift currents and away from crusty pilings.

While many believe braid is the only way to go, in this situation monofilament provides much needed stretch and will keep you connected when soaking natural baits such as freshly cut mullet, live sand perch, grunt or herring. Snook have a sloping forehead coupled with a very large mouth that gives them the ability to inhale prey nearly a third of their size. While juvenile snook often key in on small offerings like glass minnows and shrimp, the biggest fish generally focus their efforts on large meals so they can exert minimal energy while obtaining a maximum result. Sluggish behavior is pretty typical of the biggest fish, and a freshly cut chunk makes for an easy meal seldom passed up by any archaic marauder lurking along the bottom.

Although I prefer to fish natural bait whenever possible, artificials can also be extremely effective. Many lures work, but the size and style of your offering should vary depending on the location and layout of bridge pilings, depth, tidal flow and available forage. Chartreuse/red and white/red combinations have always been go-to patterns for snook anglers around the state, with tapered skimmer style jigheads preventing snags when fluttering through the water column and bouncing bottom. Confident anglers working 2 oz. jigs will at times out fish live bait anglers with a technique that involves working the jig up current and using a sweeping approach to fish underwater structure and prominent shadow lines.

Although Red Tail Hawk jigs are the most traditional offerings, soft plastic weighted swimbaits like those manufactured by Hogy and SpoolTek have radically evolved to become extremely effective lures for monster snook. Most are designed with natural baitfish profiles and patterns. No matter what you choose to fish, concentrate your efforts with baits that have no less than a six inch profile to steer clear of juvenile fish. Seasoned salts searching for that one big bite launch massive lures with body profiles pushing 10 inches in length, providing lunker snook with a beefy target to key in on.

In any case, working your lure with the current rather than against it will resemble naturally flowing forage. In addition, fishing the up current side of any bridge is generally the most effective. However, don’t abandon the down current side, as big snook will surprise even the most educated angler with an uncalculated bite. Snook are ambush predators, so when fishing a new venue focus your efforts on where the current flow is disturbed by a piece of structure or noticeable difference in bottom contour. While snook can be captured on any tide, outgoing phases often bring the best results as they flush baitfish from upper bays and estuary systems towards area inlets and the open ocean, but this is obviously dependent on the geographic location of the bridge.

Unlike the deep rod that utilizes monofilament mainline, your artificial outfit should be spooled with 50 lb. braid mainline. Not only will the braid enable you to cast jigs great distances, but it will also cut through the current so you can detect subtle thumps from sneaky snook. An 8’0″ spinning rod matched to a reel with a minimum 5:1 gear ratio and reliable drag system will make your artificial exploits that much more successful. Tying on a 36-inch section of 60 lb. fluorocarbon leader with a spider hitch and Yucatan connection will provide the piece of mind needed when preparing for a serious battle. A majority of the largest fish stage near the heaviest piece of structure, as they are quite aware of their surroundings and will be happy to show you exactly where home is!

In South Florida some of the best snook spots are in the vicinity of densely populated cities and heavily trafficked causeways, so don’t hesitate fishing a particular area because you think it is too busy. Snook thrive in urban waterways and dedicated anglers who put in the time working area bridges are often well rewarded. Good luck!