Florida Keys Bridge Fishing Guide for Tourists
Probably the cheapest way to fish in the Florida Keys is from one of the many bridges. All along the keys on Highway One there are bridges, most of which are closed to traffic where one can fish. They are mostly part of the old Highway One , although there are some other small bridges off of Highway One from which fishing is allowed. To be honest most bridge fishing trips will not compare to a trip to the reef or many other places in a boat. It’s not that the bridges don’t have tons of fish around them, they do, it’s just that everywhere that’s accessible for free gets lots of traffic and angling pressure. So you have to work harder.
Fish commonly caught from the bridges include snapper, grouper, barracuda, grunts and pretty much at one time or another every other fish in the area. The bridges create breaks in the massive current that runs between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay/ Gulf of Mexico. Around the base of many of the the old bridges, there are piles of old construction materials because back when they were built, workers would just throw any used material or junk into the water. All the this debris on the bottom creates a great fish habitat. If you take a snorkel mask and jump in at the base of one of these bridges you will see what I mean, thousands of small fish school around the pilings and rock walls around the base of the bridges, along with crabs and other small sea creatures. All these small fish attract larger fish and so on.
For fishing tackle around the bridges you are most likely going to need 20 lbs test line or greater. You may have to dead lift a fish from 12-20 feet down, also it’s very easy to get snagged fishing from the bridges so, heavier line will be helpful. You may want some poles with lighter line for catching bait, and some bridges have areas around the base that you can walk to the water’s edge and cast from. More serious bridge fisherman bring a bridge landing net, which is sort of like a basket at the end of a rope, they lower to the water to scoop up larger fish they catch, fish that would break the line if hoisted from the water on fishing line alone.
For bait most anglers use dead cut bait, cut-up fish, squid or pieces of shrimp. This can be purchased at local tackle shops, but don’t buy frozen shrimp, frozen shrimp sucks, dead fresh shrimp is much better. As in any fishing, live bait will often work better then dead. Probably the ideal bait for fishing the bridges would be a small pilchard around 2-3 inches long, but pilchards can be a pain the neck to find even when you have a boat and know the area. Sometimes though sardines school up around the base of the bridges but that is only around the end of summer in September and August and even then it’s hit and miss. I would recommend buying a couple dozen fresh shrimp, then using small hooks to catch some non-game fish species like a grunt (there will be tons of them) then cut the grunt up for cut bait.
As for rigging your tackle I would suggest using jigs if you can reach the bottom with them in the current. Just a small 1/4-1/2 ounce jig head tipped with a piece of shrimp or cut fish will work well. The water at the base of the bridges is pretty shallow, less then 20 feet, usually around 10 feet, but the force of the current will be considerable. If your jigs won’t sink quickly enough due to the current, a slip sinker rig will work well. Tie your hook to a few feet of line (if you want to get fancy fluorocarbon leader), then to a swivel. Then run your line thru a 1-3 ounce egg sinker, and tie it to the swivel. You want to use as little weight as possible, just enough to hold the bottom. For hooks there are a ton of little fish at the base of bridges who will peck away at your baits. So you can either just enjoy having your bait stolen time after time, while you wait for a bigger fish or you can use smaller hooks. Now I would recommend mustad live bait hooks, in sizes 3-7. They are small but they have a heavy shank, so if you do hook that big fish, they won’t bend like most small hooks.
Baby Yellowtail , good to eat but have to be over 12 inches
Now something most visitors don’t know about fishing the bridges: you can greatly increase the action by chumming from the bridge. Some hardcore bridge fishers think that this attracts too many junk little fish, but if you are reading this then most likely you are not one of them. Anyway’s what you do is buy a couple blocks of commercial chum (it’s sold all over the place in the Keys), get a chum sack, and some small diameter rope. Then just put the chum in the sack and tie the rop to it and lower it to the water. In 10 minutes you will have a big party behind the chum sack. Tons of small fish will be swarming the chum, and if you are lucky some larger fish too. The trick can be to get the baits past the tiny bait stealers that show up.
Which bridges to fish? Well in my opinion the farther you get from Miami the better. I have had much better luck fishing the bridges in the lower keys than bridges around Key Largo. The bigger bridges are going to have more chances at catching more types of fish. Like you could pretty much catch anything off the 7 mile bridge, but if you pick a small bridge without a huge amount of water flowing under it, you will more likely just catch snapper and grunts.