For weekend warriors without a boat there’s still plenty of action to be had on the many bridges over the passes from Estero Bay entering the Gulf. There are all manner of techniques that’ll put anglers on the myriad game and food fish that traverse the passes, feeding on tidal current-driven forage. Bait fishes in all sizes, crabs, shrimp, and larval worms, fish and crustacean all flush in and out of the passes. The bridge pilings offer cover and concealment for ambush predators, lollygagging around in the current breaks provided at bridge pilings. The pilings provide sunken oyster reefs and barnacle clusters a great place to secure and grow their colonies.
These are favored haunts of school fish like sheepshead, snapper, grunts, and many others. These colonies and pilings offer a high-quality feeding bunk for these smaller fishes that aren’t prone to tidal migration; in other words, there should be eager takers daily, seasonally, and on either tidal phase.
Of the piling schooling denizens, snapper and sheepies are generally the easiest and most popular targets. These critters can be fished using the simplest and most easily available baits; shrimp top the list for both snapper and sheepies. Frozen shrimp are easy to get at about any tackle shop. Shrimp-tipped small brightly coloredjigheads and hooks about 2/0 is a good place to start. Sheepies and snapper are notorious bait stealers, so burying your smallish wire hook is a must. Jigs with circle hooks and plane circle hooks are good choices. The circle hook rigs allow the fish to run off and, in so doing, hook themselves. A needle nose pliers is a must for dehooking your catch
Medium-light action spinning gear with 10-15 lb. braided line and a 20 lb. fluorocarbon leading is a good fit for this style of fishing; your rod needs a bit of backbone to hoist your catch up to the walkway. Another asset of circle hooks is that they will secure your catch as they’re hauled up. Start by jigging your offerings very near the bottom with a slow pumping stroke.
Fiddler crabs, cut fish baits, and a variety of tube worms are all useful baits. As an aside, freshwater wiggler worms used for cichlids and panfish are an option; try ‘em just for fun, they’re cheap and very wiggly.
Don’t be surprised if you hook up whiting, ladyfish, and even a tackle-buster redfish. Serious bridge piling fishermen often carry a collapsible bridge net that’s deployed on a stout line. This item allows your catch to be hoisted into the net and hauled up to the walkway.
Included here is a picture of just one easy set up for jigging rigs like I use for snapper fishing the bridge pilings here off Estero Bay. I like to add a small piece of red yard as an attractor, particularly when fishing snapper. The bright attractor yarn adds some oomph to the simple bits of bait. A drop of fish scent rubbed into the yarn can perk the interest of otherwise neutral fish. This setup is very useful when drop-fishing the reefs. You’ll find it very handy in picking up some big pinfish, grunts, squirrelfish, and whiting for your cobia, grouper, and other big-bait targets.
Capt. Ron Kowalyk; 239-267-9312