Written by Tom Argue…aka….Boatless Fisherman Boatless fisherman
This is a QUICK HOW TO, it will get you started on the bridges in the keys and I am sure you can use this info other places also, I will give you a tutorial on Snook, Tarpon, Permit, Snapper and the main thing how to get Bait.
Snook and Tarpon fishing on the keys Bridges at night on live shrimp
Rod of choice 7 foot custom but a penn slamer or something of that nature works well.
Reel of choice Spinning reel, Shemano Bait runner 6500 spooled with 15lb test or 20lb line, I perfer 15lb.
Other reels Penn 650 or anything of this size. Leader 40 or 50 lb test Mono, I use 40lb test.
Live shrimp is good for Tarpon and Snook at night, Freelined, with a split shot on out going produces the most fish.
Cast out into the Bay “Gulf side and allow current to bring back and go under bridge, bite will happen either just before or at bridge striaght down, if it happens under bridge good chance its a nice eaten size Mangrove 2lbs or more, I believe others will concure “always wanted to use that word”LOL.
Now the bite will be almost not noticable, if you hold your rod under your arm and tap the butt with a quick light tap this is what a hit feels like, crank up and set, your on.
Now the Split shot is for depth and the reason is the Snook are on the bottom and Tarpon are on the top, get it more wieght produces Snook and closer to the surface produces Tarpon.
Secret Snook like the ends closer to the shore and do not normaly stack up further than 8 pilons out from my experience. Tarpon like the ends and the center channels of bridges where the water flow is good
Bait Catching in the Keys
Bait rod of choice
5 foot custom mighty rod this is my rod one of a kind.
But any light rod and reel will do with light line 10 lb test or less
Pinfish- This can be done in the daytime. Any grass beds you pass on the road on your drive down should have some pinfish, a chicken rig, Drop rig Multiple hook rig what ever you want to call it. The hooks I like to use is number 12 or 10 gold bait hooks.
Tip with little pieces of shrimp and cast out into grass bed and wait for light pull or tug. you can also buy a Pinfish trap at Jacks on the way down in Florida city.
Pilchards, Greenies, Threadherring and other baitfish
Daytime use Sabbikis Bait rig or gold hook bait rig and work Shadowlines you should be able to see them.
Nighttime which I think is best you will need a coleman lantern on a rope to lower down around where you are fishing they will come into the light and school up and again use Sabbikis or gold bait rig, sometime you do need to bait with soemshimp or squid itty bitty piece, but mostly you don’t.
Best if you have a live well to keep alive or Down Buckets to keep alive fresher bait is best.
Crabs-these can be hard to get on a bridge in the keys, I buy at Jacks or catch before I go.
But if I do not have I then do the search while bait fishing in the light.
You will need a castnet.
As seaweed passes on its way out at night check as it gets close for what I call the hitchhikers, the crabs will climb up on it to stay safe because there is hungrey critters in that there water.
You will also get big ones that will come up and feed in the light also.
Take all crabs and release none, the bigs one cut into 4 sections when used and the ones that can be cut in half do that to them. The ones that are silver dollar size use whole with diggers and claws taken off.
Do not remove Claws and diggers form ones you cut.
I have found traps to be worthless because of current and the only time you can use on is at Current change if you choose to use.
Permit Fishing the Keys bridges
Rod of choice
Conventional reel Shemano Triton 4gt Star drag on 9 foot Star noodle rod with 30 or 40 pound test, you can go light if you have know obstuctions, like other bridges.
But any rod and reel that can handle a heck of a run and fight.
All of the bridges have Permit, by nature they like to set up behind pilons and feed on what is pulled through and around the pilons, another secret.
Now some will say HUH, yes if you look at bridges like Long key, Channel two, Channel 5 and you see them sitting up an under the other bridge between two Pilons right, now remember they are right in front of you looking at you, not looking away, now if you look down on the bridge you are on its a pilon they are behind, just 40 feet back from that pilon and feeding into that current running around it. This is true in most cases from my opinion
If I see them sitting on a shadow line facing open water they are not feeding from my experience, they are sleeping or just trying to piss me off. LOL
If I see them I don’t normaly get alot of hits if any. I like color in the water so I can’t see the bottom, because I know they are there.
Typical rig that I use is a bottom rig this is a slideing sinker on the main line and then attached to a swivel and then a leader of 60 lb test and a hook no smaller then a 6/0, I have really started to like Circle hooks for these fish as you will see why in a minute.
I hook the crab through the membrane that you will see at the joint of the legs were it meets its body I go in one side and out the other side of the leg so this way the hook pulls easy, you can also hook up through an edge of the shell by going through the underneath area and out through the top.
I cast out into current moveing away from me and find more in areas like under other bridges next to the one I am fishing, I place my Crab about 20 to 30 feet from the bridge that I am fishing from.
I work up and down the bridge working numerous areas, or I set up numerous rods and put them out, this is not a good idea because if they move in and hit at once which i have seen happan you can have three fish on at the same time and if they don’t drop it, your rod is gone if you can’t get to it because they can run a good bit of line in know time.
Now when fishing for permit I find they hit two ways:
1. Screamer and it runs and if you can get to it and you are useing circles just lock down and crank and make sure you sink the hook “NOT SET THE HOOK” sink-this means a ever so light set as you reel, they have gummy mouths so I find I need to sink it.
2. The typical Ponpano hit the tip bobs up and down as they crush the crab, sometimes they will pull a little line, in this case when you pick up the rod and take all slack out you will notice your line is moveing or you may even be able to feel the fish on the other end in any case when useing circle hooks just crank up and sink.
If useing J hooks or any old school hook Set up as soon as possible
. These fish do not need time to eat if they have hit the bait ,they have crushed it in 2 or 3 bites, it is common to feel the hook go dink out of its mouth when timing is off and a second to late has occured.
If I think, I hook or crank what ever type of hook I am useing I just go for it.
Just hold on and don’t get worried if he runs you out just stay cool this fish will tire and if he is not coming back easy or has gone around a pilon I do what I call walk the dog, this is stop reeling when he stops and begin to crank your rod in slowly as to lead him in it really works just do it slowly, he will come right around the pilon.
Snapper Fishing the big ones out
Snapper is my favorite fish, I was a Mutton Snapper in another Life I think. LOL
Rod is 9 foot witha conventional with 40lb test.
Big Snapper rig I like to use is a typical bottom rig. Weight is a Bank 4oz normally, this and is put on main line and then bead “bead if you like” and the line is tied to a swivel 50lb test minium and then to your leader 50lb test and above, the leader I use is between 3 foot to 1 foot.
How do I determine the leader length? Bottom rocky and hard current, shorter is better will not flop into crevices as easy, circle hooks also pull out easier when in this situtation.
Longer leader for softer current and less rocks.
Hook 3/0 to 7/0 Gama katsu ?? Nautilas circle hook is what I think is best now, but I still will use a Mustad short shank bronze in a blink of and eye.
Hook size determined by bait size.
All knots I use are a Uni-knot.
Yes I like heads of baits, but nice size chunks work also.
All sizes work up to a 2 1/2 inch cube, sometimes bigger for groupers but you risk finding alot of Nurse Sharks also.
Snapper don’t really have that big of mouths compared to alot of other fish from my opinion.
The bigger baits also keep the smaller ones busy picking at it until the big fish get aggressive.
Hooking your bait
I like in heads to come once up through the jaw and out the nose.
Chunks once through a meaty part that will help in not spinning the bait in the current if it does come up off of the bottom.
“Keep in mind Phyisics of the water current on the bait Important” EL’NATURAL They don’t like helicopters “really”
You want to hide the hook a little but don’t bury the hook in bait, once through only.
Thats for larger Snapper
Smaller Snapper and alot of the time more prevalent, like Mangroves.
Spinning Rod is my choice I use a 6500 Shemano bait runner or my Penn 650, but any rod that is similar will work fine.
Same rig just sized down to 30 lb leader and 1/0 cirlce and the smaller baits are cut and used on this pole.
Another rig I like is the drop back rig, these are my names I do not eally know what these rigs are called alot of the time, I just know how to do them.
This rig is like a pompano rig but one hook.
Made like this:
First I tie a 2 oz weight , Bank sinker preferably and then up 16 inches I loop the line, don’t know what this knot is called but it is twisted and then pulled through the center and I like the loop to be 12 inches and I then place a swivel on the loop and tie a 30 lb 3 foot leader to the swivel and then a 1/0 circle, now you see why I call it a drop back, the bait will drop back but be off the bottom by a foot at the weight and then go back at an angle and drop closer to the bottom, I like this in medium current and sometimes in hard.
Can get snagged up on soft or no current.
All knots used outside of the loop are Uni-knot.
Hooks I like for small Snapper are the wiry circle hooks they are thinner.
Again small pieces 1 inch biggest needed.
As for bait I Like all my bait fresh killed and bleeding when I throw it in or just Fresh if I can’t keep alive.
For smaller snapper nice size live shrimp is good.
I fish the Bottom and get the sinker to hold because I fish more than one rod.
If I am holding my rod I will some times bounce the weight out to get further under and on to the other side of the bridge, if there is a bridge in front of me.
And yes sometimes will just bounce a rod out because I am holding it, my luck this way is not as good as my buddy Dave.
Dave likes to bounce Baits out thats what I call it and he gets nailed, the interesting thing about bounceing a bait out you never know what might grab it, that Cuberra Snapper I think Dave a few weeks back he got that way.
Right at the start just after he put it Down second bounce if I remember right, Smash Dave said it was so cool to feel it hit. I have seen dave get alot of fish useing that technique.
I think I have included everything you may want to know. If by chance you can fish a bridge when i am there I will gladly help you to fine tune your technique.
Don’t expect to run right out and catch a fish with what I have given you it will still take time to learn.
But this should at least give you the basics to get going and nail some nice fish because Tarpon, Snook, Permit and Snapper are always there sometimes more than others but always there non the less.
The Boatless Fisherman…..aka….Tommy