Early on, fishing in Florida was quite often a group endeavor.
We have all seen those old photos and post cards from the 1940s and '50s that showed people standing shoulder to shoulder while fishing from a bridge. It always looked like fun and now I am wondering what happened to that?
Sadly those days are gone, lost mostly because of fewer fish, fishermen and bridges where we might fish. Locally our days of fishing from bridges are rapidly becoming extinct.
Orange Avenue is the latest casualty. For years I fished that bridge and had lots of fine catches there. Now, once the new high rise span is completed, they will probably build a short pier beneath it, but it usually takes about 10 years for the place to recover and begin producing fish. Each time a bridge is rebuilt the nearby marine habitat is all but destroyed.
On a recent spring morning I decided to give bridge fishing a try and drove down to the Dunlawton Causeway. The low bridges on the west end still provide folks with a good platform. I arrived in the pre-dawn and was happy to see that traffic was slow.
With snook in mind, I began throwing a gray and white Rapala Twitchbait plug. The tide was roaring out, so I fished the south side. On each cast, I would throw right along the bridge and allow the bait to wash south with the flow. Before long I had a strong hit and landed a fat 15-inch bluefish. A good fight, but not the snook I sought.
In the following half hour, I caught three more blues. Next I drove south on U.S. 1 to try my luck at the three bridges of Spruce Creek. Back in the day, when you could actually fish from those bridges, I would catch nice snook and some trout.
On this morning, I heard fish striking in the dim light under the bridge and was able to pull out a feisty jack. A few casts later and I was hooked up once more and this time the jack won. It managed to rub my mono onto the pilings and that was the end of the Rapala. That was enough for me and I headed north to Main Street, the last fishable bridge in the greater Daytona Beach area.
When I arrived, I found a couple fellows fishing for sheep’s head. After passing the time, I moved on to the bridge fenders on the northeast side and began getting light hits on my chartreuse jig. Finally I was able to land a nice little mangrove snapper. When the other fishermen came to see it, I gave one of them the snapper and would later add two more. As I left I vowed to come back another day with some dead shrimp and see how many mangroves I could get. I am never opposed to a good snapper dinner.
After a long drive, I was all the way up to High Bridge near the Flagler County line. That bridge has been productive for me for decades, but now it was full light and I knew that was not good. Almost all of the fish I have caught there came in the dim light of morning. Traditionally that span is known for snook and gator trout, but on this day a single ladyfish was all I could manage.
On the ride home I thought about what I had just experienced. Four bridges and the only anglers I had seen were the pair at Main Street. The days of hundreds of fisher folk lined up on the bridges is gone. The fish are gone. The people are gone and for sure the bridges are practically gone.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.