It was windy when we first arrived in Islamorada, but the wind worsened as each day passed. By the third day the wind was too much to attempt to kayak fish so we decided to head elsewhere. After reviewing the wind forecast we decided that heading south would be our best bet to get out of the wind. We had our sites set on a few spots located in and around Sugarloaf Key. On the map there were a lot of mangrove islands around the key and we were hoping one of those spots would give us some fishable water without blowing our kayaks to Cuba.
The ride down to Sugarloaf was fun as we crossed over the many bridges that span the Florida Keys. What’s unique about those bridges is that most of them have fishing platforms built onto the side, enabling persons without a boat access to the Keys’ prized fishery. Despite the high winds we still saw many people fishing on and under those bridges.
Here’s a list of bridges that have fishing platforms:
- Channel 2 Bridge (MM 73)
- Channel 5 (MM 71)
- Long Key (MM 63-65)
- Tom’s Harbor Cut (MM 61.2)
- Tom’s Harbor Channel (MM 60.6)
- Seven Mile Bridge (MM40)
- Little Duck Key-Missouri Historic Bridge, (MM 39.5)
- Missouri-Ohio Historic Bridge (MM 39)
- Ohio-Bahia Honda Historic Bridge (MM 38.5)
- Spanish Harbor (MM 34)
- South Pine Channel Historic Bridge (MM30)
- Kemp Channel (MM 23)
- Bow Channel (MM 20)
- Shark Channel (MM 11)
We stopped on a few of those bridges to sight see and try out our hands in Florida Keys bridge fishing. We didn’t hook anything, and that was probably a good thing. We only had light gear and it would have been impossible to land a fish of any size.
After a little bridge fishing we continued down to Sugarloaf. Once we got there we immediately realized we were surrounded by an amazing fishery. There was mangrove island after mangrove island that could be fished for days and days. There was only one problem, though. The wind wasn’t any calmer than it was in Islamorada. Although Sugarloaf is surrounded by mangrove islands, those mangrove islands weren’t large enough in height to help block the wind. All the fishing flats were exposed and not protected from the wind. Although we wanted to throw our kayaks off the side of the road and hop into the water, we knew better. The wind was too forceful, gusting at over 30 mph, and it would’ve be fruitless, or even dangerous, to attempt to fish out of our kayaks.
It was a wasted trip, but we had to see it for ourselves. We were here to fish, so we had to try to find fishable water. We struck out this time, but we learned a little about Florida Keys bridge fishing and decided to return to one of those bridges later on in the evening. We were counting on the wind to die down once the sun started to slip underneath the horizon.
A Florida Keys Sunset
Once we returned to the bridges we were met with a classic Florida Keys sunset. Colors danced across the sky as car after car stopped to take in the indescribable hues. There was no better moment in the world to be fishing.
The wind had also died down not only to fishable levels, but down enough where we could even fish topwater lures. Armed with Zara Spooks we climbed down the side of the bridge so we could be closer to the water. We worked and worked those Spooks up and down the sides of the bridge, between each piling and parallel to the shore. We were hoping those Zara Spooks would get the attention of a resident juvenile tarpon. Nothing yet, but we kept at it.
As the intensity of the sunset started to die down, the sightseeing crowd started back towards their cars, headed to their condos or dinner destinations. We kept at it, trading the sun’s glow for the electric lights of each passing car.
It was around that time when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. On the other side of the bridge, about 30 yards out. I quickly reeled in my line as I hurriedly stumbled over the jagged rocks, making my way to the other side of the bridge. Once there I saw it again. A tarpon rolling on the surface, the first we had seen so far.
I let out some line, bent down on one knee as the bottom of the bridge was only a few feet from the top of my head, and slung my lure in the direction of the rolling tarpon. I was easily a few feet short as I was casting from an awkward angle from one knee. I worked the lure a few times before reeling it in. I took a second and looked around to make mental adjustments before I made my next cast. I had to make this cast count, I thought to myself.
My next cast flew out to the tarpon’s boil and landed directly on top of it. I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. I made two jerks of the Spook before the water erupted around it and my line quickly went taut. I thought to myself, “now what do I do?” I did the only thing I instinctively knew how to do, I pulled my rod back to try to drive the hooks deep into the tarpon’s hard, bony mouth. It wasn’t the right move, but it was the move my body made. Once I reared back the tarpon went airborne and gave me a acrobatic display of its mighty power that took it at least three feet out of the water. With that leap I saw my lure spit from it’s mouth and land on the water’s surface as the tarpon slipped back under.
A smile grew across my face as I tried to take in what just happened. Adrenaline quickly rushed through my veins and caused my body to shake a little. It was only a juvenile tarpon, about 20-30 pounds at most and a far cry from the world record of 243 pounds, but it was enough to make me realize the why tarpon are nicknamed the “Silver King.”
We returned back to this same bridge the next three evenings. Glenn was next to experience the Silver King running through his veins as he hooked up with two tarpon that burned line off his reel before finally spitting the Spook, leaving him in a daze. I can still hear those drag peeling runs, and I can still see that smile on his face shining through the darkness of the night.
Bridge fishing in the Florida Keys, what an experience!