By David Cox
The sunken bridge rail came up on the Garmin Graph and I quickly pitched a buoy marker over the side of the boat. I had found what I was looking for, the old highway. 190 bridge. Making a u turn I found the old sunken bridge on the graph a second time and dropped another buoy marker. With the bridge now located and well marked, I reached for the “hook”. Not a fishing hook but a bridge rail hook. A custom made hook designed especially for snagging old highway bridge rails. I eased the hook over the side of the boat and while letting out rope headed back to snag the old bridge.
The last car to drive across this bridge I thought had to be in 1969. That was the year the Trinity River bottom was inundated, flooding 90,000 acres of land , covering miles of road bed and three bridges. Travelers of years past probably sang the blues as they negotiated the winding river bottom roads of East Texas in rout to their destinations. While it has been years since the last car drove over this highway, the old bridge still stands today and is teaming with the blues. BLUE CATS that is.
Who knows how many miles of flooded road beds there are in freshwater lakes across America. I would guess there are thousands of them from one end of the country to the other. As man made lakes are created for water resource, inevitably old highways have been flooded creating fish attracting structure. Road beds and especially the old bridges are well known for attracting all species of freshwater game fish.
Since the mid 1980’s I have been targeting Blue Cats on the old submerged bridges in Lake Livingston. After many trips over the years, success and failures, I have learned a few techniques to help put more cats in the boat. What I have learned here on my home lake in East Texas should work on other lakes across the country.
So how do you get started fishing for highway Blues?
First, I have learned that structure fishing submerged bridges for cats is best in the summer. The dog days of summer are the best for putting big numbers in the live well. The hotter it is in the summer the better the bite. Catfish are attracted to old sunken bridges looking for bait fish, shade and cover for protection. Surface water temperature here in the summer months range from 85 to 91 degrees.
Next, with a good fishing map of the lake, look for any old roads that were flooded when the lake was impounded. Most good fishing maps will list submerged roads in their index and also commonly list GPS coordinates of hot spots which often include road beds and bridges. This can be a invaluable resource for saving time. Looking at your map try to locate where an old road crossed a creek or river. This is where a bridge may still be intact and the best fish attracting structure will be found. Once your on the water and in the area of a bridge look for sudden changes in depth that indicate a creek or river. For example, when you cross a road bed with your depth finder it will look more like a gradual hump. If you go over a bridge, a creek or river you will notice radical changes in depth. As you cross the bridge the concrete and metal will give you a solid reading on your depth finder and appear square or more structured than the surrounding bottom. As you pass over the bridge there will be a sudden, straight, distinct drop off showing on the depth finder reflecting the depths of the creek or river bottom. For example, one of the bridges I fish on Lake Livingston the normal depth reading will be at 20-25’. When you pass over the bridge you will pick it up at 7-10’, then it will drop back to 20-25’ The bigger cats will be holding on the outside edge of the bridge, around the railing and on the drop off side. This is where you want to fish in order to target the better fish. Remember, boat positioning, location and presentation are the most crucial factors in sunken bridge fishing. Simply dropping anchor is not good enough . You want to set up to drop your baits precisely on to the edge of the bridge. The “sweet spot”. This is where the “hook” comes in. Specifically designed and fabricated for hooking underwater bridges.
The hook should be designed so, when dragged at the proper depth it grabs and hooks on to the bridge rail. Also, it is important that the hook is designed to turn loose easily when slack is given to the tie line. I have lost more than my share of bridge hooks. I make my bridge rail hooks by first cutting two pieces of 1/4 inch concrete reinforcement steel into 5’ sections.. Bend the two pieces about a foot from one end to form a hook or J shape. Weld the two pieces together to form a double hook with both hooks facing the same direction with about 5” gap between the hooks. Next, weld a one foot piece of chain to the shaft end of your hook so you have something to tie a good rope to. The chain also acts as sort of a swivel. Make two sets of hooks as you will need on for the front of the boat and one for the back of the boat.
Now, on the water its time to hook up to the bridge. The best method to get the first hook up on the bridge is to drag for it. Most old bridges have a railing and this is what you want to snag. Drop the hook over the side letting out enough rope to get the hook to the proper depth. Put the motor in gear and head for the bridge holding tightly to your hook rope. Keep tension on the hook at all times feeling for the structure as you drag. When you feel the hook hitting the bridge quickly put the motor in neutral pull in the slack until the hook grabs the structure. It is imperative that you keep the rope tight all the while until the hook grabs solid.. Pull the rope as tight as you can from the back of the boat and tie it off to a rear cleat. Now with the back of the boat secured it is time to hook up the front of the boat. Quickly grab your second hook and by using your bow mounted trolling motor and front mounted depth finder, position the bow of the boat over the edge of the bridge and throw the second hook towards the deep side of the bridge and pull up on the rope until the bridge rail is snagged again. Keep the rope as tight as you can and tie off to a cleat in the front of the boat. All of this may sound difficult, however with some practice you should be able to get set up in just a few minutes. I do not recommend hooking on to bridges under windy conditions.
Now, with the boat is parallel parked exactly on the edge of the bridge, there is no mistaking that when you drop a bait straight down it will be presented into the prime spot for some major Blue Cat action.
Remember, you want to fish on the deep side, keeping your bait on the edge of the bridge as much as possible. The water on the railing side of the boat is always the deepest. Drop a bait all the way to the bottom on the deep side and slowly reel up until a fish grabs it. Remember the depth where you got bit and concentrate on that depth. The strike zone is usually the outside edge of the bridge. I believe some of the bigger cats will actually lie in ambush under the bridge, run out grab a bait and dart back into the safety of bridge.
Heavy tackle, including a good bait casting reel spooled with no less than 15 to 20lb test line rigged on a 51/2 to 6ft. medium heavy or heavy action rod is mandatory for sunken bridge fishing. The action can be heart stopping as fish grab and run for cover. Get the fish headed your way fast or he will hang you up or cut your line on the edge of the bridge.
On this day while dragging the “hook” behind the boat my concentration was broken as the bridge showed up on the graph. Fish were stacked on the edge of the old highway bridge rail at 7’ In a few minutes we were set up and one of my clients for the day, a young man about 13 years old dropped a bait down into the bridge. Within a few seconds the young man hammered a solid hook set causing the rod to come completely out of his grip. Now, I jumped into the middle of things as we both struggled to regain control of the rod. Finely, rod back in hand the young man played the Blue Cat down. “That didn’t take long,” he said as he admired his first fish of the day. “ Ok, lets get focused and put your game face on, we are on the fish,” I said excitedly Later that morning we admired a mixed bag stringer of Blue Cats, Channel Cats and White Bass all of which came from the same sunken bridge on Lake Livingston in East Texas.
David Cox / Palmetto Guide Service
Phone - 936-291-9602
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