Paddle Craft: Bridge Troll

Big rewards lurk under big bridges—if you’re prepared.

By Jerry McBride

Originally published in January 2010 print edition

Lights at bow, stern and headlamp: don’t leave home without them.

The same fastidious thought needs to go into a night bridge-fishing expedition as an offshore trip. I admit to being a bit lackadaisical about safety when fishing a foot-deep grassflat far off the beaten-boat path. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

A lot of things can go wrong very quickly when trolling among bridge pilings, especially at night.

Lights and Leashes

Florida law requires only a flashlight or other light source that can be switched on for signaling in non-powered kayaks. However, if you’re busy rigging tackle or fighting a fish, you may never see an approaching boat, especially if it’s running with the lights off; a kayak is a mere speed bump to a bay boat in a hurry. Most kayak shops—or online kayak accessory stores—offer lighting accessories. Mount a white light on a tall stalk behind the seat; stick it in front, and you’ll ruin your night vision. There’s no shortage of inexpensive models that plug into a rodholder base or which suction-cup to the hull.

Red (port) and green (starboard) bow lights apprise approaching boats not only of your presence but also which way you’re heading. Shark-eye lights create a very cool, menacing look, but require installation, internal wiring and a relatively heavy battery. It takes just seconds to hang an inexpensive waterproof LED lamp from each side of the bow.

You’ll want a bright LED headlamp for rigging tackle anyway, and it’s a hands-free method of signaling approaching boats of your presence.

Tie One On

Know where your tools are. Fumbling in the darkness with a big fish at boatside is no time to start searching for the lip-gripper. Attach tools to a retractable gear-keeper device that keeps them handy but out of the way when not in use.

Leashes are stretchy cords that prevent the loss of fishing rods or paddles dropped into deep water. At $10 to $15, they’re a cheap investment compared to replacing a $200 fishing rod. They’re priceless as opposed to losing a paddle at night and being swept out with the tide. FS