Summer heat sends most bass to the depths, looking for cooler waters and food sources. Bass pile up around deep-water points and ledges, but one of the most-overlooked structures comes in the form of bridge pilings.
“The baitfish like to go out there and feed on algae on the pilings, so that draws the bass out there,” Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brian Snowden said. “They also can suspend and move up and down in the water column, depending on the weather conditions.
“They don’t have to move very far: They can move up and down.”
Pilings are particularly important when fishing clear-water systems, where big bass are hard to find when summertime temperatures soar.
“You can catch some quality fish around bridges, but the general rule is the fish will be 2 to 4 pounds,” Snowden said. “It’s particularly effective on … clear-water reservoirs during the summer, when just catching limits is important.”
The Missouri pro said he makes a pass by a bridge piling with an eye stuck on his depth finder.
“The most important thing is having baitfish around,” Snowden said.
While there could be shad and other bait hanging around any particular upright, there are more-productive pilings under every bridge.
“It tends to be the ones closest to the main channel,” he said. “On Table Rock, for instance, the best piling is in 153 feet of water; day in, day out that seems to be the best one.”
Snowden also said it’s useful to learn how bridge pilings are built.
“Some of then have larger footings under the water’s surface,” he said. “Fish might not be on the upper support, but on those footings.”
How tightly fish orient to this vertical structure depends on the water conditions.
“If there is current, bass will be close to the piling,” Snowden said. “Most of the time, they’ll be downcurrent of the bridge in the slack water.”
If current is light, some bass also might move to the upcurrent side of the bridge.
Snowden usually calls the managing agency to discover when water will be drawn from reservoirs.
“That allows you to plan your day,” he said.
When water is flowing, Snowden casts past the piling and allows the current to sweep his bait toward the vertical structure. How far in front of the bridge he casts depends upon current strength.
However, the absence of current almost makes it a crap shoot to locate fish — almost, but not quite.
“That’s when you want to look for the shade of the bridge,” Snowden said. “They tend to be in that shade. If there’s no current, they might be 25 feet off of the piling in the shade because there’s some shad over there.”
Snowden begins near the pilings and radiates out until he marks clusters of bait on his electronics.
“You want to note how deep the bait is,” Snowden said. “That’s where you want to put your lure.”
Three lures make up his bridge-fishing arsenal, with the choice depending on the time of year.
“The first part of the post spawn, a grub or spoon will pick up fish,” Snowden said. “The rest of the summer, I mostly use a dropshot.
“When the thermacline develops, that’s when you want to fish that dropshot.”
Snowden’s grub of choice is the 4-inch version rigged on a 3/8-ounce leadhead and 8-pound mono, while his spoon is a ¾-ounce CC Spoon on 14- to 17-pound fluorocarbon.
“Fluorocarbon sinks, so it helps the spoon fall, and the sensitivity helps me detect strikes on the fall,” he explained.
His drop-shot rig is composed of a 3/8- to ½-ounce weight tied about 18 inches below a watermelon-red 4- to 5-inch worm Texas-rigged on a 1/0 straight-shanked hook.
“I like that straight-shanked hook because it just seems to penetrate fish better,” Snowden said.
Grubs and dropshots are fished on 7-foot medium-action St. Croix rods: a spinning reel for his dropshot, and a baitcasting rod for the grubs and spoons.
“Long rods allow more casting distance, and the medium-action rods will absorb shock when fighting fish with light line,” Snowden said. “Spinning rods also handle the bait better, letting it fall a little more vertically.”
Spoons are worked with 7-foot medium-heavy St. Croix rods, which provide the casting distance and a stouter back to go with the heavier line.
Keeping any lure in the strike zone can be a challenge, however, especially when they might suspend 25 to 35 feet below the surface in more than 50 feet of water. Snowden said he counts his baits down until he estimates he’s reached the proper depth, and then he experiments until he gets his first bite.
“If you get a bite at 15/1,000, you want to try and keep that bait at that depth,” he said.
Doing that isn’t all that difficult.
“You can use a Sharpie to mark the line right at the reel when you reach that depth, and the rest of the day, you can simply drop it until you see that mark,” Snowden said.
Once that’s accomplished, it’s just a matter of patience.
“The majority of the bridges on these lakes hold fish,” Snowden said. “I’ve done it in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, the Potomac, everywhere.”