ON THE WATER: The World’s Fishingest Bridge
When the new drawbridge leading to Pine Island was opened in 1968, it had some mighty large shoes to fill. The old narrow wooden bridge with a manually operated swing draw it was to replace had become famous for the great fishing. It wasn’t always an easy car ride to Matlacha, but anglers by the hundreds traveled the path to unbelievable fishing from the bridge nicknamed “The World’s Fishingest Bridge.”
Below are a couple paragraphs from an article titled “Florida’s Fishingest Bridge,” dated January 1955 in the Florida Wildlife Magazine.
“After several years of fishing from bridges along the East and West Coasts of Florida and the Florida Keys, I’m convinced that Pine Island Bridge tops ’em all for really delivering the goods at any and all seasons of the year. That is in comparison with the length of the bridge which is approximately only 300 yards long.”
“The bridge is a fishing balcony and at any time, winter, summer, day or night, you’ll see both men and women wetting their lines over the rails of the bridge. Recently, I actually counted 220 fishermen on this bridge, while a few hundred yards north of the bridge in about a quarter of a mile-square space of water, I counted 42 boats, each with two or three persons fishing from them. They all appeared to be reeling in fish. This spectacle of so many fishermen lining the bridge, shoulder to shoulder, the fleet of boats on the dark blue water and the emerald islands, all under a bright blue sky, caused a continual jam of cars, as tourists watched the bending rods and listened to the exciting shouts and laughter of the fishermen as they landed speckled sea trout and now and then a snook, redfish or mackerel.”
The article was written by Frederick H. Timson and he also continues in his article about the great daytime fishing for big snook he experienced from the bridge. Remember, the article was written in 1955 — that’s a lot of anglers for that time. Matlacha was in the middle of nowhere. I have to thank my mom for saving that article after all these years; she has collected boxes of history on Matlacha and Pine Island.
As you can imagine when this famous fishing bridge that opened in 1927 was replaced and dismantled, there were more than a few anglers worried that their popular destination for great fishing would no longer be the same, and that the fish would just not be attracted to the new cement structure as they were to the old wooden barnacle encrusted pilings. And it wasn’t just the anglers traveling to reach the famous bridge that were concerned, but more so the residents of the island.
Back in the day, before Matlacha transformed to a brightly colored art community, it was all about fishing. In fact, many of the pretty art shops today were once fish houses where both commercial and recreational anglers brought their catch. If you lived in, traveled or moved to Matlacha, it was for one sole purpose — fishing.
Well, things never were the same, but when they opened the new bridge fishing was surprisingly good. I was lucky to grow up only a few hundred yards from the bridge. The new larger structure with safe areas to fish that protected anglers from traffic and also well lit at night soon became my second home. This bridge was much safer for fishermen than the old, narrow, poorly lit wooden structure.
I remember as a little boy, I caught one of the first fish from the new structure. On the day of the grand opening, they held a fishing tournament and the first 12 to catch a fish won a new rod and reel. My older brother, several friends and I planned this day for weeks and secured our spot near the bridges draw hours before the start. Fishermen were lined shoulder to shoulder awaiting the signal to begin fishing. My brother hooked up almost immediately with a mangrove snapper and I believe claimed the first rod and reel. It seemed like forever, but shortly after I pulled a sheepshead over the tall rail that was about the same height as me and claimed the sixth spot and was rewarded with a nice spinning outfit. I was one happy boy! My brother and I caught a lot of snook with those rigs over the next few years from the bridge.
Over its lifespan, anglers have stood side by side, young and old, fishing day and night. The bridge has remained a popular fishing destination, but it doesn’t draw the number of anglers as in years past. There was a time when it was practically shoulder to shoulder on the opening of snook season or when a hot trout bite followed a winter cold front and on most weekends. The bridge is a place where anglers from all walks of life would converge with anticipation of great fishing.
The Matlacha Bridge has been a large part of my family’s life, from fishing countless hours day and night while growing up, to crossing over, under or just viewing it daily. This old concrete structure is like family to me, I have been around her my entire life and now the equipment has arrived and her eventual replacement is under construction. It will be sad to say goodbye to an island landmark and an old reliable friend, but that’s progress. Plus you can look at her and tell she is tired and ready for retirement. I’m hoping she can eventually be put to rest as an artificial reef nearby on the ocean floor, where she will continue to attract fish and remain a part of my family’s life for a long time to come.
The original wooden bridge rightfully earned the nickname “The World’s Fishingest Bridge” and set some pretty high standards. Over the past 40-plus years, the soon to be replaced Matlacha Draw Bridge has also set some high fishing standards and proudly carried on the label of “The World’s Fishingest Bridge.” Let’s hope when the new third generation bridge is complete, it can live up to its name and keep the tradition going. Maybe for its grand opening they will have a fishing tournament. I hope so — I need a new rod and reel!
Wishing all a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.
If you have a fishing story or for charter information, please contact us at 239-283-7960 or www.fishpineisland.com. Have a safe week and good fishin’.