By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Everybody knows to fish bridges. That’s Bass 101. But how you approach these structures greatly impacts your success.
For Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs, bridge causeways present a bounty of opportunity that’s often underutilized by anglers in too much of a hurry to get to the more visually dominant pilings and shadow lines. The Texas pro spends plenty of time on that stuff, too, but he knows the value of analyzing that long stretch of riprap with the same discernment he’d apply to a complex laydown.
In fact, Combs’ examination is so thorough that he often idles a bridge causeway with no rod in his hand. He just looks. He surveys the layout and sweet spots, calculates the likelihoods and then formulates his game plan.
Let’s take a look at how Combs breaks down these opportunities.
The riprap reinforcing a bridge causeway presents a conundrum – it’s all potentially fishy. Combs notes that there really aren’t any bad casts here, but he’s definitely alert for variations. That could be a well-defined point or jut-out, or simply a few rocks that have tumbled downhill to form a mini-reef next to the causeway.
Combs’ top bait for probing rocks of regular or atypical form is a KVD 1.5 to 4.0 square-bill crankbait. Running the edge and deflecting off the structure, these baits allow him to cover water quickly and dial in active areas.
He’ll also have a 1/2-ounce Strike King Hack Attack flipping jig with either a Strike King Rage Bug or Menace (in warmer water) or a Strike King Rodent (cold water). It’s easy to mistake this shift to flipping as a slower presentation – and it certainly can be. However, the way Combs fishes his jig keeps him moving efficiently.
*”You can cover a lot more water than you think by casting that jig on a 45-degree angle and hopping it quickly,” he said. “That initial fall is, a lot of times, when you’re going to get your bite; not when you’re dragging around on the bottom. You break the surface and make some sound and that’s when you get your bite.”
In clear water, Combs might also show the fish a jerkbait. He likes the KVD 300 or KVD deep-diver for this duty.
Laydowns and blow-in wood create natural stopping points for a savvy bridge angler and Combs knows that these random features can be real day-makers. Equally, if not more attractive, is a manmade brush pile tucked off to the side of the causeway.
“It can all be really good; I’m not going to pass any of that stuff,” Combs said. “But there have been times when I was catching them so good on a causeway, I could go pick off the low-hanging fruit off a laydown or something like that.
“But, if I know there are fish on that bridge, those brush piles can come into play on the second or third day of a tournament. A lot of guys get on a bridge and don’t run their electronics; they’ll go down it and fish visually. So spending a few extra minutes looking with your electronics can pay off because, generally, someone has planted some brush piles on those areas. Usually, that’s a one-cast deal.”
Crankbaits are Combs' primary offerings when fishing causeways, but he'll often turn to a jerkbait in clear water.
Combs will hit the perimeter of a causeway brush pile with a Strike King 5XD or 6XD and then move in closer to flip it with a Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig, which comes through cover better. In warmer months, he’ll drag an 8- to 10-inch worm by the cover.
If he can’t find any other significant change in a causeway, Combs will idle along it and use his Humminbird Solix to side-scan the structure and look for baitfish. "Find the food, find the fish" is the rule and that will often be in a pronounced depth variation like a depression, a drain or the occasional channel swing that dips in next to the rocks.
“That’s generally where the baitfish will be, especially in the winter and into the pre-spawn,” Combs said. “Sometimes it’s just a section of steeper bank, but wherever you have deeper water, you’ll have baitfish and then the bass will concentrate there.”
As Combs works his way toward the bridge span, the very end of the riprap comes to a natural point with an upstream and downstream corner. The same setup mirrors on the bridge’s opposite side and Combs says these spots are often where the magic happens.
“Those are the ultimate high-percentage spots,” he stresses. “Everybody knows that, so it’s going to get a lot of pressure, but that’s where you have the greatest potential for a school of fish to move up because you have deep water and a channel there most of the time. Even if I haven’t caught a fish in practice, I never pass by that little corner without fishing it.”
Crankbaits – a square-bill or a 5XD ¬– are most efficient for these sweet spots and Combs notes that there’s no real science to precisely where the fish will bite. You typically find that through experimentation.
“The key is figuring out what angle you need to hit, because it changes,” he said. “You can’t say ‘The current or wind are doing his, so I need to bring it a certain way.’ You just have to hit it from different angles to get one to react. With a crankbait, you can do that fast.”
Like the straightaways, Combs also looks for random jut-outs on the bridge points. These oddities are often worth extra attention and they’re always a good pitching target.
Closing out the tale, Combs points all the way to the opposite end of the bridge causeway for what he feels is the most overlooked opportunity — the shoreward end. This is where a lot of the wood and debris collects to form bass-friendly habitat that many anglers simply don’t engage.
“Sometimes a guy fishing down a causeway gets halfway down and decides not to go any farther,” Combs said. “But this area is usually the most protected part of a bridge, especially on the downwind side, and you can usually catch a good one there.”
High water may find the wood gathering vegetation mats, but when fall or early winter brings low water levels, any isolated wood retaining sufficient water is well worth a few minutes.
“It’s rarely going to be a bunch of fish,” Combs said, “but it can be a key fish. It can be what I call a ‘one-flipper’ – you see the laydown, you make one pitch on it and catch the fish. So I never pass this up.”