Clapboard Creek Bridge
The languid serenity of bridge fishing is an everyday occurrence on waterway flyovers all over Northeast Florida. Due to either luck or habit, local fishing enthusiast like to return to their bridge day in and day out — depending on the tide.
It may not be the consistency of the catch. Every fisherman knows and lives by the trodden adage that the activity is called fishing, as opposed to catching. Northeast Florida’s waters hold a veritable who’s who list of feisty (and delicious) fish and on any given day. There are folks posted up on lawn chairs and under umbrellas casting lines from bridges hoping to reel in both dinner and tales alike.
Above photos: Clapboard Creek Bridge is a hot spot for local fishermen and is located on Heckscher Dr. Whiting, red drum, and speckled trout are the fish usually caught off of Clapboard Creek Bridge.
On Heckscher Dr., the Clapboard Creek Bridge spans 900 feet over the tributary that provides its namesake. Built in 1955 and currently in need of some love from the state, the bridge is a local go-to for whiting, speckled trout, red drum and the occasional bass. The key, its loyal patrons say, it to make sure the water is moving.
“Catch the tide or hang it up,” says long-time Clapboard Creek Bridge fisherman Joe Deleslie. He adds that there is no right time of day to fish the Clapboard Creek Bridge, only the right tide. He prefers a high tide emptying out into the St. John’s River. The right bait is probably the next most important thing, and Joe always uses shrimp. The last vital component of a good experience at Clapboard Creek Bridge is his trusty, and rusty, lawn chair.
“Bridge fishing is peaceful,” he shares with a smile. That is a sentiment that Twang Martin, set up a considerate fisherman’s length away, agrees with. Putting a freshly caught, 20-inch trout in his cooler, Martin also shares the smile of success. He does not rush, as he adds another bait and casts one of the three lines he keeps in the water at all times. Just as soon as he’s cast the new shrimp into the water below, another one of his fishing rods starts to bend with the weight of continued success.
“Best part about Clapboard Creek,” Martin says, as he cranks at the reel, “is that you never know what you are going to pull up.” A good-sized whiting flaps onto the bridge sidewalk and another good-sized smile follows it.
May Street Bridge
About 45 miles south of the Clapboard Creek Bridge, a similar scene plays out on the May Street Bridge. It lies at the end or the beginning of the Vilano Causeway, depending on the direction any of the approximately 14,000 cars that cross it daily are headed. Fisherman Hunter Goyette holds a similar tranquility as he shares that, “[May Street Bridge] is a popular spot due to the convenience of the location.” Goyette lives further west in St. John’s County, but makes the trek to the bridge that crosses over the Matanzas River almost every weekend.
The entire Vilano Causeway and May Street Bridge system was completed in 1995 and form part of the A1A Scenic & Historic Byway that hugs the eastern shores of Florida. The May Street Bridge, as a fishing spot, is tide dependent and on low tides exposes oyster beds that require a bit of prudence from fishermen casting at outgoing tides. The same oyster beds offer up good haven for black drum, bluefish, flounder and the occasional sheepshead if the tide is high enough and the fisherman equally as lucky.
Goyette’s fishing buddy, Kristopher Anderson, is quick to point the sandy shoals just beyond the May Street Bridge. “That is where you catch the sharks,” he says.
Fishing off of the May Street Bridge, Anderson points out that, for the most part, folks are friendly and willing to share stories and best practices. “It definitely feels like a small-town vibe on the bridges,” Anderson says. “Every once in a while, if it is later in the evening, you can be sure that one of the local fishermen is going to talk to you and share a bunch of stories about the area. It makes is worthwhile.”