NEW ORLEANS — Capt. Mike Gallo is one of the most successful anglers at pulling Lake Pontchartrain's speckled trout off the stanchions of the bridges along the eastern edge of the water body, but he wasn't always a Trestles terror.
Like anyone else, Gallo had to learn the subtleties of the bridge bites, and that took time. He told a packed house at a seminar in Covington last week that he'd play mind games with himself to keep his brain engaged.
"When I was learning the bridges years ago, I'd constantly tell myself, 'He's about to bite, he's about to bite,' so that I was just constantly ready," he said.
Gallo would envision fish at the bases of the stanchions, and would picture the action of the lure and what needed to happen to entice those fish to bite.
He no longer has to go through those mental machinations, however.
"Now, I'll find myself talking, and I'll catch them," he said. "They've become well-formed habits, but you can form those habits yourself."
Even more important for beginners than playing mind-games is maintaining contact with their lures, Gallo said.
"What I see a majority of my clients do is lift and then push the rod down," he said. "When you do that, your line gets slack, and you cannot feel that light bite. So I call the technique I use the dual-strike zone. You have to be in a position to strike when he strikes you. You have to be in the 9 o'clock to 11 o'clock position."
Gallo reels down with a taut line as the lure is falling back to the bottom. He never loses contact with the lead head, which usually weighs a 1/2 ounce rather than the more popular 3/8-ounce jigheads.
"I just feel like I can maintain contact with the bottom better with the heavier head," he said. "My normal technique -- my default -- is to hope twice and rapidly gather that slack."
Usually while he's gathering the slack is the moment the fish will strike, and those bites are often quite subtle. Gallo doesn't have a mental debate about whether what he just felt could have been a fish.
"I tell people all the time: If anything changes, set the hook," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a tap. It could be that the weight disappears. The fish might have risen up from the bottom, and now he's carrying the weight, and you don't feel it.
"Jerks are free. It doesn't cost anything to set the hook."
Gallo said only when the bridge fish are at their most aggressive will anglers feel the hard, distinctive tap that keeps us coming back for more. Most of the time, there's just an odd sensation that something isn't right at the end of the line.
"Imagine you're dragging a lure across your driveway, and I put a little dab of pudding in the path," Gallo said. "That lure will get a little heavier, a little mushier when it hits the pudding. That's often what (a hit) feels like."
That sensation transfers much better through equipment designed for jigging. Gallo doesn't take a whippy popping-ccork rod to the bridges.
"I use a medium-heavy rod with a stiff tip, so if I can move only 10 inches with my hookset, I transfer that power to that fish," he said.
With the right gear and Gallo's dual-strike-zone technique, anyone can have success at the bridges when the World Series run begins, he said.
"Once you do it a couple hundred times, it'll just become habit," he said. "You'll cast at those pilings a thousand times a day, so you can formulate that habit in one day."