TAMPA — Finally.
Tom Alvarez had waited a year — ever since hearing about plans for a pedestrian bridge alongside Courtney Campbell Causeway — for the chance to cast a line from the coveted spot atop the span.
"That's where the good fish are," said Alvarez, 33, of Tampa. "They travel that deeper channel."
So when construction workers took down blockades on the project last week, he was one of the first to go up with a pole, bringing back red and black drum and a bunch of mackerel.
His plans to catch more, however, were thwarted Thursday when he arrived at the bridge to find the Florida Department of Transportation had posted warning signs: No fishing from bridge.
"There's not another place for us to get this access," said Alvarez, who fished off the Friendship Trail Bridge beside Gandy Boulevard before it closed in 2008.
Kris Carson, a DOT spokeswoman, said the fishing ban on the span is a matter of safety — citing photos submitted to the agency by bicyclists as evidence.
The DOT built the 4-mile trail, which includes the .6-mile pedestrian bridge in question, at a cost of $14.6 million from federal money set aside for pedestrian projects, Carson said.
The trail is so new that a ribbon-cutting ceremony is two months off and a portion of it is not complete. Still, Carson said DOT officials realized people would go on the bridge before then.
David Duran of Clearwater rides an average of 200-plus miles a week on his bike. When he rode Sunday across the bridge, he said, he dodged broken glass and fish hooks.
He and other cyclists realized they can't coexist with anglers on that segment of the 16-foot-wide trail. They called Carson and sent emails including pictures of abandoned hooks and fish parts.
Cyclists would go fast, and anglers would set out chairs and coolers and hooks would fly.
"We didn't feel like that's a good mix," Carson said.
She said the intent of the bridge is to improve safety for those walking and biking in the Tampa Bay area, which has double the national average for pedestrian deaths.
Carson said the agency has asked Tampa police to enforce the restriction. Police typically tell those fishing in restricted areas to leave.
Fishing still will be allowed under the bridge and along the bridge approach.
Felix Alicea of Clearwater fishes from the causeway every day, he said, and was dismayed.
"It's a shame," he said Thursday afternoon as he looked for crabs under the bridge.
"There aren't that many bicyclists," Alicea said. "There's more people fishing and it's not that safe here on the slippery rocks."
He had looked up the cost of the bridge. Allowing everyone to use it is the only way that money could be justified, he said.
Mike Lynch, 50, of Leesburg, came out at 8 a.m. Thursday and cast a line under the new pedestrian bridge, after hearing it is the new fishing hot spot.
"Sounds to me like they need to go back and rethink this," Lynch said. Seeing a sign, he had gone down onto the rocks instead and hadn't caught anything by 11 a.m.
"Why would they spend that much money for a bridge and just jog across it?" he asked. "That doesn't sound very sensible."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.