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Saltwater on a Shoestring

Pressed for time? Strapped for cash? You don’t need much of either to enjoy fishing on the Texas coast.

By Art Morris

For whatever reason, saltwater fishing is still seen by some people as a sport for the rich and famous. Not so. In fact, about half of the fishing in Texas marine waters is done by land-based anglers. The Texas coast is brimming with saltwater angling opportunities that don’t require much time or money. So what are you waiting for?

License Not Required

To get the best bang for your buck, go to a coastal state park. If you fish from a pier or the shoreline within a state park, a fishing license is not required. Entrance fees still apply.

Coastal state parks that offer essentially free family saltwater fishing opportunities include Galveston Island, Goose Island and Mustang Island. Although most of Sea Rim State Park is closed due to damage from Hurricane Rita, the beach is still accessible just outside the park boundary, and the marsh unit boat ramp is open. Many of the upper-coast parks offer beach fishing opportunities that just happen to be in some of the states premier trophy red drum waters. Some parks, like Goose Island near Rockport, even provide loaner fishing equipment — call ahead to ask about availability.

Goose Island also has a popular 1,620-foot lighted pier at the mouth of scenic St. Charles Bay where spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum and flounder can be caught. The park also offers optional wade fishing along the Goose Island shoreline. Several of these parks offer events throughout the year to add to the excitement — from kids’ fishing derbies to “Learn to Fish” seminars. For information about events, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Calendar.

Wade the Bank

Along bay shorelines, the state owns the bay bottom to the high tide line, which means the public can access those areas. However, it is illegal to cross private property to access the bay. Pay close attention to private land boundaries.

There are numerous access points in all eight major Texas bay systems. For example, the Texas City Dike in Galveston Bay is the world’s longest (five miles) man-made fishing “pier.” Part of Texas City’s flood control system, this site is a haven for local anglers and water enthusiasts. It offers free public access so you can wade until your heart’s content or simply kick back and fish from the bank. The dike is also a hot spot for crabbing.

A unique way to fish these areas is to simply relax behind the reel of a sail line. A sail line is essentially a mobile trotline. A wind-driven sail on the end of the mainline takes the baited line out from shore and is stopped at a likely location. Baited hooks dangle patiently for a bite from hungry fish and, after a while, the line is reeled back in. Just about every day along the JFK Causeway of the upper Laguna Madre near Corpus Christi, numerous sail line anglers can be observed trying their wind-driven luck. Sail lines offer a lazy and effective way to fish that the whole family can enjoy. For information about special sail line regulations, visit Legal Freshwater and Saltwater Devices & Restrictions.

Give Kayaking a Try

An economical and entertaining way for the family to enjoy the outdoors is to go kayaking. It does not take a rocket scientist to paddle one, and they are a cheap alternative to owning a motor boat. If you’re not ready to shell out the cash to buy a kayak, there are several places to rent them along the coast. Today there are numerous opportunities to participate in this rapidly growing sport. There are kayak fishing tournaments, kayak fishing guides, kayak fishing Web sites and kayak trails — the Lighthouse Trails site in Redfish Bay near Aransas Pass is the most well-known and accessible. Another kayak trail site in South Bay near Port Isabel is fast becoming popular for its unique mangrove habitats and snook fishing opportunities.

Beach Fish

Texas has 367 miles of barrier island beaches along the coast. Some areas are rugged and not readily accessible, but there are numerous beaches that can easily accommodate a family surf-fishing adventure. Beaches also provide alternative entertainment, like beachcombing, swimming and wildlife viewing.

Padre Island National Seashore, a short distance south of Corpus Christi, offers 65.5 miles of unspoiled beach fishing access. Malaquite Beach — a 4.5-mile stretch where vehicles are not allowed — allows families carefree beach and fishing access. North Beach and South Beach are accessible by both two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive vehicles, and the remaining 55 miles (Big Shell Beach and Little Shell Beach) are open only to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a pop-up tent or other form of shade, and the family will be set for some of the most enjoyable surf-fishing action on the Texas coast.

Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide

The Texas General Land Office’s free Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide provides information about public access sites along the Texas coast, including a brief historical and demographic overview of each coastal county along with a brief description of the recreational activities within each county. It also has maps showing piers, jetties, launch ramps, facilities for the mobility-impaired, beach access and more. In all, the document describes nearly 360 access points to Texas bays and beaches within the 18 coastal counties. To receive a copy, contact Texas Coastal Management Program at (800) 998-4456 or visit <www.glo.state.tx.us/coastal/access/index.html>.

Try a Pier or Jetty

According to the Texas General Land Office’s Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide, there are 98 public access piers on the Texas coast. Nueces County near Corpus Christi boasts the most piers of any county listed, with 18. But if you combine Harris, Galveston, Brazoria and Chambers Counties — the counties surrounding Galveston Bay — there are 32 piers accessible to the public. Some piers have facilities that offer drinks, food, bait and tackle, while some are without amenities. Some piers are for bay fishing, others cater to near-shore gulf anglers. While some piers charge a nominal entrance fee or a per-rod fee, many offer free access. All offer a quick and stress-free opportunity to take the family saltwater fishing.

Some communities maintain a wide variety of fishing piers. For example, in Rockport, there are seven public and privately maintained fishing piers that can be found nearby, like the famous Copano Bay Fishing Pier, located just five miles north of town. After a new causeway was built across Copano Bay in 1967, the old bridge was acquired by TPWD from the Texas Department of Transportation, and was opened as a fishing pier later that year. The old causeway was cut in two to aid boat traffic, so the pier now has 2,500 feet on the north side and 6,190 feet on the south side. Today, the popular pier is maintained by the Aransas County Navigation District and has a concession stand that provides bait and tackle and other amenities.

Jetties are similar to piers in that they provide access to deeper waters far from shore. In addition to protecting passes and channels from erosion and sedimentation, they also serve as excellent spots for shore-based fishing. These megastructures offer unique opportunities to try your luck at cruising schools of fish and provide habitat for sheepshead and gray snapper. These species provide terrific action and can keep the attention of those family members who lose interest easily. Some jetties can accommodate those with limited mobility and offer free access, but check with the local municipalities for accommodations and any applicable fees. The most celebrated and accessible jetties are located at Sabine Pass, Galveston, Freeport, Port Aransas and South Padre Island.

Make the Most of Your Fishing Time

For the family that does not get to go saltwater fishing very often, it is imperative that you maximize your time and enjoyment. The easiest and best way to saltwater fish and keep interest high is to use dead shrimp for bait. Shrimp that is worked along the bottom will attract everything from the teeniest fish to tonight’s dinner or even a trophy. Cheap to purchase and readily available, dead shrimp are easy to use and the action will help keep interest keen for those family members lacking patience.

The next best way to maintain interest is to fish with a float. A float gives children something to concentrate on. A small popping cork rigged with dead shrimp underneath is easy to set up and focuses attention on the action at hand.

For the more adventurous, live shrimp will likely produce more glamorous fish, like red drum and spotted seatrout, but the drawback is that you have to keep them alive either with a live bucket or an aeration system. Rigged either for bottom fishing or on the surface, live shrimp will keep the action coming. And for fishing under lights at night off piers, nothing outperforms live shrimp for spotted seatrout.

With a little advance planning, it’s easy to find no-hassle, low-cost ways to enjoy the wind, the waves and the top-notch saltwater fishing along the Texas coast.

Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide

The Texas General Land Office's free Texas Beach and Bay Access Guide provides information about public access sites along the Texas coast, including a brief historical and demographic overview of each coastal county along with a brief description of the recreational activities within each county. It also has maps showing piers, jetties, launch ramps, facilities for the mobility-impaired, beach access and more. In all, the document describes nearly 360 access points to Texas bays and beaches within the 18 coastal counties. To receive a copy, contact Texas Coastal Management Program at (800) 998-4456 or visit <www.glo.state.tx.us/coastal/access/index.html>

Take a Party Boat Trip

Party boats offer families an economical and relaxed way to experience some excellent Texas fishing. These large vessels are capable of carrying numerous anglers at one time with typical trips ranging from four to 12 hours. Some offer deep-sea fishing adventures that target king mackerel, red snapper and other offshore species. Inshore trips to quieter bay waters target Atlantic croaker, sand sea trout and other bay species. Catching a “boat limit” is not uncommon — meaning everyone gets into the action. Deckhands offer assistance with baiting hooks, landing fish and tips on how to catch the fish du jour. Bait and tackle are typically furnished on these vessels, so no need to purchase extra gear. Coastal ports that offer bay and/or deep-sea fishing adventures include Galveston, Freeport, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi and Port Isabel.

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