Goose Island State Park
This fertile coastal marsh brims with life, in the water below and the sky above.
By Bryan Frazier
The diary of my trip to Goose Island State Park is one marked by a number of pleasant surprises. First, the park is closer to Austin than I originally thought (180 miles or so), and the incredibly rich scenery and wildlife were much more beautiful than I expected. Anticipating a flat landscape of unbroken coastal plain, Goose Island in contrast has huge live oak trees, densely wooded campsites and stunning bayfront views.
The park property is at the epicenter of some of the most pristine and productive coastal waters to be found in the Lone Star state, protruding into the convergence of Aransas, Copano and St. Charles Bays, all of which are nestled behind the protective arms of Mustang Island to the southwest and Matagorda Island to the northeast.
Make no mistake; this is not an expansive sandy beach that attracts spring breakers or other raucous types. This is marsh country, with an unspoiled seagrass coastline, where whooping cranes and redfish beckon a different brand of tourist. The shallow bay estuary is brimming with speckled trout, redfish, flounder and black drum. They’re attracted to these oyster reefs and grassy sloughs by the abundant mullet, crabs and shrimp.
“Fishing, camping and birding are our main activities,” says Stormy Reeves, park manager at Goose Island for the last 32 years. “We’re the closest public boat ramp to Cedar Bayou, which is the natural pass of the north end of San Jose Island and the southern end of Matagorda Island. Twenty-five percent of all saltwater sport fishing on the Texas coast happens in Aransas Bay. This is a very popular put-in place with duck hunters too. We have over 300 species of birds on our checklists for the park, and we offer bird walks from January through April.”
My first fishing foray from Goose Island was to wade the early morning waters in and around the park’s 1,620-foot lighted fishing pier, which overlooks acres of long oyster reefs and “fishy-looking” troughs in between. It’s known to be a rewarding spot. But, although my two-hour attempt led to zero fish, it was hard to feel disappointed, as three dolphins playfully followed me for the duration of my time in the water.
Later, I headed to the boat ramp to join up with two soon-to-be old fishing friends: Graden McVay, who has lived a few blocks from the park for almost 40 years and fished these waters since 1947, and veteran fisherman Bob Owens of New Braunfels, owner of an 18-foot center-console craft.
As with all angling, locating fish is the primary challenge; it’s even more daunting when they have an entire ocean in which to hide. But McVay’s instincts proved dead-on, as he navigated the tricky island cuts as if he had a lighted runway. The boat ride might as well have been a birding safari. En route, we spotted four whoopers, white and brown pelicans, ibis, curlew, numerous ducks and most every kind of egret and heron imaginable.
We dropped anchor on the flats of Cedar Bayou, and within five casts I hooked on to the first of 12 redfish that I would land that afternoon. Most were undersized, with the fish-of-the-day being a quality 23-inch red that — with a set of shoulders like a defensive end — stripped yards of my 17-pound fluorocarbon line in short, strong bursts.
I had brought three rods, all rigged with different baits. But I took every single fish on the silver spoon that day, including a respectable 21-inch red and a 17-inch trout. Meanwhile, my compadres fished in the other direction, and tapped into a school of speckled trout and golden croaker, landing close to a dozen or more on a root beer/chartreuse cocahoe minnow. In all, some 30 fish made it to the boat, with most promptly released safely back into the tidal flows from which they hatched.
The day’s experience of fishing, wildlife watching and good company — along with an amazing sunset — made for a reflective trip back to the ramp. I wondered how many people had visited here and left feeling as fortunate as I did, having immersed myself in peaceful beauty and laid-back fun that I will undoubtedly remember for a long time.