By Capt. Joe Kent
In my role as the Fishing Columnist for the Galveston County Daily News, one of the most frequently asked questions comes from readers seeking information on areas they can fish without a boat. Close behind this are inquiries from mainly families wanting to know of free fishing piers or docks where they can take the kids fishing and crabbing.
Unfortunately, the answer to both sets of questions is that there is a very limited number of spots where anglers can access the water or fish from a public pier or dock without fees being involved.
This was not the case decades ago when pubic fishing piers dotted the area around the Galveston Bay Complex including Galveston Island itself.
If it were not for having fishing piers to use, it is possible that I would not have developed my passion for fishing and learned so much from other anglers fishing close by who taught me some of the basics of saltwater fishing.
Around Clear Lake, there were numerous crabbing and fishing piers where kids and their families could enjoy a morning or day of fishing. One of the few that remains and, it could be the only one on the lake, is the pier at the Harris County Park on NASA Road 1. As a small child, I fished and crabbed from that pier many times.
Although I am not sure just how long the pier and its predecessors have been there, it has been at least 70 years.
Along with the Harris County Park Pier, there were numerous piers running out into Clear Lake and all were open to the public although I am sure some were privately owned.
Clifton’s by the Sea had a huge pier running into Galveston Bay and it was known as one of the best crabbing spots around.
So, what has happened to all of our public fishing areas? Well, first of all with each passing hurricane or tropical storm, piers are badly damaged or wiped out. Since Hurricane Carla in 1961, most have not been rebuilt.
Commercial and residential waterfront development has caused many of our public locations with access to water to be taken away. This has been especially true along the west shoreline of Galveston Bay and all of Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.
Liability was not much of a concern back in the 1960s and beyond; however, that is not the case today. Back then people assumed the responsibility for their actions; however, today, a lawsuit is waiting for any possible recovery for injury, however so slight.
Another factor preventing the rebuilding and construction of public fishing piers is the cost. First, waterfront property is sky high and the costs of construction are likewise.
The victims of all of this are the families and youth. For the Galveston Bay Complex, there is not an easy way around all of this. Do municipalities and counties want to spend their limited resources on fishing piers or for something of more use to the masses such as roads and utilities? If fishing drew a larger percentage of the population, there likely would be some concessions.
In contrast to the Galveston Bay Complex, areas along the middle and lower Texas Coast continue to provide excellent facilities for families to use for crabbing or fishing. Driving down Highway 35 from Matagorda County southward, the number of free fishing spots just glares at you.
It would be interesting to know just how many visitors and tourists those nice fishing piers draw each year. Palacios, Port O’Connor, Rockport and Aransas Pass all have to be proud of their contributions to family outings. It would be nice if more of those facilities could be built closer to the Galveston Bay area!