Is Fishing Still an Affordable Outing for Families?

December 1st, 2016

Eight-year-old Aden Viet Johnson with an impressive redfish.

Eight-year-old Aden Viet Johnson with an impressive redfish.

By Joe Kent

Fishing has always been one of the favorite pastimes for a large percentage of our population.  If you are a fisherman or, more appropriately phrased, fisherperson, then we can skip reciting all of the fun and benefits of this sport.

A concern of many on the fishing scene today is whether this sport is still affordable to families on limited incomes?

This question cropped up again recently when one of the favorite family fishing parks, Seawolf Park on Pelican Island in Galveston, raised their admission fees.

The increase applies only to non-residents of Galveston Island; however, that includes a large number of the park’s visitors.

Beginning Dec. 1, 2016, non-residents of Galveston Island will see an increase of 50 percent for adults and 33 percent for children and senior citizens.  Prior to enactment of the increase, the rates were the same for both residents and non-residents and were $6 for adults and $3 for kids and seniors.

Today non-residents of Galveston Island pay $9 and $4 respectively while Galveston residents did not see an increase in their admission fees.

This added burden on families and other groups of anglers is just another straw added to the camel’s back and raises the question of when will that incremental straw finally breaks its back.

For the benefit of the younger readers, let’s take a look at how recreational fishing has evolved over the past 60 years.

During my childhood, fishing was my greatest joy.  I looked forward to my parents taking me to the water to enjoy a day or an afternoon of fishing.  There were almost endless numbers of piers and docks available for fishing and just about every dock or pier owner had no problem with families and children fishing and crabbing from their facility.

For me, using natural baits purchased at the bait stands was a real luxury, as my family balked at paying 50 cents for a box of dead shrimp or squid.  Often generous anglers fishing near me on piers would offer a few pieces of dead shrimp after seeing me try to catch fish with chicken parts.

So for the Kent family, an afternoon spent on fishing piers from Seabrook to Galveston was an inexpensive way of enjoying a Saturday or Sunday.

As the decades rolled on, more and more of the piers and docks were lost to storms and other events leaving less and less affordable fishing spots for families and others on limited income to enjoy.

Today the situation is worse than ever, with few pier and dock owners willing to allow the public to fish from their facilities.  The reason is obvious, fear of liability.

While there are a few free fishing piers around, the more popular public fishing piers are commercial and require an admission fee.  So, let’s take a look at what it costs a family of four on a limited budget to go fishing for the day versus to a movie or other recreational activity.

The cost of admission is anywhere from free, meaning free fishing piers, beachfront, or anywhere they can access water without being considered a trespasser to say the rate at Seawolf Park which would be $26 for two adults and two children.

Gasoline from Houston (round trip) would be in the five gallon category which based on today prices would be about $10 or less and bait could cost from $3 to $10.

Most likely a picnic lunch or dinner would be carried, so we will not place a price tag on that.

The other big cost is for fishing licenses.  The adults would need fishing licenses if they fish, kids under 17 are exempt.  That cost would be in the range of $70 for two adult saltwater fishing licenses for the entire year.

How about going to a movie? That cost could easily run $26 or more and the attraction of popcorn and candy would be hard to resist, so out comes the wallet.

Other activities likely would cost at least that much or more, so while hardly anything is free of cost today, fishing outings can still be integrated into the family budget as one of the less costly activities. This is especially true when considering that other activities usually take up just a few hours while fishing can be a day-long experience with memories attached. Let’s all work to keep it that way!

Family Fishin

July 1st, 2014

200483311-001As simple as it gets

By Capt. Joe Kent

Family fishing trips can be a fun way to spend time as a family and get the kids acquainted with the great outdoors and nature.  Besides the bonding; the kids will have the opportunity to learn more about wildlife including fish and other marine life along with birds and animals that live around water.

It is also an inexpensive activity where the options run the gamut for how much you can spend.  For now, we are going to visit about the simplest and least expensive way to enjoy this great outdoor activity.

Besides the benefits mentioned earlier, a good meal just might result from a trip to the water.

The type of fishing we are talking about is not from a boat but from a pier, bulkhead, dock, or from the bank along the edge of a lake, canal, creek or bayou.

My first fishing experiences came from piers and docks around the Clear Lake area long before NASA Road One came into existence.  As a child, the road from Webster to Seabrook was a narrow two-lane county road that ran along the edges of Clear Lake.  Piers were everywhere, some were private others were public.

Gracie Rambin & Kendall Carpenter of Friendswood with some West Bay trout

Gracie Rambin and Kendall Carpenter with a solid stringer of West Bay specks.

Directly across from the old West Mansion just before crossing the bridge between Mud Lake (now Lake Pasadena) and Clear Lake there was an old crabbing pier extending into Clear Lake. It was there that I caught my first fish, a mullet believe it or not, using a cane pole and line with bobber, sinker and hook.  I never knew whether I foul hooked the fish or if it went for the chicken gizzard on my line.  I was so excited that it did not matter.  At that point, my life-long passion for fishing began.

For several years afterwards my dad would take me to various spots along Clear Lake and the Clear Creek Channel to fish.  Not long after my first fish, I began using dead shrimp for bait and did that make a difference.  Lots of croaker, hard heads, gafftop and crabs would go after my bait and the number of small fish I would take home for mom to cook was amazing.

Today, families can still enjoy this fun however the places to fish are more restricted.

For those of you new to fishing and want to give it a try, let me suggest you start out with the simple approach.  Target pan fish, which are a variety of fish that are good to eat yet seldom, outgrow the size of a frying pan.

Among the saltwater species in that category are pinfish, piggy perch, sand trout, croaker and whiting.  Just about anywhere you can find salt or brackish water those species are going to be around.  Today the biggest obstacle is finding a spot that is either public or the owner will give permission for you to fish.

The equipment needed, let’s say the very basic is a pole, line, sinker and hook.  Small rod and reels like those sold by Zebco and Shakespeare are great beginner equipment.  If not that, just a pole in the five to seven-foot length with a line attached will do.


Rachel Dare Rutledge shows off a sunfish, also known as ‘bream’ or ‘perch’ here in Texas.

While a wide variety of baits will attract pan fish, dead shrimp, especially fresh shrimp is probably the best.  Auxiliary equipment should include a box for tackle (could be a small bucket with a lid or an actual tackle box sold in sporting goods stores, hooks, weights, bobbers, pliers, fish stringer (or ice chest) and a knife.

For best results, fish the bottom, meaning do not use a bobber to keep the bait suspended.  Pan fish tend to be bottom feeders.

Croaker, sand trout and whiting are likely going to be the best choice for the table.  All three are great fried whole.

If your kids get hooked on fishing (no pun intended) the next stage is that they will want to go after larger fish with sharks being the number one target for most young anglers.  When that happens, an upgrade in equipment will be needed along with a change in location.

Fishing is something your kids will enjoy and cherish the memories of the rest of their lives.  I am a good example of that!