Head On A Swivel: Watch For Dangerous Ship Wakes

July 30th, 2020

By Capt. David C. Dillman

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When you are young, perils that laid before you seemed distant. You seldom had fear and nothing scared you. Death did not seem real. You were willing to try most things, even if it involved cheating death. Now that you are older, you hear yourself say, “how did I ever survive?”

Becoming a first time boat owner, you never think about the dangers. The boat gives you a sense of freedom and escape from the world — you become the king of the sea! My first boat was a center console 16 foot Monarch. I strictly fished East Galveston Bay, getting up in the wee hours of the morning, riding the Galveston ferry to the launch at Stingaree. There was a ramp and a drop box for the ramp fee at the time, nothing fancy. I fished every inch of East Bay in that boat.

I sold that boat and bought my first of three Pro-Lines, a 17 footer with a 115 Sea-Drive. After buying this boat, I ventured to Eagle Point Fishing Camp for the first time. Little did I know at the time, this would become my home for over 35 years.

Having no fear on my first outing, I was abruptly halted by a reef called Todd’s Dump. This was a wake up call that I needed to study and learn everything about this bay system, not just East Galveston Bay. Lucky for me the owner of Eagle Point, Johnny Valentino, took a liking to me as well as a couple of old timers that fished out of there for years. Luck never really played a part because God brings people into your life for a reason (Proverbs 3: 5-6). Under their guidance, I learned the area and the dangers to avoid. One of them the large wakes created by the ships.

This boat was capsized by a ship wake that came off Todd’s Dump.

I learned all about the dangers of the wakes by fishing the spoil banks and shell reefs that line the Houston/Galveston ship channel. Even with all my knowledge of how the ships are loaded and which ships will throw a large wake, you should never let your guard down.

One day when fishing with an “old salt” John and his brother, we did just that. Anchored up on what was the south end of Redfish Island, we were catching fish, being mindful of the passing ships. A small tanker was heading down the channel, we never saw a breaking wake as it passed the north end of Redfish Island. Thinking nothing of it, we continued to fish, then it was too late.

I looked back to the North and heard the roar of a breaking wave. We had no time to start the boat and turn the bow into the wave. The water being sucked from underneath the boat held the anchor tight as the wave broadsided us, nearly flipping the boat. We slammed back down just as the next wave filled the boat. We let out guard down but God saved us from a catastrophe. We managed to get the boat started, pulled anchor while underway to drain the water from the boat. Needless to say, we called it a day.

In the last couple years there have been a few people caught by these wakes with fatal results. Who is to blame? This can be debated whether it is the ship pilots traveling in excessive speed or the boater lacking knowledge or not paying attention. This time of year many anglers are fishing near the channel. Even those with experience can get caught in a dangerous situation. One must keep their “Head On A Swivel” at all times, never letting your guard down. One life lost is one too many.

I offer a boating class where I go in your boat and teach you how to navigate Galveston Bay. We can even fish as you learn. Many have taken advantage of the knowledge I have and in turn made their angling and boating experience more successful. Safety while boating should be your top priority, catching fish is just a bonus.

The Galveston Bay Complex Revival

August 1st, 2017

A snook was recently caught at the Galveston jetties

By Capt. Joe Kent

For years now almost everyone associated with the Galveston Bay Complex has had few good things to say about our fishing. There certainly was good reason to complain, as the quality of the water was driving finfish and crustaceans away.

Old timers, those who fished all around the complex during the 1940s and 50s, would tell of catches of fish that we just do not see today. Also, they would brag about the quantities of fish they would catch and give away, fish they would sell to seafood markets, or worse use for fertilizing their plants.

During that time it seemed that there was an endless bounty of seafood for the taking all over the area. Families would find good crabbing along the Houston Ship Channel as far upstream as the where the Battleship Texas is located. Nice catches of trout, croaker and other fish would come from the same area.

At some point during the 1960s it became apparent that something was happening to our stocks of crab and finfish in upper Galveston Bay and along the shores adjacent to the Houston Ship Channel.

This did not get any serious attention by our legislators until well into the 60s when quality analysis showed the water was polluted with contaminants from industries along the channel.

Further evaluations revealed that some of the rivers, bayous and creeks flowing into the bay system were bringing unacceptable amounts of contaminants in the forms of metals and sewage.

It did not take long for everyone to realize that famous phrase “Houston we have a problem.”

During that era my family and I fished out of Seabrook almost exclusively as the fishing was great and about half the distance to Galveston. Two of the more popular and productive spots out of Seabrook were Scotts Reef, an easy run from the bait camps along Toddville Road, and the spoil banks along the Houston Ship Channel which we referred to as the Bulkheads.

Kemah, across the channel was home to a party boat called the Texas Clipper and for $5.00 the boat would take anglers, or anyone just wanting an outing on the water out to the ship channel for a half-day of fishing. On weekends, the boat would make morning and afternoon trips and anglers always caught a variety of pan fish with an occasional speckled trout or red mixed in.

The fishing out of the Seabrook/Kemah area turned off toward the end of the 60s and by the early 1970s anglers were moving closer to Galveston to find fish. That is when I began fishing the jetties by boat.

At that time, more restrictions were being placed on dumping into Galveston Bay. As the environmental regulations were increasing, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began noticing a serious decline in our stocks of fish and began setting size and bag limits for certain species.

Additionally, efforts began to start educating fishermen that there was a finite supply of fish and that good stewardship of our resources was needed to aid the recovery and provide fish for future generations.

All of this has been a slow process; however, progress has been made.

Our fishing regulations go beyond just size and bag limits and are a major contributor to the return of healthy stocks of fish. The controls over dumping of wastes into the water have resulted in better quality of water in much of upper Galveston Bay.

Still, there are a number of areas, especially along the upper reaches of the Houston Ship Channel, that carry consumption advisories for both crabs and certain finfish. A list of those locations can be found on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Now for the good news, which is that most of the fishing guides, including myself, are finding a wider variety of nice quality fish this year. A recent report of a snook being caught at the Galveston Jetties is a first in years. Red snapper, lane snapper, ling, mangrove snapper and king mackerel are catching the attention of anglers in lower Galveston Bay. The periodic rains this year have helped balance the salinity in the water and at this point the outlook is looking good.

We cannot let our guard down however and anglers need to increase their practice of conservation by employing catch and release of fish and retain only what they will eat for a meal or so. Also, continuous monitoring of our water quality is imperative.

All in all, our programs are working and the Galveston Bay Complex is experiencing a revival. That is good news for today’s anglers and for generations to come.

Tips for Fishing the Winds of April

April 1st, 2017

By Capt. Joe Kent

Often April is mentioned as a transition month for coastal fishing. Wintertime patterns give way to springtime fishing, with some of the largest trout of the year caught during April.  This month can be a very frustrating time for anglers as it has the dubious honor of being the windiest month of the year.

April also is one of the spring months and continues the ever changing weather patterns with warm fronts setting in followed by another cold front.  Fortunately, we are out of the woods as far as any severe freezes are concerned, so that is a relief to all coastal fishermen.

Surf fishermen wait with great anticipation as the beach water temperature climbs to sustained 70-degree readings and higher.  April normally is the month in which that occurs.

April is known around the Houston and Galveston area for April 21. Yes, it is the day when Texas won its independence from Mexico at San Jacinto; however, the day has another meaning for old timers in the area.  It is the day when anglers considered saltwater fishing to be underway.

One of the reasons for that date is that it coincided with the San Jacinto Day state holiday that was especially recognized in Harris and Galveston Counties.  Anglers used the holiday as a time to fish the coast with many making their first trip of the year.

Now that we know a little about the month, let’s discuss how to best handle the biggest obstacle for fishing during April, and that is the wind.

One of the best ways to handle April’s wind is to find windows of light-to-moderate southerly winds. Using our modern and sophisticated weather forecasts, we can often predict the days that are easily fishable. Planning trips around them is well advised.

Often the best laid plans go awry with anglers finding that what was forecast to be light winds for their trip turns out to be the opposite. The month of April is full of such surprises.

Now, if you find yourself battling the wind, here are some suggestions on how to make the most of it.

Find protected waters whether on the leeward shorelines or back in coves, creeks and bayous that are less affected by the wind.

Warmer waters are part of April and for that reason the shallower areas will be holding more fish than during winter.

Wade fishing is one of the best methods for fishing the shallower areas.

Afternoon fishing tends to be favored over morning fishing, as the water warms during the day and that sends trout and reds into a feeding mode as bait tends to be more prevalent.

A change from slow sinking winter baits to swimming and top waters are part of the transition.  Still, live shrimp is one of the best choices for bait unless you are targeting a trophy trout, a prime time fish for April. Fin fish and fin fish imitation baits are the choices of many trophy trout hunters.

Now, where are a few of the spots that have a good chance to be fishable during moderate to strong southerly winds?  Areas along the Galveston Ship Channel, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Clear Creek Channel between Kemah and Seabrook, Moses Lake, the south shoreline of both East and West Bays and Dickinson Bay are all good possibilities.

What species are caught during April?  Besides specks and reds, black drum still are in their annual run, gafftop start showing in greater numbers and toward the end of the month the surf usually produces its first ling of the year along with jack crevalle and sharks.

April is truly a transitional month and just about all of our summertime fish are going to be making their way to the bays at some point during those 30 days.

Just don’t let the wind interfere with your fishing.

Spring floods and the effects on summertime fishing

June 1st, 2016

Speckled TroutBy Capt. Joe Kent

It appears that 2016 may be a repeat of the previous year when it comes to springtime floods.  In 2015 the flooding came in early June and had a noticeable effect on our summertime fishing.

Since June is the month when the summer patterns set in both for inshore and offshore fish, let’s take a look at what took place and try to determine if we will see a repeat situation.

In 2015, the deluge of water came a month later than this year; however, all indications are that this year’s flooding involved considerably more water than that of 2015.

First, let’s take a look at how the Galveston Bay Complex was affected.

Areas in Upper Galveston and Trinity Bays lost practically all of the salinity in their waters, thus driving those fish that we call “salinity sensitive” species, largely speckled trout, toward the passes to the Gulf and the beachfront.  Lower Galveston Bay, parts of East Bay and areas around both San Luis Pass and the Galveston-Bolivar Jetties held large numbers of specks all summer.

A mild drought from late July to well into September helped return the waters in the upper reaches of the bay systems to near normal and a slow return occurred.  By fall, fishing conditions were back to normal and anglers accustomed to the fine fall fishing in Trinity Bay enjoyed a productive season.
Several of the fishing guides around the Galveston Bay Complex said that last summer they experienced some of the best trout action in years as a result of the concentrations in the lower extremities of Galveston Bay.

How was the offshore fishing affected?

When the big push of water occurred in early June, it was at a time when the pelagic fish were making their way to their summer homes closer to shore.  From early June until sometime past Labor Day, schools of king mackerel, ling and Dorado could be found within easy range of the smaller fleet of boats commonly called the Mosquito Fleet.

When all of the runoffs hit the Gulf, it was during this annual migration and a large number of our pelagic fish headed farther out into the deeper, more salinity-balanced waters and remained there most of the season.

Most of the Mosquito Fleet fishermen reported slower action during the summer of 2015, as the range for most of the boats is less than 50 miles from shore.

Dorado catches were down and part of the reason was the lack of seaweed in the nearshore Gulf.  Was flooding the culprit in keeping the patches and lines of seaweed farther out?  It possibly was.

Now, what does our crystal ball say for this summer?

For inshore fishermen, expect to see a continuation of the pattern of last year.  If little rain falls during the early part of the summer, salinity levels in the upper reaches of the bay systems should return to normal.  If so, expect to see speckled trout action to return to those areas later in the summer.

On the offshore scene, many of us are hopeful that most of the flood waters will have dissipated by June and allow a normal migration of our summertime fish to the nearshore waters.  The key to this will be a normal pattern of rain for May and June.  If more heavy rain comes, then we could see a rerun of last year’s fishing patterns.

The effects of the spring floods on our summertime fishing

July 1st, 2015

Flooded Street

Flooded Street

By Capt. Joe Kent

Hardly anyone around the Galveston Bay Complex escaped the effects of this year’s spring floods, especially those taking place during May.  That month ended up being the wettest May on record and, while the floods caused a lot of damage, there are some long term benefits that will come from the deluge of fresh water that poured into Galveston Bay.

Spring floods used to be common in this area; however, with the onset of the lengthy drought that recently ended, it has been a number of years since Galveston Bay virtually turned fresh.

As a long-time angler, I had an eye-opening experience when I realized that a high number of our current adult fishermen have never experienced a major flood around the Galveston Bay Complex.

You may recall that a number of articles written in the recent past have dealt with concerns over the long drought and the high salinity levels it was causing in our bay systems.

Now, all of a sudden, the tide has turned, no pun intended, and the salinity levels in the bays have become quite low.

What will be the short term and long term effects of this?  The short answer is both benefits and detriments.

Certain species of finfish and shellfish are very sensitive to salinity levels and two of our most popular species are speckled trout and oysters.

The low salinity levels and silt flowing into the bay systems from rain swollen rivers likely will take its toll on the already threatened oysters.

Speckled trout have migrated from the upper parts of Galveston and Trinity Bays and a large number of other fish have joined them.  Young fish can tolerate lower salinity much more than the mature stocks, so if I had to guess what will be available before the water quality settles I would say smaller fish, both trout and other species.

Crabs are fairly resilient so they likely won’t be affected as much.

For fishermen, the fresh water has driven trout and other fish to saltier waters in the surf and around the jetties.  The passes into the Gulf, the same ones where flounder stack up during the fall, should be holding a lot of those fish.

Eventually the fish will return to their original habitats; however, it could be a number of weeks before the water improves and they make it back.

On the positive side, the influx of fresh water and the associated nutrients will be a shot in the arm to the marshes and estuaries.

The flushing effects will benefit this breeding ground for fish, crustaceans and other wildlife which is where the food chain begins.  The nutrients and fresh water will promote the growth of vegetation, especially grasses, where the recently hatched marine life seeks protection.

While we do not want to discount our summer fishing, if no further floods of major proportion occur, fall fishing should be outstanding.

An overview of the 2015 fishing season

April 1st, 2015

Polly Kent's big speckled trout.

Polly Kent’s big speckled trout.

By Capt. Joe Kent

Anglers welcomed the arrival of April after a long, cold winter that kept all but the hardiest of fishermen off of the water.  

What effects did the long winter have on fishing and how does the rest of the year size up?  We will take a look at all of this as far as fishing goes around the Galveston Bay Complex.

While there is a lot of good fishing during the winter, the majority of anglers fishing the Galveston Bay area are warm water fishermen.  For that group April has been the key month to get back in the battle.

A survey of local fishing guides indicated that trout action during the first quarter of this year was excellent.  A good number of quality trout, including some trophy fish in excess of nine pounds, were landed.  That news should be encouraging to trout fishermen who overall complained about lower catches than normal during 2014.

Several of the guides said that some of the best action took place during terrible conditions as cold fronts were blowing through.  While for the most part late afternoon wade fishing offers the best action, the mornings of the cold front arrivals were the times to be fishing.

The sustained cold water should have offered a big boost to last fall’s flounder spawn.  Cold water helps sustain the young hatch as they make their way back to the bays.

Looking ahead to warmer weather, April is considered the start of the saltwater fishing season in that it is at some point during this month that we see the first sustained 70 degree temperature readings in the surf.

Anglers refer to this as reaching the magic 70 degree mark.  The significance of this is that at that point and higher our summertime fish, including the migratory pelagic fish, start appearing.

April fishing is usually handicapped by gusty winds as the month has the dubious honor of being the windiest along the upper Texas Coast.  Still, during windows of fishable conditions a wide variety of fish are caught.

April is known for a big run of gafftop in the surf, and at some point during the month, the first ling appear in the surf and around the jetties.  The first jack crevalle of the year also appear and often are caught as far into the bays as the Galveston Causeway area.

As the year progresses, fishing will continue to improve with the incremental increases in water temperature.

Based on the winter trout action reported by the guides, the outlook for the warm months is excellent.  April and May often produce some of the largest trout of the year, and during the summer the school-sized trout start their aggressive feeding pattern.

One of the biggest encouraging factors for a good year of fishing is that we avoided a fish killing freeze this past winter.  While the season was long and cold, we did avoid a harsh winter like much of the north and east USA experienced.

One key to a successful year of fishing will be the amount of rainfall.  Salinity levels in the Galveston Bay Complex over the past several years have been high.  A balanced level of salt in our waters will do wonders to help fishing and the reproduction cycle in the wetlands.

April should provide some excellent opportunities for outstanding fishing, if the wind allows.  During May, we have the first big run of speckled trout at the jetties, which should definitely make you feel like you are back in the battle.

Everyone is optimistic that 2015 will be better for fishing than last year.

Bay Area Houston Magazine