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.

Simplify your fishing for greater success

February 27th, 2020

Jason Blackwell with a healthy Galveston redfish caught on top water among some active mullet.

By Capt. Steve Soule

For many of us, fishing is possibly one of the greatest pleasures in life. That statement certainly fits me well. So many times you hear expressions about fishing like “A day of fishing is better than a day of work” or “I’m just happy to be out on the water” or “the catching is a bonus.” Those are all great and though true to some degree, but I like catching fish! One of my favorite childhood memories was on tough days of fishing my dad would always tell me “that’s why it’s called fishing not catching son.” Well, it didn’t take long to elicit a very profound thought from me; “Well dad, I like the catching part!”

Whether you’re new to fishing or if you have been at it for a lifetime already, I’m going to propose some thoughts that hopefully can make your fishing days better and more enjoyable.

We all tend to overthink and overcomplicate things in life, when in fact most of life is very simple. If you take a close look at problems and work towards solutions, things tend to work themselves out just fine. It’s not until we start trying to overthink things and complicate situations with irrelevant information that we start struggling to find solutions. Fishing is fairly simple when you break it down to its most basic components. We as anglers, target various species of fish. They have to eat so we should be able to catch them!

Let’s keep this simple! Fish cannot survive without eating! Let’s add a few important points. Fish live in the water. They need several very basic things to stay alive and thrive. They need food! They need safety! They need comfort! They need rest! When you break this down to the most basic list of survival essentials, it’s really not all that complicated. There are other inherent needs but those aren’t nearly as relevant to this discussion.

In that short list above you will notice that food is first. Without food, none of the others is important for long. I’m going to start at the other end since food will be one of the top keys to your success. Comfort for fish comes in just a few areas that are useful for us as anglers to be aware of. Temperature and barometric pressure, then the ability to rest without disturbances. The first two, tend to effect fish in very similar ways. Generally speaking if temperatures are at extremes of high or low, fish tend to move deeper. It’s important to be aware that fish are cold blooded and therefor move a great deal based on temperatures. Here’s one of the most profound things about most of the fish we commonly seek on the upper Texas coast: in the colder months if air temps are lower than the water temps, fish will move to deeper water! The reverse is true when the air is warmer than the water. Barometric pressure can have a similar effect on fish, especially trout. Very high or very low pressure will move fish to deeper water and tend to slow their feeding. Barometric pressure changes, tend to trigger feeding.

Safety for fish comes in several forms. It may have only been safety from larger predators at one time, but we have added a huge influence with boats and the advancement of boats today. Predators for speckled trout and redfish would consist of larger members of their own species, sharks, alligators, birds of prey and more. In many cases fish can live in deeper water and avoid predation by living near structures that can provide safe haven. Many species live in shallower waters, where larger predators can’t reach them. With modern boats and their ability to run in just inches of water, fish have considerably less ability to hide to find comfort or safety. When you do find areas that provide safe haven for predators and prey, that also don’t have heavy boat traffic, things can get really exciting.

Food. This is the single most important factor in finding fish. You can’t rely on finding their food sources alone, nor can you find safe spaces that don’t have food and expect to have good catches. Food is a quintessential element of survival. Finding food is the beginning of finding predators. In the summer this is way too easy; food sources are everywhere and you have to narrow it down to a particular type of bait. Predators may get very picky about what they will follow and eat when there is an abundance of food. During the cooler months, predator fish, such as trout or redfish, have considerably less on the menu and therefore finding baitfish often leads to catching. Here’s some fun things to remember; finding baitfish in periods of cold or extremes of barometric pressure isn’t always easy. Here’s where some basic knowledge of the bay or specific areas you are fishing will help. Each progressive step up the food chain needs to eat, so knowing what each step requires to live will help you locate the overall food chain.

As you grow in fishing and knowledge, these puzzle pieces become much clearer in how they fit together. Give yourself a few minutes of thought before you fish next. Take the time to look at and theorize what the conditions would do to the fish and their food sources, then be prepared to adjust your plan on the fly, as theory and practice don’t always see eye to eye.

Get out and enjoy the outdoors, but please do it in a respectful manner.

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!

Bay Area Houston Magazine