During the late summer of 1966, on the first fishing trip out in my new, second boat was a memorable one. We, Gary Anderson, now deceased and Vic Hayes, now lost to me, headed out to the Quarantine Station for a go at some specs. Our tackle was basic stuff, direct drive reels, six and a half foot, popping rods, and something a little different, slip corks above our bait of choice, a live shrimp. The slip cork was easy to rig, you just tied a knot in you line at the depth you wanted to fish and the cork, complete with a hole running the length of the stem, when cast out would slip up the line until it met the knot, and there you were, in our case fishing at a depth of 9 or 10 feet.
In the 1960’s, one of the best places to catch speckled trout, wading or from a boat was around the tip of Pelican Island, known then as the Galveston Quarantine Station, now known as Sea Wolf Park. The park’s development, now housing a WWII submarine the USS Cavalla, that sank a Japanese aircraft carrier on one of its missions and the destroyer escort, USS Stewart, caused the complete remaking of the end of Pelican Island, but, and a big but, the huge granite stones that lined the tip of the island and extended out 50 or more yards under the water, still remained and, this spot, during the hot summer months, on an incoming tide, fishing for trout around the point, could be fabulous!
The first station was built in 1839, but in 1892 hurricanes and continued yellow fever outbreaks caused it to be moved north, across the harbor, to Pelican Island, but the great hurricane of 1900 completely destroyed the buildings. In 1902 the State of Texas built its last station on the southeastern tip of Pelican Island and in 1919 merged with Federal, port operations. Closing in 1950, but during its 35 years of operation, the Pelican Island Federal Quarantine Station inspected over 30,000 ships that brought an estimated 750,000 legal, immigrants to Texas!
Enough history, my new, second boat had a feature that was way ahead of its time, a live bait well, but you had to be careful that when moving out to your fishing spot, or changing, spots, a plugs were applied to the drains. If this wasn’t done, dead shrimp was the bait of choice for the day! We remembered on this trip.
We launched the boat at Pleasure Island Fish and Bait, motored under both sides of the Galveston Causeway, through upper west bay, passed under the Pelican Island Bridge, through the harbor with its ships from many countries and finally to the old Quarantine Station, where we anchored about 50 or 60 feet out from the rocks along the shore. Our first casts were met with solid strikes and then the fun began, 3 big guys trying to land 3 good specs, out of a 16-foot boat. Having caught a lot of good fish on the first cast, but never 3, this was a very unusual happening and introduced us a local dance, the West Bay Shuffle. Circling the boat several times, then succeeding and netting the trout, we admired the 3 fish, all 4 pounders. We ended up with 18, good ones, 2 to 4 pounds, but the tide stopped running in and the fishing shut down.
On the way back in, passing through Galveston Harbor, it dawned on me that on calm days, this boat would be great for running around the end of the jetties and fishing on the Gulf sides, then it dawned on me that 3 years ago, I had already been shown a great place out there! Over the next 40 years, I would grow from a “jetty novice” to a “jetty pro”, but on those good days we’d always stop for a few casts around The Quarantine Station!
This old picture of the State Quarantine Station is from the John P. McGovern Historical Collection and Research Center, Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center Library, Galveston, Texas.