The Quarantine Station

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 Seawolf Park. The park’s development, now housing a WWII submarine, “Seawolf” and a destroyer escort, 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 fifty or more yards under the water, still remain. 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 hurricanes and continued yellow fever outbreaks caused it to be moved north, across the harbor, to Pelican Island in 1892, but the great storm 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. During its thirty-five years of operation, the Pelican Island Federal Quarantine Station that closed in 1950 inspected over 30,000 ships that brought an estimated 750,000 legal, immigrants to Texas!

During the late summer of 1966, 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 nine or ten feet. The swivel that the leader, hook and shrimp were secured to, prevented the cork from slipping down on to the shrimp.

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 plug was 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 out from the rocks along the shore. Our first casts were met with solid strikes and then the fun began, three big guys trying to land three good specs, out of a sixteen, foot boat. Having caught a lot of good fish on the first cast, but never three, this was a very unusual happening. Succeeding, we admired the three fish, all four pounders. The tide stopped running in and the fishing shut down, but we ended up with eighteen, good ones, two to four pounds.

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 three years ago, I had already been shown a great place out there! Over the next forty 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!

The Big Country – A Late Riser

Opening morning of quail season, I was driving up to Goldthwaite to pick up my son-in-law, Mike Mitchell, for an afternoon hunt out to my lease in Millersview. This year’s quail season opened up a week before deer season and with no deer hunters around, we’d have the place to ourselves,

Driving west to my lease, our guess was correct, but the quail weren’t responding. We’d already tried a couple of likely places, but our dogs, Sonny and Red, my Brittany spaniels, hadn’t found any quail sign, where were the birds? An hour and a half before sundown, we were worrying that the opener this year would be a bust, but 30 yards ahead, as we bounced along in the jeep, there was a bevy of bobs running down the road.

Quickly stopping the jeep, we both piled out, unsheathed our shotguns, fumbled with the latches on the dog boxes and, the dogs, being as excited as us, bounced out, quickly took care of their business, then took off down the road after the birds. Pushed by the dogs, the covey took wing and me, feeling like Capt. Angora of goat rodeo fame, told Mike that we’d do better if we slowed down and let the dogs do their work.

A hundred yards out, Sonny, a real pro of a bird dog, pointed first, Red, his son, backed as Mike and I hurried up to them, then 3 birds burst from the cover and boom, boom, boom, down they dropped. The dogs, being more interested in going after the rest of the covey, were reluctant to fetch the birds in, but after repeated, “Dead birds”, they complied.

The quail, probably 20 or more, now minus the 3 we just shot, had spread out over a wide area and we let the dogs find them. Up ahead, Red pointed and Mike and I walked in on them, a single got up on my side and, boom, chalk up another. Red didn’t go after the dead bird, but was glued to the spot right off his nose, Mike walked in making a swishing sound and a bob flushed, Mike’s gun boomed, Red brought it in and chalk up another one. Telling him that 5 was enough out of this covey, I whistled in both dogs, we walked back to the jeep and kenneled everybody up.

This was a good start, but we were running out of time, but the next hour scenting conditions would be good and this was prime time for the birds to be moving around. More bouncing along when we came up to a cross road, with some thick cover off to one side, the other side being an old cattle feed lot, then a covey, a big one, thirty birds or more, ran across the road toward the thick stuff, maybe we could head them off!

We unkenneled, unlimbered our shotguns, let the dogs out and hurried to our head off point, where we were in time and as far as we could tell had succeeded in cutting off the birds. This was a big covey and from what we could tell, we knew they hadn’t been busted up, both dogs pointed, this looked like, as Saddam Hussein once said, “The Mother of all coveys!”

Mike and I walked in on the birds, then pandemonium as the quail flushed wildly, most heading west into the setting sun. Six times our guns boomed, four birds fell, the dogs fetched them to us and to let the birds bunch up again, we sat for 10 minutes, precious hunting time, but we sat! As we got up to press on after the rest of the covey, a late riser, a hen, buzzed off, but we let her fly to safety.

As the light faded, we kicked up the remnants of the big covey, downing 5 more, then we called it a day. It turned out to be a nice afternoon hunt, even though I hadn’t been in the field welcoming in the new quail season.