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!