Island piers attract amateur and obsessed anglers
It was the night after the summer solstice and even at 9 p.m. the sky west of Galveston still was faintly blue. A southeast wind was blowing, an advance guard for summer storms that would come later in the weekend.
It wasn’t the best night for fishing, but at the Galveston Fishing Pier, 9001 Seawall Blvd., that didn’t seem to matter. To the east, more than 100 people stood along the 1,000-foot-long wooden pier under light towers, the bright fluorescents shining down reminiscent of a football stadium.
In Galveston, the Friday nights lights are cast over the Gulf of Mexico.
Galveston is home to three large fishing piers, the two others being 61st Street Fishing Pier, 6101 Seawall Blvd., and Seawolf Park on Pelican Island. Open 24/7, the piers offer anglers something between surf fishing, where reach from the beach into the Gulf of Mexico is limited, and a boat trip into the Gulf. The Galveston Fishing Pier was built in 1971 and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.
Just 100 yards off the beach, the waters are teeming with life. Depending on the time of year, what a person can catch off the pier changes. In late June, the speckled trout were plentiful, an attendant minding the entrance to the pier said.
The crowds at Galveston Fishing Pier are eclectic. In the first 100 yards or so, not too far from the gift shop and second-story restaurant Jimmy’s on the Pier, families with small children and young couples on dates lined either side of the walkway. In one spot, a family had set up a Disney Princess tent, where two young girls played while dad casted into the night.
Farther down, where the water gets deeper, the gear on the pier gets more serious, and more sophisticated. There are heavy duty rods that can pull up big fish — sharks and rays and bull reds. To combat the wind, the smart angler has a heavy lead weight at the bottom of his line, to better stick in the mud and keep the bait where fish find it.
There are things frequent pier anglers know to do — adaptations made for the pier ecosystem.
Marcio Mendoza was waiting out the wind at the extreme end of the pier’s T-head, and spending some time cutting up tangled fishing line he’d pulled up from the water. It’s a consequence of fishing around more amateur anglers, he said.
“The tourists come out here with smaller rods and it will get cut off and they’ll leave stuff in the water,” he said. “We’ll end up pulling it up.”
Mendoza called himself a catch-and-release fisherman. He throws back 80 percent of what he catches, he said. He’s in it for the sport — and maybe a few likes on Facebook. He has caught 8-foot sharks off the pier before, he said.
There’s an appeal to showing off, he said.
“I think it gives the pier owners a bit more business,” Mendoza said. “People see us catch big fish and they’re like, ‘I wanna catch the big fish.’”
Others are definitely there for the meal.
Anthony Hill traveled from Houston with his brother-in-law and managed to pull a shark in early in the night. He spent a few minutes imagining how he would cook up the fillets and hoping he might catch some more before heading back home, he said.
“Everything comes through here,” Hill said, gesturing toward the water. Hill has been going to the pier since he was young, and was happy to see it rebuilt to its former glory, he said.
Like other beach-side structures in Galveston, the pier was severely damaged in 2008 as Hurricane Ike rolled over the island. Its current owners, Jimmy and Kelli McClure, bought it just a few months before the storm. They fully rebuilt it in 2014.
Although the pier is open 24 hours a day, with every pass expiring at 5 a.m., some of the most dedicated (read: obsessed) anglers will spend the better part of their weekends under the sun and over the sea.
For others, the experience is more fleeting. John Avila had gone to the pier on Friday evening, after getting off work at a mainland refinery. He was with his wife and step-daughter, and was still wearing his coveralls from the plant. Being with his family reminded him of the times he went deep-sea fishing with his grandfather, he said.
The pier is a little easier to get to than a charter boat.
“I’m out here every chance I get,” he said. “I love to fish — just the thrill waiting for that bite.”