Anglers soon will bid farewell to a popular and historic fishing spot
On a recent summer afternoon, Bolivar Peninsula resident Ted Vega looked out across Rollover Pass at fellow anglers, unsure of what the future would hold for the popular fishing spot he has enjoyed for years.
“I’ve been here since 2010,” Vega said. “I came here to fish and now I lead the fight.”
That bitter fight Vega refers to has stretched on for years, culminating in legal battles and with the state finalizing plans to close the historic channel between the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway possibly in the fall, ending decades of fishing tradition.
Rollover Pass, 200 feet wide, 5 feet deep and more than 1,600 feet long across Bolivar Peninsula, links Rollover Bay and East Bay with the Gulf of Mexico in extreme southeastern Galveston County.
The Texas Game and Fish Commission opened the pass in 1955 to preserve wildlife resources and help improve fishing. The cut was meant to allow seawater from the Gulf into East Bay to increase bay water salinity, promote growth of submerged vegetation and help fish travel to and from spawning and feeding areas in the bay, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Rollover Pass is named for the practice of ship captains from the days of Spanish rule through Prohibition. The ship captains, to avoid the Galveston customs station, rolled barrels of import or export merchandise over that part of the peninsula, according to the association.
Now, anglers might only get a few more chances to catch flounder and other fish at Rollover Pass as the state gears up to close it.
The state has long sought to close the pass, which it argues worsens coastal erosion. But the closure has been challenged in court several times.
The Texas General Land Office, which spends about $650,000 a year to fight erosion and rebuild beaches around the pass, and even more to dredge the canal, plans to fill the cut with soil and build a public park and fishing pier on top of it. The land office had originally planned to begin that work in June this year.
But a request for bids published in March generated only one response from a contractor for about $12 million, which was far over budget, forcing the land office to issue another request. If the land office receives a bid it deems reasonable, work to fill the pass would start in October at the earliest, officials said.
Many recreational anglers who have enjoyed Rollover Pass for decades ardently oppose the closure, arguing the state’s assessments of its effects are based on flawed science.
“I’ve been coming here for 10 years,” Bolivar Peninsula resident Tania Balch said. “My husband has come here for 20 years. It’s always been a great family fishing spot. It’s close enough to drive and it’s a great spot to enjoy the marine life.”
The pass is part of the area’s rich history, Balch said.
“This is the first place my son fell in love with fishing,” she said. “It’s close enough to Galveston for people to enjoy the coastal life and this has become what we do as a family.”
For some locals, the pass isn’t just a destination spot for fishing, it’s their home, they said.
“I stay here nine months out of the year,” Karl Dever said. “I can remember when I was 14 coming down here.”
And the pass attracts people from all over, Dever said.
“I don’t understand why they want to fill this in,” Dever said. “It’s a bad idea. I’ve seen people all around the world who come down here to fish.”
If the pass closes, Dever might be packing up himself and leaving everything behind, he said.
“If they close it, I’m selling my trailer and going somewhere different,” he said.
Closing the pass would hurt the local Bolivar community and Galveston, Vega said.
“Folks come here depending on what they like to fish for,” he said. “Doctors, lawyers, campers come here. The county would be better off making this a park and keeping it the way it’s always been.”
There won’t be a place ever again like Rollover Pass, Liberty County resident Bryan Casey said.
“It will hurt a lot of people if it’s closed,” Casey said. “There’s nothing like this place.”