Ross Payne and I set out at 8:12am on Friday, Nov. 10 on a grand tour of Espiritu Santo Bay on our way to the old Matagorda Island State Park. We had both arrived late and spent the night in our trucks-with the wind, neither one of us had a problem with mosquitoes.
We met at the town grocery store/gas station and left my truck at a private boat ramp/bait shop a couple of blocks east of the former TPWD offices. It is a safe place to park vehicles and is free to park; kayak launching/landing costs $1.50/boat.
We launched from Charlies Bait Shop located at the end of Lane Road, which is 12 miles west Port OConnor. They charge $5 to park or launch from there and it is a good, safe place to leave vehicles as could be seen by the number of vehicles parked there.
After watching a long barge pass by in the Intercostal, we headed out on a beautiful, sunny and clear-blue sky day. We took a shortcut through Coyote Pass into Shoalwater Bay where the water was very calm and shallow, but after a while we decided to cut through Long Island and paddle in the bay instead.
You can really tell the importance of these barrier islands when you pass from one side to the other - the wind picks up as do the waves. Long Island is aptly named - it is very long and heads straight to Steamboat Island, our first planned stop.
As we neared the island, we saw 18 oyster fishing boats plying the waters. We got to watch them drag the bottom, unload the goods, and sort through the catch and bag the good ones. All the boats seemed to have a certain spot to work in and they all went counter-clockwise. What a boring job the captain has-round and round all day!
Leaving there, we headed across the bay in a southerly direction towards what we thought were platforms, but turned out to be large buildings owned by the TPWD. It is a hunting lodge - there were piles of dead duck decoys and two interesting machines. One de-feathered the critters in a tumbling action and had a vacuum cleaner hooked up to it, and the other squished something (we later decided this was a can masher). There is an ugly, but friendly cat there that didnt want any of our tuna fish lunch. We found a bowl for it, so I guess someone feeds him regularly. Dont know what this place is, but its used often and has housing - the people at the state park didnt know either.
From here, we headed east towards the park where we planned on spending the night but we decided there were plenty of islands to camp on if we didnt make it. We explored the many marshes and found our way through South Pass Lake, Contee Lake and into Pringle Lake.
We headed towards the Army Hole fishing spot hoping to take the boat lane out to the park. Unfortunately, it is closed up - there was at least 100 yards of mushy mud to pull through to get back to the bay, so we turned around and found another way out of Pringle Lake near Vanderveer Island.
It was then a very long paddle to the park - we finally caught sight of the buildings and landed at 5:15, just a few minutes before dark, and 20.5 miles from the put-in. We thought wed be the only people camping there since the park is closed, however, there were 13 tents there belonging to hunters on the draw - hunt weekend and all the boat slips were full.
The storm that wasnt supposed to come through until Sunday afternoon hit at 4:30 Sat morning with very high winds, cold weather, but little rain. The seas were full of whitecaps on Saturday morning and the wind was so strong it was blowing the tops off the waves. There was no way we were going to get off the island to go to our next stop, J Hook Island, so we went for a long hike. We waited until the hunters were back in camp and headed out. We explored the road that runs the length of the island, and after a couple of hours, decided to cut cross country to the sea. We followed a road to a deer stand then found a newly made cleared path to the sea. What a sight when we came over the sand dunes and saw a beautiful, wide, empty beach and nothing but ocean in front of us! I felt like Lewis and Clark as they topped the last ridge and saw the Pacific!
We headed along the shore beachcombing along the way and cut across at the lighthouse. There used to be a road near there going to the beach, but it isnt there anymore, so we had to bushwhack across about mile of knee high grasses. The lighthouse and area has fallen into disrepair since theyve closed the park which is a shame since a lot of money was put into the mosaics on the benches, the restrooms and the grounds when they renovated it several years ago.
From here, it was a matter of following the remnants of the road the 3.5 miles back to the campground. The rest of the day was spent reading, lounging around in the wind and hoping conditions would be better Sunday morning. We didnt want to brave the storm and try for J Hook, so we stayed another night here.
Sunday dawned bright, cool and windy, but luckily for us, not as windy as Saturday. We loaded up and launched at 8:05 heading across Lighthouse Cove. It took over an hour to cross this open section of water mostly due to the winds - the waves werent too bad. The numbers 30 and 29 are not there anymore - there are some posts but no numbers, so we just headed up along the shore and cut in at 27. We used our map with the trails and guessed at some of the turns. Unless you have one of the paddling trails maps, Id stick to the outside of the islands and head towards the water towers.
Working our way through most of the marshes and islands was fairly easy however we couldnt find some of the numbers. We could see the twin water towers almost the whole time, so we knew the general direction. At several places along this stretch we had curious dolphins come up to see us. Its so eerie when one pops up by you looking at you trying to decide if you are friend or foe.
After about 4 hours of paddling and another 11 miles, we finally arrived at the take-out. We were tired and stiff, but not really excited about ending our journey and heading for home. But, alas, family and work called, so we had to head back.
We had hoped to see more migratory birds, but it hasnt been cold enough up north for them to migrate down yet. We saw some Texas flamingos as the sun was setting and their feathers were lit up like neon lights! We saw lots of pelicans and coots. The pelicans enjoyed having us paddling by them because we scared the fish their way. Its an interesting sight when you watch one dive down and hit the water with a big splat! It then spreads its wings and takes off with no effort.
This is definitely a trip Id do again, but next time Ill plan on spending the night on an island before the state park and do more exploring-maybe even get up the courage to hit the ocean side of the islands. The state park is now a federal property and there are no amenities. Because of the hunt, the restrooms were open and the shower was on, but there isnt any potable water and I dont know if the restrooms are open all the time. If you havent done this paddle yet, be sure to put it on your list as it is well worth it.
The laminated fishing maps are wonderful and pretty accurate and will be very helpful since they also have some GPS waypoints on them. We were able to check our progress regularly and determine if we were in the right area. If you choose to paddle from Port OConnor, you will need a paddle trails map to get you through all the islands and channels. Both maps can be purchases at REI, or any Academy or Wal-Mart along the coast.
Author's Note: The wind can be a problem if you cross any open water, however the trip can be made by hugging the shore and avoiding most of the wind and waves.
Both the put-in and take out were at fishing camps/bait shops. Both have parking for free or a very reasonable $5 fee. Parking is safe at both places as there were many vehicles left there overnight.
one 14' Carolina and one 12.5' Carolina
The boat ramp in Port O'Connor charges $1.50 to use their ramp and no fee to park.
Charlie's Bait charges $5 to park or launch. No permits are required to paddle, however a permit to camp on the island must be obtained through Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Take 185 South out of Victoria to Seadrift, then head east to Port O'Connor
In order to navigate through the many channels in the marshes, maps are a must. A Top Choice fishing map was very handy since it also shows the depth of the water. They can be picked up at any WalMart along the coast.