A Double Edged Sword for Anglers
By Capt. Joe Kent
The Galveston Jetties are comprised of two sets of Granite Rocks known as the North and South Jetties that extend close to five miles out from shore. The South Jetty is located on the Galveston side while the North Jetty has its home on the Bolivar side.
The jetties were built to protect the Galveston/Houston Ship Channel from erosion and wind in order to keep the entrance to Galveston Bay open for all vessels. Construction began in the late 1800s and was completed around the beginning of the 20th century.
The jetties brought a new dimension to fishing, as the rocks attracted all types of crustaceans and fin fish. Early on, anglers would catch grouper, mackerel and even red snapper along the rocks. Tarpon were also plentiful for jetty fishermen.
While most of those species are rarely found around the jetties any longer, the rocks continue to attract a wide variety of both inshore and offshore fish as well as fishermen.
While the virtues of fishing are high on the benefits offered by the jetties, there are dangers that lurk. Early on the most common fatality came from small boats rounding the end of the North Jetty to fish the Gulf side. Many times the attendant at the South Jetty Lighthouse would call in a distress report after observing a small boat capsizing in the turbulent waters at the end of the North Jetty.
For that reason and others, a cut was constructed in the North Jetty not far from shore and was and still is called the North Jetty Boat Cut. It too added another dimension for fishing and safety for boaters.
For years, the greatest peril facing jetty fishermen in boats were the strong currents found along the channel side of both jetties. Often the current would change so rapidly that boaters did not have time to react and found their boat pushed into the rocks with major damage resulting. Wakes from large vessels also were potential trouble makers and while those perils continue to exist, boaters are more aware of them today.
In recent years still another danger has emerged and that has been caused by the subsidence of the century old granite rocks. This has been a gradual process; however, the sinking continues.
Today, the submerging rocks are probably the greatest of the perils.
I have fished the jetties for well over 50 years and recall my early offshore fishing days when I would return from a trip and see the jetties from at least five miles away. Today, that is not the case, as the rocks do not become clearly visible until within a mile or less.
The big dangers come in poor light such as night time navigation or in the early morning hours. For several years now multiple mishaps have occurred where captains misjudged the end of the jetties and crashed into the rocks. The picture accompanying this article is a good example and was taken in August of this year.
During periods of higher than normal tides, such as during storm tides associated with events in the Gulf, much of the jetties are under water or barely above the surface.
While it is not feasible to raise the rocks or economical to add new layers, there are things that can and should be done. First and foremost is adding lights or lighted buoys along both jetties.
Signs also would help alert newcomers about the dangers.
While these suggestions might not eliminate all tragedies, they would be a major step and could save some lives and preserve this iconic fishing territory for generations of anglers to come.