To pollywogs, a mention of Texas may not bring boating to mind, but old salts know that the state’s eastern Gulf coast—locally known as the Texas Coastal Bend—is a maritime treasure tinged with a taste of the Ol’ West.
Anchored in the south by Corpus Christi and Padre Island, the Texas Coastal Bend runs north to Palacios and includes seaside towns and barrier islands such as Ingleside by the Bay, Port Aransas, Mustang Island, Rockport-Fullerton and Port Lavaca. The region also includes numerous inland boating destinations on rivers and lakes that spill into the Gulf. The area’s barrier islands protect the waters west of the Gulf, including Corpus Christi Bay, Aransas Bay, Mesquite Bay, San Antonio Bay and others, all strung together by the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW).
Corpus Christi is the region’s largest metro area and the most well known. Besides being home to Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi also holds the Texas State Aquarium and the USS Lexington Museum. The city’s downtown seawall and waterfront are great for biking or walking, and there are numerous parks and beaches to visit. The city’s marina—called the “T-Heads” by local residents—is an excellent base for visiting boaters to see it all. It’s also the place to buy Gulf shrimp right off the boat when the fleet returns.
For serious wildlife and beach, most mariners make day trips to Padre Island National Seashore and Mustang Island State Park. Separated by from the mainland by Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay, Padre Island National Seashore covers approximately 130,500 acres and is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. While the island is a birder’s paradise, the waters offer light-tackle fishing for speckled trout, black drum, redfish, and flounder. Just to the north, the Ship Channel through Port Aransas provides easy access to the Gulf of Mexico where hunters troll for billfish, dolphin and other larger species. In addition to fishermen, Laguna Madre attracts windsurfers from all over the world.
Mustang Island State Park was acquired from private owners in 1972 and opened to the public in 1979. It covers nearly 4,000 acres, including some five miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
Thirty miles north of Corpus Christi is Rockport-Fullerton, home to the Texas Maritime Museum and, during the winter, thousands of migrating whooping cranes. Further north are Port O’Connor and Port Lavaca, along with Matagorda Island, one of the barriers that runs the length of coast. Marine history buffs will enjoy a trip to the historic Matagorda Lighthouse on the island’s eastern tip overlooking Pass Cavallo from the Gulf into Matagorda Bay. It is the state’s oldest operational beacon. Part of the Matagorda Island State Park, the Civil War-era lighthouse recently underwent a $1.23 million renovation. It took a little more than a year to rebuild the base, repaint the entire lighthouse and replace the light room at the top, and add sidewalks and restrooms.