Andy Dear | Sunday, 15 December 2019
History was never one of my strong subjects when I was in school. Come to think of it, I don't know that I ever really had a strong subject in school. Over the last 25 years though, I have developed a keen interest in the history of the Texas Gulf Coast. And, my recent love affair with the Matagorda Bay complex has proven to be every bit as rich from a historical standpoint as many of the other historic coastal towns I have studied.
My infatuation with Texas coastal history began over 25 years ago when I first read about the still standing ruins of the old town of El Copano on the shores of Copano Bay. At the time I was in the final stages of an undergraduate degree in Archaeology, and one of my senior level classes required a research paper on a Texas related subject. Upon completion of the project, I was blown away by not only the volume of important historical events that had taken place right underneath my feet, but also the level of historical importance that many of these events had in the shaping of my home state.
About the time that I was exiting the Archaeology program at The University Of Texas At San Antonio, The Texas Historical Commission discovered the shipwreck of the La Belle, the ship that had been captained by the famous French Explorer Robert Cavelier Sieur de LaSalle. The discovery and subsequent excavation was an extraordinary archaeological feat, as the excavation required a large cofferdam to be built around the ship that ran aground in Matagorda Bay. Details about the discovery and subsequent excavation can be found here: https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/belle/
Over the years I had read quite a bit about the discovery of La Belle, but because of my lack of an angling association with Matagorda Bay, I never really felt a personal connection with the historical events of that area. At least not like I did with area and events that happened roughly 70 miles south of there where I had spent much of my 20's and 30's fishing. Of course that all changed last year when Jackson and I made Powderhorn Lake our new jumping off point. Powderhorn sits roughly 12 miles as the crow flies across Matagorda Bay from where the La Belle lye dormant for 300 plus years in the Texas mud before it was raised from its watery grave. Since our recent relocation of home base, I have experienced a re-igntion of the spark in my interest in Texas Coastal history. It turns out there is a significantly larger amount of history shaping events and places that occurred around my new fishin' hole than I had previously thought.
Case in point, one evening while researching possible kayak launch points adjacent to some of the less traveled regions of the back end of Lavaca Bay, I stumbled upon an article about an early settlement along Garcitas Creek called Ft. St. Louis. As it turns out Ft. St. Louis ...as meager as it was, is the oldest documented European settlement between Pensacola Florida and Tampico Mexico, and was comprised of people who had sailed over from Europe on the La Belle. To make it even more interesting, the ground that Ft. St. Louis once sat on is just a moderate paddle away from the nearest boat ramp by Kayak. You can read more about Ft. St. Louis here: https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/stlouis/index.html
Even by current standards, that wilderness where Ft. St. Louis was once located, remains still incredibly rough and unforgiving. I can't even imagine what hardships those original settlers had to contend with, it had to be an incredibly hard existence. But then the angler in me takes over, and I wonder, what was the fishing like back then. It had to be an incredible sight to see what must have been a totally unadulterated and unpressured resource. One where there were no oil well platforms, or chemical spills or permanent structures to indicate overwhelming human habitation. One where crabs numbered in the millions and oyster reefs were still in their virgin state. One where fish still did what they're supposed to do, which is swim, eat, swim and eat some more, completely unencumbered by fear of greedy anglers driving tunnel hull boats with 300hp outboard motors that now rip over the flats like ultra low flying jet airplanes.
As my favorite Texas Songwriter, Country music artist and fly fisherman Radney Foster once sang "Well the good ol' days are good and gone". And while it is true, that doesn't change the fact that we still have a wonderful resource shaped by an incredible set of historical events. And, I would guess that most fishing locales around the world share a similiar set of circumstances. So, the next time you go fishing, if you havent already...do a little digging into the history of your favorite fishing spot. You may be surprised at what you find.
Hope you all have a great week,