Sunday, June 7, 2009

Do You Know The Way to San Jose?

San Jose Island, in Texas, I mean. Located across Aransas Pass from Port Aransas, this island, also known as Saint Joseph Island, is one of the few primative beach areas we have left in the State. I'm trying to figure out exactly who owns the island, and if there is anyone reading this who knows, I'd appreciate your knowledge.

Saint Joseph Island can be reached via a $10 ferry ride from the Port Aransas fishing docks. It is strictly a ferry for people, so although you can bring a small pushcart or bicycle with you, no vehicles are allowed on the ferry. Otherwise, the island is only accessible via private boat.

Saint Joseph Island is about 21 miles long and at it's widest point, about 5 miles wide. A barrier island, it features full gulf frontage on it's beach side and bay access to both Aransas Bbay to the south and Mesquite Bay to the north. Separated by Cedar Bayou to the north from Matagorda Island, it's wild, untamed country like the original settlers and the native americans before them found when they settled this rugged, rough coastal area.
Like Matagorda Island, rattlesnakes and possibly some brackish water dwelling alligators (in the inland swamps, particularly on the bay side) of Texas barrier islands, particularly Matagorda Island, are famous for alligators, and all Texas barrier islands feature rattlesnakes in the dune areas. I once accidently ran a jeep thorugh the side of a small sand dune just off the beach on nearby Matagorda Island, exposing a rattlesnakes nest full of coiling, big rattlers.
I know *for a fact* that gators exist near salt water bays. Twenty years ago, I helped seine for shrimp and mullet for bait at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles or so north of Saint Joseph's Island, in a freshwater bayou *that a local swore* had no gator action. We donned chest waders and waded up to about 4' of water. We seined plentiful bait, and whilst we were on shore picking shrimp and mullet from our net, a huge frickin' alligator arose right where we had been using the seine. It was P.O.'d and thrashing around so obvious we had been messing with it's territory. One of the more dumb ass things I've ever done and lived to tell about.
I've also seen the numerous signs on the roads fronting and surrounding the bayous and bay around Matagorda warning about agressive gators in those waters, and I've been told by a resident there that it is not uncommon to see them in the historic cemetary there.
Sadly, I have not been to Saint Joseph Island *yet* but it's another fishing trip on the radar for the near future. I've been told that the beachs are full of shells, as well as mosquitos, so it takes a hardy camper to actually stay overnight on the island. If you do camp there, you must bring everything you need with you, including lots of water.
There are no facilities of any kind on the island including no electricity.
I understand the fishing is excellent from both the northern jetty bordering Aransas Pass and from the beach. The most I've known even the most hardy outdoorsman to spend the night there has been one night, primarily due to the mosquito issue. One fishing forum commentator said that there were more mosquitoes than grains of sand on the island, along with plentiful cowgrass and the aforementioned rattlers. Litter apparently is a problem at times with no one cleaning the stuff that washes ashore and bad visitors who don't practice leave no trace camping and exploring.
The venerable Handbook of Texas has this to say about Saint Joseph's Island:
ST. JOSEPH ISLAND. St. Joseph (San José) Island, whose center point is 28°00' north latitude and 96°56' west longitude, is a sand barrier island in Aransas County. It is separated from Matagorda Islandqv on the north by Cedar Bayou and from Mustang Islandqv on the south by Aransas Pass.qv St. Joseph Island is about twenty-one miles long and five miles wide. It protects Aransas Bay and the mainland from the storms and tides of the Gulf of Mexico.qv The French landed parties on the island in 1712 and 1718. José de Escandónqv explored St. Joseph, Padre, Mustang, and Matagorda islands in 1766. The combined islands of St. Joseph and Matagorda were also known as Culebra. The first United States flag to be raised in Texas is said to have been raised on St. Joseph Island by United States troops on July 26, 1845. Forts were erected at various times on the south end of the island. Aransas, a town, prospered on the south end of the island between Texas independence and the Civil War.qv The north jetty, which protects the shipping channel through Aransas Pass, is anchored to the south tip of St. Joseph Island. The island is largely uninhabited today.
The Surfline website has this to say about surfing opportunities at Saint Joseph's:
On large, out-of-control, wind-driven south swells, St. Joe's can be a good option for catching clean walls that break on the sandbars just north of the north jetty. Though the waves can sometimes border on being a bit mushy, the jetty offers considerable protection from howling southerly winds, and can afford surfers their only chance for clean surf when every other beach is blown out. Unfortunately, getting to the island can be tricky. If you have a boat or a sea kayak, then the ride across the channel isn't all that bad. You can also take a passenger ferry from Port Aransas to the island, but the hours of operation are limited. The final option is to paddle across the channel. How much of an effort are you looking at? Well, the channel is just wide enough to make the paddle a challenge, but just narrow enough that any passing deep-draft shipping traffic can pose trouble for a person in the water. Basically, the rule is this: if a ship is pointed in toward the channel, or is making its approach to the turn outbound for sea, don't be near the buoy while it is passing. The undersides of merchant vessels are quite disgusting, and you don't want to find yourself inspecting their hulls for cracks.
So do I know the way to San Jose? Yes I do. Just get to Port A and go to one of the bayside marinas that offers the shuttle ferry service to the Island. And let me know how the fishing and surfing is.


  1. Sounds like an interesting day trip. Just bring water, some food stuffs, bug repellant, and a gun!

  2. Perry R. Bass owns or owned the island inherited it from his uncle sid w. richardson.
    read an obiturary dallas morning news while I was trying to figure the same thing out after seeing a huge plane land there while duck hunting.


  3. Thanks for the info, Tom. I'll do some research and do an update one day.

  4. Look on map. There's a large airport. 4 mile wide.
    I wonder what these houses/ buildings are for by the airport..

  5. That was Sid's airstrip and houses he and buddy
    Clint Murchison who owned the Island next to him would fly their DC-3's down there for vacation.

  6. I went over the Labor Day Weekend via ferry to
    St. Joseph's is such a shame that
    with all the money Mr. Bass has and that family
    this beach has been trashed...such a beautiful
    primitive spot filled with everything you can
    imagine...dirty needs, gloves, boats that have
    washed ashore their, you name it is their on this island...
    I walked away thinking how beautiful this island could be with a little money, time, and
    labor...too bad the Bass Family does not care
    about a neat, historical spot in Texas.

  7. Sorry to hear about the trash and garbage, Anon 410. I'm just glad we can access the island. Might be a good cause for a beach party to have a beach cleanup weekend there sometime. Maybe the Bass family would foot the bill for a lobster boil, beer bash and live music for the cleaner uppers?

  8. Too bad the recreational boaters and commercial shrimpers/fishermen toss out their trash, which by the way is why you see all of the trash on our beautiful Texas coastlines. St. Joe is a another sad result of that disgusting habit humans have. I remember as a child we would not even think about tossing anything out the car window or dropping something on the ground.That is why God invented trash cans!!!! I lived in Rockport for 9 years and went many times to St. Joe Island shelling. I still have many beautiful shells and sand dollars that are perfectly white.We did spend one night in tents and a storm came inland and made it pretty miserable.Then morning came, the boat would not start and the red tide had come in.But I still love my shells and sanddollars.

  9. The Bass family owns the island and the entire island is a working cattle ranch. They generate their own power, telephone system etc. A relative of mine used to run that ranch back in the day and my current boss used to run it as well.