Long Island Boating World Magazine November/December 2013
It strikes you as the Texas version of a New England fishing village smack on the Gulf of Mexico.
Boasting the friendliness of small-town life where cowpokes rub elbows with shrimpers, artists and travelers, Rockport is perched on the north end of the Lagunda Madre peninsula. Here the muddy brown waters of the Gulf of Mexico begin to sparkle clear and green. A year-round destination for birding enthusiasts and sport fishermen, the area is one of the best places in the world to see the endangered whooping crane, the largest bird in North America.
Thirty minutes northeast of Corpus Christi, Rockport and its neighbor Fulton are part of a string of small fishing communities that dot miles of preserved mid-Texas shoreline known as the Coastal Bend. Flanked by Aransas and Copano Bays, Rockport is a short boat ride to the Gulf where a variety of options await anglers and walk-in wade-fishers. The area is a prime habitat for redfish, trout, black drum, flounder and sheepshead.
Goose Island has fishing along the St. Charles Bay shoreline, while the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge grass flats are open to wade-fishing when the whoopers aren’t around. Once the cranes have left, anglers are allowed to wade several prime shoreline areas on San Antonio Bay. It’s a good idea to take along a good road map and some old sneakers or wading boots.
The Karankawa Indians were the Coastal Bend's earliest inhabitants. In 1746 the Spanish built their first fort-- Aranzazu-- near what today is the Copano Causeway. Rockport was founded in 1871. Farming was the first way of life, then cattle ranching and meatpacking until the late 1800s when fishing became the backbone of its commerce.
The region is celebrated for its signature trees, clusters of giant ancient oaks sculpted by Gulf Coast winds. Take some time and marvel at their strength and splendor. Over at Goose Island State Park visitors find the “Big Tree,” the largest live oak in Texas, according to the Park. Estimated to be 1,000 years old, this 44-foot-tall coastal live oak is protected by a fence, though you can walk around it to experience the magnitude of its 35-foot trunk and 90-foot crown spread. And there are plenty of other almost-as-big trees to climb and then settle beneath for a leisurely picnic.
Palm trees, oleanders and bougainvilleas envelope the seaside town, where herons, egrets and pelicans outnumber the human folks. Easy going Rockport (pop. 9,800) claims an impressive art colony, clunky antique shops and down-home restaurants, offering an escape from today's frenetic world by taking in its natural splendor and its close knit feel.
Stop by the Texas Maritime Museum that offers two full floors of nautical history, plus a catwalk with stunning views of the Gulf. Inside and outside exhibits examine everything from offshore oil and gas exploration to shipbuilding, with a nice primer on Texas ports and waterways. A favorite stop is the Ship's Bridge, where kids can operate levers, tie knots and learn a whole lot more.
Just down the road is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where you'll find untamed expanses of beach, grassy dunes and estuaries teeming with wildlife. The winter host for the largest flock of whoopers, the refuge is visited by upwards of 350 bird species at one time or another during the year. It’s also home to native Texas wildlife, including alligators, javelina, deer and armadillos. The refuge is accessible by foot, bicycle and vehicle, and private tour boat operators can guide you to those whoopers. On the guided tour you’re likely to see everything from reddish egrets to roseate spoonbills.
Back in town visitors discover a mix of accommodations including a string of charming Victorian homes and inns, which have been gentrified over the past decade. Built in the 1890s, Hoopes House is a spectacular Victorian mansion that has been transformed into an elegant B&B with four well-appointed rooms in the main house and four more in a recently built wing. The common areas are outfitted with working fireplaces, antique furniture, several lovely model ships, and a generous reading library. Don’t be late for the sumptuous breakfast, served promptly at nine.
Eating's big here. Make a visit to The Boiling Pot in Fulton, a longtime favorite for locals and visitors on Fulton Beach Road. Indulge yourself in fresh oysters and a pot of spicy boiled shrimp, crab, sausage, corn and potatoes that spills out all over your table. Capt. Billy’s Wife’s Place offers fresh local seafood, oysters (in season) and homemade desserts. It’s a BYOB, enjoy their cozy patio area.
Stop by another landmark , Charlotte Plummer's with its cozy upstairs deck that overlooks the harbor. Scan its blackboard menu of grilled, blackened or seafood served with crab and pico de gallo.
A sweet bijou of a restaurant - appropriately named Glow – resides in a transformed boathouse facing the waters of Little Bay. Chef and owner Karey Johnson grew up in Houston, trained in New York and London and opened Glow, a sustainable seafood restaurant, to rave reviews in 2011. From the outside, the tiny, whitewashed shack doesn’t look like much, but inside the decor is as special as the menu. Each table is set with a candle and fresh wildflowers, there’s a well-selected wine list, and a menu of fresh, inventively prepared dishes. Seafood specials are amazing, helped along by a pitch-perfect grilling and the scantest amount of salt and black pepper.
Hemingway's Bar & Grill is writing a new culinary chapter. Quail, calamari, duck, buffalo are just some of the specialty dishes you'll find. Sit underneath a slowly turning straw-bladed ceiling fan in the cool and relax with its rich elegance of the Piano Bar.
With its quirky towns, gorgeous beaches, world-class birding and great salt-water fishing, Texas' Coastal Bend area is a wonderful place to decompress. Just don't pass it on to too many folks.