You get many curious looks rolling down the Texas coastal highways on a Vespa with a kayak riding shotgun. Pulling up to a light, an old cowboy in his dusty ball cap and dustier Chevy truck leaned out his window and hollered, “What do you call that thing?”
I cracked a smile and shouted back, “The best-worst idea I ever had”.
Headed south on Texas Highway 35 towards Surfside and Follet’s Island, I started thinking back to how this crazy idea came to life. Just about a year ago I was having dinner and drinks with some of the heavy hitters from the kayak industry. Somehow vintage motorcycles and scooters came up in conversation and I casually mentioned how much I enjoyed riding and working on old Italian bikes. I followed up my innocent comment with a spitball about getting a sidecar for my Vespa and touring the Texas coast. Everyone laughed and we kicked the idea around until it had lost all its air. Now, as the sun was rising on a crisp autumn morning I was rolling on throttle past 60 mph and my Ocean Kayak Trident was vibrating to the cadence of potholes and divits in the asphalt. Five months behind schedule, but the whole insane affair finally coming to life in glorious fashion.
Pulling a kayak on a motorcycle or a scooter initially appealed to me just as a matter of fun. Riding a PTW (Powered Two Wheeler) is a constant adrenaline injection. I figured if I could combine it with paddling I’d truly be having and eating the proverbial cake. Then the more I studied the idea, the more sense it made from a consideration of economy and efficiency. The low emissions Vespa gets a ridiculous 70-mpg. With sidecar attached it looses some of its greenery, but my early road tests still came in at 50 to 55 mpg. So, I could have a blast on the way to the water, and lower my impact on the environment? A win win anyway you do the math.
With the side car rig ready for it’s inaugural run, the plan was to start on the upper Texas Coast and hit the best kayaking and fishing spots as we hop scotched coastal highways going south. San Luis Pass was starting line. Then down to Palacios to fish the Turtle Bay marsh. Followed by Aransas Pass for the mangroves of Red Fish Bay, and finally the Padre Island National Seashore.
San Luis Pass offers paddling opportunities for kayakers of all flavors. A tidal pass from a large bay complex to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it has both sea kayaking and fishing appeal. The tidal pass concentrates larges volumes of water moving in and out to the gulf creating a great play area for sea kayakers. Newbie paddlers should steer clear of this area or exercise extreme caution as it can be dangerous due to strong currents and confused seas, but this is exactly the type of playing field that will get the heart pounding for sea kayakers looking to paddle big water.
The backside of the pass offers some great kayak fishing opportunities in more placid conditions as the pass creates a conveyor belt of baitfish. If you study the aerial maps of the areas you can locate channels and cuts and catch everything from flounders and reds, to sharks and jackfish.
Moving south to Follet’s Island the Christmas Bay complex calls and offers great marsh fishing and scenic paddling for birders and nature aficionados. There are endless areas to launch and paddle in calm marsh waters. We had our best day fishing of the entire trip in these waters. Redfish were roaming the grass shoreline in wolf-packs of 6 to 10 fish devouring grass shrimp. Sight casting to these fish from a kayak is the ultimate in Texas fishing. Sighting and casting to roaming schools of reds and then getting towed around in your kayak is what lured me into kayak fishing to begin with, and no matter how many times a catch a red from the kayak, the experience never gets old.
70 miles south of Follet’s Island via old Farm to Market Rd 521 is the sleepy bayside town of Palacios, TX. Filling up at the local gas station I needed to top off my tank. The Vespa hold 2.1 gallons and if we made no wrong turns on the back roads my fuel capacity would just carry me through the countryside into Palacios.
Pearched on a quite bay of the same name. Palcios was once a thriving community with an army base and commercial fishing industry. The army base closed decades ago and while the fishing industry still exists, Palacios is the epitome of a sleepy and undeveloped coastal town. Accommodations here are Spartan, but the vibe is pure coastal Texas.
We rolled in to town amid more confused stares at the sidecar rig and unloaded gear at the confluence of Palacios river and the Tres Palacios Bay. The area offers some great flounder and black drum fishing as well as the chance to paddle with the occasional alligator. This is easy paddling and for kayakers of all skill levels and the low-key atmosphere of the town really lets you get away from the typical tourist destination of the Texas coast.
The next stop on the planned tour is one of the finest paddling destinations in the country. An hour and a half south of Palacios is Red Fish Bay in Aransas Pass, TX. Red Fish Bay is home of the first official Texas Paddling Trail. The trail is product of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, with a series of GPS placed markers through a maze of black mangroves in gin clear water. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking for all kayakers, and the fishing can be phenomenal.
Folks familiar with the area can navigate the mangroves by memory, but new paddlers and folks unfamiliar with the area should not venture to far into the maze without a GPS, compass, and aerial map. You can also consider hiring a kayak guide for the area.
Captain Fil “Fishman” Spencer is local to the waters of Redfish Bay and is guaranteed to make a guided trip worth every penny. Having fished the area for more than 10 years I don’t opt for a guide, but I always call Fil when I’m in the area to see if he can fish and paddle just for fun. Trust me, a guided trip with Fishman is worth the price of admission.
Getting close to 200 miles traveled on the sidecar rig the engine was running like a top. I had more mechanical issues than I care to recall getting this project from the drawing board to the road, and to be riding down the Texas coast to these great kayaking spots was immensely satisfying. Just like kayaking it is critical to consider weather conditions with the sidecar rig. A 12-foot kayak at 65mph can catch a lot of wind and big gusts can make the entire rig somewhat dubious. We checked the weather prior to heading further south towards Padre Island National Seashore and were discouraged to see a big front approaching. Winds were predicted to be 15 - 20 knots sustained, with gust up to 25mph. Aside from making paddling pretty miserable, it would make the sidecar a little too dangerous at freeway speeds. Opting for safety first I packed the kayak and headed north. Putting rubber to pavement it looked like I could get home a few hours ahead of the cold front.
The Vespa ran like a top and we rolled into the house with time to spare. A coastal tour of Texas has something for all paddlers. And kayak fisherman will have a multiple spots to chase their passions. If you head this way, keep an eye out for a silver Vespa with an Ocean Kayak Trident riding shotgun. Wave me over and I’ll be happy to tell you where the waters are good and the fish are biting.