Day on the Bay Services – A One-Man tourism Bureau

By Adem Tepedelen

The way that Day on the Bay Services owner Captain James Arnold throws himself into his outfitting business, you’d never guess the man is, by his own telling, “semi-retired.” The former owner of several seafood businesses in Matagorda County on the Texas Gulf Coast, Arnold originally thought he’d become a fishing guide after selling off his shrimp and oyster enterprises and getting his captain’s license from the Coast Guard. But it seems that he really wasn’t quite ready for retirement.

“I ended up going to some tourism seminars offered by the Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation and Lower Colorado River Agency,” he explained. “And after attending them, I got to thinking that there are so many things that are needed for tourism in Matagorda County that we didn’t have, so I just sort of changed directions. I’m still a fishing guide, but I looked to see what needed to be incorporated in the county to accommodate tourism. There were no kayak rentals at the time, so I started doing that.”
Unlike many outfitters profiled in Paddlesports Business, Arnold was a complete paddling neophyte when he got into the business. What he recognized, however, was that Matagorda Bay, with 300 miles of shoreline, was a perfect place to paddle a kayak-for birdwtaching, fishing, or general recreation. So, in spite of his own inexperience, he partnered with Freebird Kayak & Canoe Adventures to become one of the leading proponents of paddling in the region.
Arnold is not only adamant about putting Matagorda Bay (and the nearby Colorado River) on the map as a prime paddling destination, he has taken it on himself to promote it as a prime tourist destination with an abundance of natural resources. Working with other local businesses, he offers everything from kayak and boat rentals to guided fishing trips (of course) and bay and estuary tours. “What I’ve basically tried to do is accommodate tourism, and what- ever is needed, I’ll do it,” he said. “I’m just trying to promote our county more than anything else.”

One of the larger projects that he took on with the help of Freebird co-owner Wayne Armstrong was developing and marking several kayak trails through the grassy estuary to East Matagorda Bay. It was a task that probably no one else in the area was as qualified to do. Arnold, who first kayaked three years ago, knew Matagorda Bay much better than most local residents. “During my career as a commercial fisherman, I had studied the bay system from the air,” he explained. “I’d hire pilots so that I could look at oyster reefs and sand bars and the estuary. That’s how I really learned the estuary, actually flying over and studying it from an airplane before aerial photos were available.”

Though the aerial photos were helpful, seeing the area from above and actually navigating from kayak level turned out to be very different experiences for Arnold and Armstrong. “We had some idea of where we were going to go to start with,” he said, “but it was kind of trial and error. We’d start paddling and end up in a dead end. We eventually found the routes to take, but it took a while.”

The pair originally undertook this endeavor to help kayak fishermen-a growing contingent in this fishing hotspot-find their way through the estuary to the bay where speckled trout and redfish are abundant, but recreationalists and birdwatchers have made good use of the trails as well. Arnold marked the put-ins with signs that also indicate how paddlers should follow them. “Basically we just used PVC pipe with a T on top,” explained Arnold. “We used white tops to mark the trail to get to the bay, and gray to return. You can always see the next one.”

Though the state of Texas has taken on the task of developing several canoe and kayak trails in other areas, this particular endeavor was undertaken by Arnold and Armstrong without any outside assistance. “We haven’t received much support from the state to do this,” said Arnold. “We’re doing it because we want tourists to be able to come down here and have the opportunity to get out into our bay system and then get back without getting lost.”

This is the kind of thinking that has made Arnold more than just another small business owner in this tight-knit coastal community. As a longtime resident, he’s seen the area’s highs and the lows and has a pretty good grasp of how he can effect change in a positive manner. By promoting Matagorda County’s natural resources and offering people the opportunity to enjoy them in a low-impact way, he’s preserving the what he calls “an unblemished paradise”-something he personally appreciates and takes full advantage of. “I have the luxury of being able to go anywhere in the bay system and just get lost,” he said. “And I think more and more people are looking for that. Just to be able to get out there and enjoy the serenity.”

Day on the Bay Services uses a fleet of recreational kayaks (Perception, Hobie, Ocean Kayak)-from sit-on-tops to tandem cockpit boats-that are made available to paddlers close to the bay. Arnold doesn’t currently have a storefront, though one is under construction. “We set up our kayaks up on the beach road in Matagorda on the weekends primarily to make it convenient to get to,” he said. “We’re mobile. We’re likely to be on one end of the bay on one day and at the other end the next.”

And though Arnold’s “semi-retirement” hasn’t exactly been a life of leisure, he’s definitely doing something that he loves and that is ultimately very fulfilling. “I really love to receive a call from somebody, somewhere in the U.S. inquiring about what we do down here and what’s available,” he said. “I enjoy that. I really and truly do.” n

Day on the Bay Services
Captain James Arnold
Route 3 Box 73
Bay City, TX 77414
(979) 244-6787