By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Load up your rods and reels and stock up on sunscreen, because it’s time once again for the Texas International Fishing Tournament (TIFT). This year marks the 76th year that anglers from across the country and abroad will compete to haul in some of the biggest catches the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre have to offer.
Originally started in 1934 as a way to increase tourism in Port Isabel, the event has grown into a much anticipated highlight of the summer tourist season. Over 1,200 anglers participated in 2014 and similar numbers are expected this year. “Our online registration, our pre-registration has gone through the roof,” said Tournament Director Kristi Collier.
Collier said anglers need not have a boat to participate, however. “That’s a common misconception is that people think they have to have a boat to fish TIFT. And we say, ‘No you don’t.’,” she said, explaining that anglers are invited to fish from boats, docks, piers and kayaks.
“It’s a family friendly event and we encourage anglers of all levels to participate,” she said. “We have, really, four levels. We have 0 -7 (years old), 8-12, 13-16, and then 16 and over is considered an adult.”
The tournament truly offers something for everyone. While all weigh-ins will be conducted at Southpoint Marina in Port Isabel on Friday and Saturday, South Padre Island will host a number of social events.
Parents were invited to bring their kids to the South Padre Island Convention Centre on Thursday for a Play Day that included inflatables, games and prizes. A Captain’s meeting was also held at the Convention Centre, along with a dinner.
Fishing kicks off promptly on Friday at 6:30 a.m. for the Bay Division and 7 a.m. for the Offshore Division. The weigh station at Southpoint Marina will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a final dock time of 5 p.m. for Bay fishers and 8 p.m. for Offshore competitors.
The action continues on Saturday with Bay fishers starting again at 6:30 a.m. and offshore beginning at 7 a.m. The weigh station will open at 2 p.m. and close at 7 p.m., with final dock times at 5 p.m. for bay competitors and 7 p.m. for Offshore.
The tournament wraps up with lunch at the Convention Centre on Sunday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. and an awards presentation at 1 p.m.
TIFT isn’t just about trying to catch record fish, though. The non-profit also distributes a number of scholarships every year. “This year we awarded 21 $2,000 scholarships,” Collier said, for a total of $42,000.
“We also have another scholarship program which is our TIFT Cares program. And that’s all about, we’ve tagged and released over 35 redfish in the Laguna Madre,” Collier said. That program is open to junior anglers aged 16 and under, Collier said. “All junior anglers 16 and under who are registered in TIFT are automatically entered into our scholarship tournament which runs the first day of fishing of the tournament through May 31st of the following year,” she said. If a junior angler catches one of the tagged redfish, they will be awarded a $10,000 scholarship, pending verification, she said.
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