By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
There are the big holidays, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Fourth of July, that everyone celebrates. And there are smaller, “bank” holidays like Presidents Day or Labor Day, where, if you’re lucky, you get the day off work or a 3-day weekend.
And then there are holidays that are particular to the communities that celebrate them — smaller events perhaps unknown outside their microcosmic bubbles, but nonetheless incredibly important to the towns that birthed them.
For example, Brownsville has Charro Days. San Antonio has Fiesta and New Orleans has Mardi Gras. (Okay, so Mardi Gras ain’t exactly an “unknown” holiday. But, I digress…)
You won’t find schools in McAllen or Harlingen cancelling classes for Charro Days. It’s not their celebration, nor is Charro Days an integral part of their sense of identity. But for the people of Brownsville and Matamoros? It’s one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, highlights of the year. Everyone all over town pitches in.
The Laguna Madre communities have a local event that carries just as much importance here as Charro Days does down the road — one with an even longer history (founded in 1934, compared to Charro Days’ 1938): the Texas International Fishing Tournament, otherwise known as TIFT.
You know TIFT season has arrived when the roads become flooded with Texas-sized pickups trailering bay boats behind them, and berths around Port Isabel and South Padre Island become filled with fancy yachts with whimsical names. You know it’s time for TIFT when the “Welcome TIFT anglers” banner flies above Highway 100 at the entrance to town.
You know it’s time for TIFT when not even the oppressive summer heat can dampen the holiday spirit that suddenly greets you everywhere you go. And just as with our neighbors 30 miles to the south of us do during Charro Days, people here in Port Isabel and South Padre and Laguna Vista get mighty excited when TIFT time comes.
What began as a marketing scheme with a small tournament called the Tarpon Fishing Rodeo that aimed to attract tourists and anglers to this small, blue-collar hamlet has —in the 79 years since — morphed into a 5-day long fun-filled affair.
As Tournament Director Kristi Collier once put it, TIFT has become generational, with families returning to participate year after year. Nowadays, you can find families with three generations of TIFT anglers participating on the boats, the docks, or spectating from the grandstand.
TIFT runs through the very veins of Port Isabel and its people, a catalyst for memories of sunny summer days spent with family and friends doing what people in seaside communities do best: fishing.
And of that long-ago mission to bring visitors to town? Well, TIFT has more than succeeded in that regard, as well. Anglers come to the Rio Grande Valley not only from across the state of Texas, but from across the country and beyond, to fish TIFT. And you’ll find just as many repeat out-of-town participants as you will among the locals.
If you’d like to see what TIFT is all about, then head on down to Southpoint Marina in Port Isabel on Friday or Saturday afternoon, where anglers from far and wide will be hauling in trophy winning marlin, swordfish, redfish, flounder and more.
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