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Zeke Garrett: A Titan of TIFT

The first year JT “Zeke” Garrett moved down to South Padre Island, a friend of his needed help weighing in fish for a fishing tournament down at the old Sea Ranch Marina. Garrett didn’t know anything about this event, and at that time, he didn’t even realize that the fishing was good enough around here to even host a fishing tournament.

That is, until boat after boat docked up at the weigh station with loads of huge yellow fin tuna.  

“The Year of the Yellow Fin Tuna is what they called it. Back then, boats fished the tournament for four days straight, and every day, boats were coming in with at least 4 nice-sized yellow fin tuna. We filled up five, 40 foot trailers with these tuna to donate to food banks and children’s homes in the area until they just didn’t have anymore room in the trucks.”

Soon after the trucks reached their capacity, a monster yellow fin made it’s way to the dock – a state record tuna. “I tried handing the fish back to the angler, but they did not want it back on that boat, so I ended up learning how to filet my first yellow fin tuna that day.” 

That was 1979, and Garrett has participated in the Texas International Fishing Tournament ever since. He started out as a volunteer on the weigh docks when he was about 30 years old, did some bay fishing, and then ultimately got the opportunity to fish the tournament offshore. 

One year, Garrett and a few friends were fishing offshore, captained by Daniel Bryant for the tournament. 

It was a long, grueling day with a lot of fishing, but hardly any catching. By late afternoon, the only fish in the icebox was a 10-pound black fin tuna, caught by Garrett. The anglers wanted to see what action was going on at the weigh docks anyway, so they made a team decision to weigh in what little they caught.  

Soon, Bryant got a call on the radio from the TIFT dock master, asking if they were going to weigh anything in. “Yeah, we got a tuna.” And when asked how big it was, Bryant replied with a smirk, “I just can’t even tell you how big it is.” 

After the call, Captain Bryant looked down at Zeke and asked, “Do you want to be the tuna?”

All Garrett replied was, “Perfect.”

Garrett remembers this prank like it happened yesterday, “So, we pulled out the big fish bag, and right before we turned into the channel, I got in. They poured ice on me and I held that little tuna right on my chest while they zipped up the bag.” 

The boat backed in and everyone on the dock came running over. Some dockworkers rolled the gurney over and Garrett’s friends helped lift him onto it, all yelling, “Be careful with our big fish – be CAREFUL!”

They wheeled out the gurney to the center on the dock, and began unzipping the bag. TV cameras recorded and spectators stood from their seats. 

“The second they unzipped the bag, I immediately noticed Betty Tubbs (Tournament director) standing a few feet away. I sat up really fast, holding my tuna, and yelled, “Betty, can I still weigh in this fish!?”

From then on, everyone would remember Garrett as the big tuna for the 50th Annual TIFT.

“I had to apologize to Betty for years and years after that because I scared her so bad.”

Garrett would go on to be the “big tuna” in other ways as well. He served on the executive board for 26 years and has recently worked as a dock official, verifying tag and release photos for life-changing catches like sailfish and blue marlin. 

When asked what he thinks when he hears the word TIFT, Garrett simply replies, “Joy. It’s a great, family oriented organization. It brings together a lot of great people and its nice to visit with these people time and time again.”

JT “Zeke” Garrett currently lives in Bayview. He still loves to fish TIFT and frequently visits the convention center and weighdock during the TIFT week to partake in all the excitement that the event has to offer.  



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