Fishing the Mexican Border
Fish don’t know borders. They know the tug of a line or the hold of a net, but they swim with impunity across the boundaries we create in matters of politics, economy and war. Fish don’t know the difference between Texas and Mexico. Only people do.
My husband, Jerry, and I recently followed the Rio Grande River from our home in the center of New Mexico to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the Rio Bravo to our southern neighbors, the river forms 1,255 miles of the international border between Texas and Mexico. It twists and turns through drought-stricken deserts, where illegal immigrants risk their lives—sometimes failing—to find new life in a new country. Farther downstream, birds and boaters meet where dams offer plenty to eat and places to play. Somewhere around the 100th Meridian the air turns dewy, the fields grow green, and the river takes on a new persona. By the time the Rio Grande reaches the sea just outside Brownsville, Texas, it smell nothing of our New Mexican home. There, on the southern, eastern tip of Texas, mangroves usher the Rio Grande to its end as seagulls swoop the shore in search of dinner.
We arrived at Boca Chica Beach expecting nothing but sand and sunset. But when we drove through the dunes to greet the water’s edge, we found hundreds of beach-goers camped beside SUVs. To the east was a line of fishing poles staked in the sand. To the west were all the people, with giant coolers and barbecue smokers brought from home.
Jerry drove south, toward the river’s mouth, trailing a line of vehicles. He stopped a sheriff’s SUV heading the other way.
“We’re not from around here,” Jerry said. (That was obvious.) “Is it OK to camp here?”
“Yes it is,” the officer said. We happened to arrive on the one night a year preceding the Annual Redfish Surf Tournament sponsored by the Brownsville Police Officers’ Association. It was the 26th year, and there would be “a lot of police presence” on the beach. “I don’t know if you think that’s good or bad.”
“Well, I’m in favor of it,” Jerry said.
So onward we drove, several miles, toward an empty spot on the beach with a clear view of the Rio Grande mouth and a lighthouse on the Mexican side. We pitched our tent on the edge of a sand dune and listened to the waves roll in. All around us, fishers positioned themselves for the morning competition.
Jerry and I parked a couple of camping chairs near the shore and dug into a mess of leftover sirloin tacos we’d purchased earlier in the day at a street stand in Roma. We dirtied our hands with avocado and grilled onions as our neighbors fired their barbecues and blasted their music, largely drowned by the rushing waves. All evening and well into the night, newcomers plied the beach, looking for an auspicious spot. As daylight faded, the lighthouse blinked on across the border.
I thought about this surreal journey along the edge of a brutal war that has killed more than 30,000 people. The border at Brownsville is not immune from the troubles of drug smuggling, human trafficking, and illegal immigration. Just the night before, we slept in Laredo (U.S. side) across from Nuevo Laredo (Mexican side), where seven people died when 60 inmates reportedly tied to the Zetas drug trafficking gang escaped from the local prison. Yet that same day we also read a USA Today report indicating lower violent crime rates along the border than in other U.S. cities. And there we sat at the edge of Mexico, with pelicans soaring overhead and the soothing beat of the sea at our feet.
Early the next morning, I peeked out the tent to find a shroud of mist over a row of fishermen battling waves at their chests. Pink puffy clouds marked the end of a near-full moon as sunlight began to rise. I could see Mexican fishermen hugged by the same cloudy veil.
As the tournament progressed, I watched competitors pulling out a few big fish and a few little fish—but mostly, a lot of nothing. The birds seemed to have better luck, diving to the sea and emerging with squiggling creatures in their mouths.
Later that morning, as Jerry scoped the beach for photos, a fisherman told him we were exceptionally lucky to have chosen that weekend for our excursion. The region is rife with smuggling and border conflicts. Camping on Boca Chica, he said, is not recommended any other night of the year.
Photo by Jerry Redfern.
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