By Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate

“The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.” ~William Allston

A Saturday. 3:32 a.m. Interstate 45 southbound.  82 degrees.  There is a thermos of coffee in hand and the truck windows are down.  I’m still waking up, yet being on the cusp of water for the Galveston Classic redfish tournament finds me equal parts amused beyond words and ever thankful for life. Fishing contests have never been my thing, but after being on the road for weeks out of the country, even to just see all the friends I’ve missed will be the saving grace no matter what the day brings.  I’m all in.

My partner for the tournament and I are A-1 certified long-haired-hippie-granola-munching-tree-huggers.  We don’t mess around with cuisine.  When I stop at his house to get in his 4-runner, the minuscule Gheenoe NMZ skiff is already attached to the trailer hitch, and the lunch bag has four peanut butter sandwiches (creamy, not crunchy, oh the sacrilege, I know--Mike loses points for this).  I add in two organic honey crisp apples, trail mix, and black cherry sparkling water.

If you’ve ever watched the beginning of a Texas fishing contest, whether in person or on television, most likely it has been for bass.  At the start, sparkling metal-flake Ranger boats flat-out scream across the lake with engines the size of Alaskan grizzly bears while freakish rooster tails throw gallons of whitewater into the skies at some 70 mph.  As for us, we are going precisely zero mph, parked, while cued up ten cars back in line for the Bolivar ferry.

A category one hurricane almost canceled the whole event.  It’s hitting the Louisiana coast just down the road.  The wind forecasts for the marshes here have been all over the map.  They feel like they are about 20-25 out of the northeast.  We’ve decided to pull a sneak move and head across the channel to the other side of the island, hoping to tuck into some back marshes we think may be protected while everyone else in the contest stacks up and dukes it out guns blazing in the favorite spot we all know about.

We roll out from the ferry and drive another 20 minutes to a launch site.  There are the first hints of a stormy sunlight on the horizon as we load in and motor across the channel.  The waves are formidable, but we bear down on things with the throttled up little 9.9 horsepower motor and make it to the back flats.  I’m ready to fish.  Feeling like this will never get old.

High tide, flooded, and dirty.  A wash. A bust.  There aren’t any fish in any of the cuts and corners, no matter how much we pole through them.  So much for our brilliant plan, but that’s fine, it is good to roll the dice here and there and take gambles.  On the way back to the ramp a couple hours later, we take a few surprisingly wicked waves over the front of the tiny skiff and barely make it back.  We are thinking about throwing in the towel.  If it’s this tough over here where we hoped it would be protected, West Bay Galveston must be victory at sea.

While cued up for the return trip across in the ferry, as two of the peanut butter sandwiches disappear, I give a quick call to Baron, the event coordinator, to check in. He lets us know the winds are bearable on the north side of the flats, and more importantly, that no one has really caught much for big fish yet.  We get inspired and start talking smack as we head for the north side ramp.  That’s it, redemption time, baby. We are about to open up a can of serious whoopass on everyone. It’s barely ten a.m.  It’s on.

A few minutes into the drive across the next flats, the skiff motor dies.  Then the starter cord rips in half when trying to get it cranked over.  We pull the engine cover and realize we’ll need help.  I call Baron again, explain the scenario, and drop him a location pin, while he agrees to head that way in his boat with a backup cord.  Over my shoulder, as we drift untethered across the bay, I can see the flats we were heading for, and they look good.  Ouch.

If today were a spirit animal, it would be the skunk.  Things go to pieces.  They sometimes fall apart.  Life will humble us here and there, and it’s ultimately good for us to take our lumps, knowing full well there are better days ahead.  In fact, things turn around when the guys pull up with the new cord and cold cans of Negro Modelos thrown our way, all while the smack talk is in full glory.  I love it. The only other thing I know at this moment is that my stomach hurts─from laughing so much.  Well, and that the motor won’t start again even with the new cord. Here’s to best friends who tow you for 40 minutes all the way back to the dock, while sending a couple more cold ales our way.

Once we get there, I take a peaceful nap on the dock in the afternoon intermittent sunshine while the steady storm breeze keeps me somewhat cool.  By the time I wake up, all 30 teams of the various contest entrants are back for the awards ceremony, and there is the heady and sweet smell of barbecue grills cooking supper, adjacent to endless cold beers stacked in coolers along the bar.  I wish I woke up to this scene after every nap, for the rest of my life.

I spend a long while catching up with cherished friends and hugs abound, and it reminds me of the incomparably deep sense of community I have always felt here at home. The fly shop , even only a couple years since opening, takes care of us all, no matter how ragged and road worn we are on arrival, let alone the fact that it has lardass catfish and bass in the casting pond and does endless good for the local community.  I am grateful, and so damn proud, as well.

On the drive back to Houston after the party, Mike gets fired up already thinking about next year. “The contest may even be two days long, and we could camp out, show them how it’s done in the water!” he thinks aloud excitedly.  After the beauty of the day, along with the calamitous mishaps, when most people would have their tails between their legs, here we are, broken down and having been disqualified into last place, yet already dreaming of redfish on the path ahead.

~Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate is an adventurer and environmentalist who has spent years as a journalist using nature and words to make sense of life, love, and his place in it. He is a staff assignment writer for numerous high-brow surfing, guitar, and fly-fishing magazines, and has been published internationally almost two hundred times.  In 2019 The Flyfish Journal created a documentary film about Riverhorse titled, “Love & Water.”  The film follows him throughout his beloved Texas coast and forest lakes, and he wrote both the music and narration for it. Riverhorse is currently working on a pair of exclusive Patagonia environmental films in the Boundary Waters and Swedish Lapland.  He is known for traveling alone to the farthest outer fringes of nature and the earth to immerse himself in terrain, explore solitude, pen stories of the beauty of the path, the amusing characters along the way, and why love is all that matters in this life.