The April 24th morning was still young when 33 anglers and their guests trekked from Port Everglades to Grand Bahama Island aboard the Bahamas Express fast ferry. It was a beautiful morning with flat calm seas and high hopes of what the weekend would bring.
Upon arrival, a local Bahamian held a sign that read, “Welcome Extreme Kayak Fishing” as he guided us to the charter bus. We were on our way to Flamingo Bay Resort & Marina with the competitors’ 33 kayaks secured on a truck following close behind.
What everyone in the tournament didn’t know was that history was about to be made.
After everyone checked in it was time for the festivities to begin. At the Captain’s Party on the beach, a quick glance of the attendee’s faces and one could see the vibe was of pure joy. Local music, free flowing beer, girls with flowers in their hair and delectable grouper were all part of the festivities. As day turned to night, the anxious anglers finally broke away to prep for the following day. The highly anticipated Battle in the Bahamas Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament was upon them and it was about to get real.
Early the following morning anglers lined up on the beach before the shotgun start signified the race out to the open ocean. Little did anyone know that this would be the beginning of a new era for offshore kayak fishing. After loading up on complimentary beverages, paddlers headed out into the turquoise sea where Joe Settebrino from Hillsboro Inlet Live Bait supplied their pre-ordered offerings.
By late afternoon, music was blasting on the beach as returning fishermen started coming in to showcase their catches. Brian Nelli rolled up first with a 38.4-pound kingfish and 13.7-pound tiger grouper. As the crowd circled Brian’s catch, Drew Mixon stood up on his kayak in a hero pose showcasing his 32.7-pound king. The battle was on! Additional highlights included Don Miley’s 35.9-pound amberjack and Dion Philipon’s 32.3-pound yellowfin grouper.It was an exciting first day for the extreme anglers, many of whom found out rather quickly that their gear was too light or they needed to go deeper to weed through the barracuda. What everyone in the tournament didn’t know was that history was about to be made.
Day two of competition started out the same as the previous day, with kayakers amped and ready to head into the azure waters. After the horn blew, a number of anglers worked the ledge, while others paddled for miles in search of prized pelagics. Barely an hour past when suddenly, the radio blew up with a crackling voice screaming, “Marlin…Marlin…Marlin!”
“Say again,” Joe Hector, the tournament director replied, thinking to himself this must be a sailfish. Soon thereafter it was confirmed, a kayak angler was in fact hooked up to a white marlin. If that weren’t exciting enough, minutes later another voice was heard confirming a second angler was also hooked up to a marlin, a massive 500-pound blue!
At this point, no one knew whom either angler was, adding to the excitement. One thing is for sure…both were in a heated battle to win the billfish division. At around 12:30 p.m. Hector received word that angler Joe Kraatz had successfully released his white marlin.
Midday turned into afternoon and one by one fishermen paddled onto the beach for the final weigh in. Because they were shadowing the angler battling the big blue, with only four minutes to spare the support vessel carrying everyone’s fish finally hit the beach. Anglers scrambled to grab their catch and run to the scale.
Later that afternoon after the weigh-in was complete, the crowd made its way to the awards ceremony. Most fishermen were sunburned and exhausted but thrilled when greeted with surf & turf compliments of the Ministry of Tourism. After a heartfelt speech from Joe Hector the winners were announced.
Brian Nelli stole the show winning $5,000, the coveted super bowl ring, a custom made release mount and trophy. Nelli also swooped up the biggest pelagic division with his kingfish winning an additional $1,000 and a decked out paddleboard. He also took home the Trash Can Slam. In 2nd Place was none other than Don Miley with a total weight of 35.9 pounds earning him a brand new Hobie. Miley also took home a custom fish mount and set of Costa Del Mar sunglasses. The 3rd Place title was awarded to Drew Mixon with his 32.7-pound kingfish, winning him a Hobie kayak, Costa Del Mar sunglasses and custom fish mount. Joe Kraatz ended up winning the billfish division with his exciting white marlin release and also won “Biggest Dolphin.” He was overjoyed to win a free entry ticket to EKFT’s Sailfish Smack Down 2015 and a custom live bait rod.
After all the winners were announced there was still a champion out at sea for 11 hours battling a monster blue. After Matt Eckert finally touched the leader for an official release the massive fish broke free. He finally strolled up to the dock on a support vessel at 8:30 p.m., where he received a well-deserved hero’s welcome. The man just made history in an event he won’t soon forget. Eckert was truly exhausted but smiled from ear to ear as the crowd welcomed him. Soon after he was handed an ice-cold beer and cigar by his wife who greeted him with open arms, Flamingo Bay Hotel awarded Eckert a four day complimentary stay for his amazing angling achievement.
To learn more about the Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament Series and for detailed results from previous events, visit extremekayakfishing.com.