Anglers competing for big fish and big prize money in Extreme Kayak Fishing’s two-day Battle in the Bahamas offshore tournament got more than they bargained for.
On April 25, fishermen from Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia raced their kayaks through calm turquoise waters off Freeport, Grand Bahamas, in search of the big catch. Joe Hector, Extreme Kayak Fishing owner and event organizer, “waited onshore in anticipation, pacing back and forth with his VHF radio in hand.”
That afternoon the 33 fishing competitors brought huge kings, grouper, jacks and loads of barracuda to the scale. “Everyone knew who the contenders were right away,” said Hector. Brian Nelli pulled a 38.4-pound kingfish and a 13.7-pound tiger grouper from his kayak as Drew Mixon, off in the distance, stood on his kayak with a 32.7-pound kingfish. Don Miley weighed in a monster 35.9-pound amberjack and Dion Philipon brought a 32.3-pound yellowfin grouper to the scale.
The anglers headed off in all directions on day two, some staying shallow to fish the edge while others paddled for miles. An hour later, Hector’s radio started blaring, “marlin, marlin!” Thinking it was a sailfish, Hector asked for the message to be repeated when a different voice confirmed the sighting of an angler “hooked up to a white marlin.” Within minutes, Captain Luther, at the helm of a help boat, radioed to report another angler was hooked up to a massive blue marlin.
“History was made Saturday, April 26 because this was the first offshore kayak fishing tournament where both marlin species were caught,” said Maria Hector, Joe’s wife and co-organizer.
Identities of the two anglers were not known, which added to the excitement onshore, according to Maria Hector. “One thing was for sure,” she said. “Both were in a heated battle to win the billfish division.” As word came in that “Marlin Matt” Eckert and the blue marlin were not giving up any time soon, Joe Hector was notified angler Joe Kraatz landed and successfully released the white marlin.
It was a race against time as the 4 p.m. final weigh-in deadline approached. Several fishermen had given their fish to Luther on the help boat, which remained offshore assisting Eckert. Joe Settebrino, with Hillsboro Inlet Live Bait, and Extreme team member Doug Perez, “jumped into Settebrino’s boat and raced to the help boat.” With four minutes to spare, the duo made it back and all fish were weighed in time.
Brian Nelli dominated the evening awards ceremony taking first place, winning the Biggest Pelagic Division and the Trash Can Slam with more than 28 pounds of Barracuda. Don Miley took second place and Drew Mixon came in third. Prizes for the trio included $6,000 cash, Hobie kayaks, trophies and gear. Billfish Division winner Joe Kraatz also won the Biggest Dolphin award and an entry ticket to Sailfish Smack Down 2015.
Still at sea, “Marlin Matt” touched the leader after an eleven-hour battle with the blue marlin. Smiling from ear to ear, Eckert received a “hero’s welcome” from fellow fishermen, friends, organizers, sponsors and onlookers. “The screams of excitement for a man who just made history was a moment no one will soon forget,” said Joe Hector. Once off Luther’s boat, Eckert and Kraatz were thrown into the water to bless their luck in hooking marlin.
“Day two is when miracles happen,” said Perez.
Extreme Kayak Fishing Inc. is an offshore kayak fishing tournament series based out of Pompano Beach, Fla.