May 12, 2014
By Maria Hector
Excitement took over and no one could sleep the night before April 24th, 2014. The morning was still young when a total of 60 people, with 33 being anglers, took the three hour trek from Port Everglades to Freeport, Grand Bahamas. On board the Balearia fast ferry, the anglers were greeted with awesome goodie bags as they all made their way into first class accommodations. It was a calm and beautiful morning with flat seas and great energy on board as everyone pumped each other up for the experience of a lifetime this weekend will bring.
At arrival the folks were greeted with a local Bahamian holding a sign “Welcome Extreme Kayak Fishing” as he guided them to the Forbes charter bus. On our journey to Port Lucaya and final destination the Flamingo Bay Resort and Marina, the bus driver entertained the crew with some history of the island all while the 33 kayaks were being safely transported to our destination on board another truck following close behind.
After everyone checked into the resort they were ready for the festivities to begin. The captains meeting was held at 5:00pm under the pavilion which was located directly on Bahama's beautiful white sand beach. A quick glance of the attendee's faces and one could see the vibe was of pure joy. Local music, free flowing sands beer, girls with flowers in their hair and delicious fresh caught conch and grouper were part of the fun. As the day turned into night, the anglers broke away from the festivities to prep their gear and kayaks. The long awaited “Battle in the Bahamas” was upon them and it was time to get serious.
Friday morning the anglers were lined up on the beach double and triple checking their gear before the shotgun start that would signify the race out to the open ocean. Little did anyone know, that this would be the beginning of a new era for Extreme Kayak Fishing. After loading up on free water and coffee the anglers headed out into the turquoise seas where Joe Settebrino from Hillsboro Inlet Live Bait provided the guys with their pre ordered live baits for the day.
It was a perfect morning with not a cloud in the sky when the fishermen faded into the glass like ocean for the 7 a.m launch, not long after they were gone Winston Moss with Sands beer started loading up two big coolers of free sands beer while Joe Hector the organizer of Extreme waited with anticipation pacing back and forth with VHF Radio in one hand, and a Sands in the other.
There was something to do for everyone on Grand Bahama Island. The angler's wife's, girlfriends and parents that joined us on this trip enjoyed the amazing amenities the hotel and island had to offer. Some decided to enjoy a delicious buffet at Taino by the Sea that was located directly on the beach under a pavilion, and others decided to take a 10 minute boat ride to Lucaya Market place to get a taste of some fresh Conch salad and check out specialty shops. Some folks enjoyed taking the paddle board out into the flat turquoise ocean while others decided to take a snorkeling trip. It was even fun to just relax in a hammock with a rum runner after a swim in the lazy river pool. There was no shortage of sun and something to do for everyone throughout the day.
Music was blasting on the beach as the fishermen started coming in to showcase their catches. The amount of fish brought to the scale was astonishing; everything from huge kings, grouper, AJ's and loads of barracuda. Brian Nelli rolled up to shore telling Joe Hector he has a surprise for him, and pulled out a 38.4-pound kingfish and a 13.7-pound tiger grouper. As the crowd circled around Brian Nelli and his catch, a bystander noticed off in the distance Drew Mixon was standing up on his kayak in a hero pose showcasing his 32.7-pound kingfish. Right away everyone knew who the contenders were. Some of the other highlights included Don Miley rumbling to the beach with his monster 35.9-pound amberjack and Dion Philipon's 32.3-pound beautiful yellowfin grouper.
It was an exciting first day and quite a learning experience for all the extreme anglers, many of them found out rather fast that either their gear was too light or they needed to go deeper to weed through the Barracuda's. What everyone in the tournament didn't know was that history was about to take place on day two of this inaugural event.
The morning started out the same as the previous day, anglers were amped and ready to go offshore once again. After the horn blew, the anglers took off in every direction in search of monsters; some anglers stayed shallow and fished the ledge, while others paddled for miles in search of wahoo and yellowfin tuna. Only an hour had passed, when all of a sudden Hector's radio blew up with a crackling voice screaming “Marlin, Marlin, Marlin”…“Say again” Hector replied, thinking to himself this must be a sailfish…at that point another voice came in confirming that an angler was hooked up to a white marlin. About ten minutes after this amazing news Captain Luther, which was one of our help-boats provided by Flamingo Bay, was heard over the radio saying that another angler was hooked up to a massive blue marlin.
At this point everyone on the beach was in total shock while Captain Luther had to order an additional help boat from the island to assist in the blue marlin fight. No one knew whom either angler was at this point, adding to the anticipation. One thing was for sure; both were in a heated battle to win the billfish division. Communications were strong between organizer Joe Hector, Captain Luther, Joe Settebrino, Esteban Gutierrez and his video crew. At around 12:30 p.m. Joe Hector received word that angler Joe Kraatz landed and successfully released his white marlin. Word was coming in that the blue marlin was being fought by Matt Eckert aka “Marlin Matt” and nor he or the monster fish were giving up anytime soon.
Midday turned into afternoon and one by one the fishermen started pouring on to the beach with their catches to be weighed for the final weigh in. Nice sized dolphin were coming in, caught by Marcos Baldo, Micha Mixon, and Eric Digeon. The word was spreading that an unknown angler caught a bigger dolphin, and Chris Thomas lost an even bigger dolphin in a heated battle. As time was drawing near for the final weigh-in, anglers were anxiously waiting for the help boat that was holding their fish to come ashore. Joe Hector was getting worried that Captain Luther's boat would be too far offshore assisting Matt Eckert with his blue Marlin, that he would not make it back in time for the 4 p.m. cut-off. Frantic that time was passing by; they jumped into Joe Settebrino's boat and raced to Captain Luther's boat to grab the fish so they could make it back in time for the weigh in.
Racing against the clock, Settebrino pointed to Luther's boat far off to the distance and was in disbelief how far this blue marlin had pulled Matt Eckert. As they pulled besides Luther's help boat, Extreme team member Doug Perez instantly started throwing anglers fish into Settebrino's boat. Once Perez himself jumped into the boat with the fish, they hurried back onshore to make it in time for the weigh in. Meanwhile on the beach, Maria Hector the other organizer of Extreme observed anglers getting anxious to weigh in their catches, and while she was thinking of a backup plan, low and behold the men with the fish came four minutes before weigh in time. Settebrino's boat pulled right onshore and Joe Hector screamed for anglers to grab their fish and bring them to the scale.
As sigh of relief came over everyone involved in the tournament as anglers fish were weighed in on time. An hour later, refreshed and showered, anglers, their wives, onlookers and sponsors were making their way to the awards ceremony. Most fishermen were sunburned and exhausted but happy as can be when they walked into the awards ceremony and were greeted with a nice plate of steak and lobster compliments of the Ministry of Tourism. Free Sands Beer was flowing while “Mango” was keeping the energy up with his island music sounds. After a heartfelt speech from Joe Hector the winners were announced.
Brian Nelli stole the show and came in first winning $5,000 cash from Turbo USA, the coveted super bowl ring from Joe Griffin associates, a gorgeous custom made fish mount provided by Global Fish Mounts, and a Cup trophy from Broward Plaque and Engraving. Nelli also swooped up the biggest pelagic division with his 38.4-pound kingfish winning a $1,000 Check, and a SUP decked out fishing board from Adventure Sports Ft. Lauderdale, also a beautiful Guy Harvey Jewelry Necklace. If that wasn't enough he also took home the Trash Can Slam with the most total weight of barracudas totaling 28.4-pounds giving him the rights to Costa Del Mar Sunglasses and $250 worth in Yak Gear merchandise. The second place winner was none other than Don Miley with a total weight of 35.9-pounds earning him a Hobie Outback Kayak from main sponsor Nautical Ventures. Miley also took home a custom fish mount and Costa Glasses. Third place was awarded to Drew Mixon with his 32.7-pound kingfish giving him the rights to a Hobie Revolution Kayak provided by Nautical Ventures, Costas and a custom fish mount. Joe Kraatz ended up winning not only the billfish division with his once in a lifetime white marlin catch, but he also won the “Biggest Dolphin” award with his 18.7-pound catch. He was overjoyed to win a free entry ticket to EKFT's “Sailfish Smack Down 2015” and a custom live bait rod from Blue Marlin Chronicles.
After all the winners were announced there was still a champion named Marlin Matt out at sea for 11 hours battling the blue monster. After Eckert finally touched the leader the fish broke free and he was being brought back to the dock via Captain Luther's boat at around 8:30 p.m. Everyone rushed to the dock including all the fishermen, their wives, organizers, sponsors and onlookers to give Eckert a well-deserved hero's welcome. The screams of excitement for a man that just made history was a moment no one will soon forget. Eckert was exhausted but smiled from ear to ear when he saw the crowd welcoming him. Once he got off the boat Eckert and Kraatz were grabbed and thrown into the water once more to bless their luck in both hooking marlin on this epic adventure. Soon after he was given a beer and cigar by his wife who greeted him with open arms. Flamingo Bay Hotel awarded Eckert a four day, three nights upgraded complimentary stay for all of his hard work.
Everyone walked him back to the captain's party while congratulating him over and over…it was when he came back that the raffle started and the prizes were worth waiting for. Everything from tons of Guy Harvey merchandise, Costa Del Mar sunglasses, $250 gift card donated by Adrenaline Fishing Custom Rods, $300 worth of Yack Gear gift certificates, and so much more was up for grabs, no one left the night empty handed.
After it was all said and done and the party started to wind down, the Extreme team met at the dock to flourish in the memories and congratulate each other on a job well done. “Day two is when miracles happen," was the emotional and lingering words shared after a big bear hug between Perez and Hector.
For more information visit www.extremekayakfishingtournament.org.