Joe Kraatz of Florida came through late both days of the Battle in the Bahamas to at last with the championship. Photo Paul Lebowitz, Hobie

Joe Kraatz of Florida came through late both days of the Battle in the Bahamas to at last win the championship. Photo Paul Lebowitz.

Battle in the Bahamas Serves Up Series of Unlikely Firsts

By Paul Lebowitz

 PORT LUCAYA, BAHAMAS (April 9, 2016) – Crazy. The Extreme Kayak Fishing (EKF) Battle in the Bahamas spun silly.  A Canadian cracked a tropical record, a first-timer cranked up a convincingly strong finish, and the series-best grouper mark was shattered by a saltwater virgin.

The Battle of the Bahamas is itself unlikely. For the third consecutive year fifty anglers packed their fishing kayaks onto the Balearia Caribbean ferry out of Port Everglades, Florida. Four hours later they arrived on Grand Bahama, in another country, one that feels a world away. The water is vibrant blue. Palms sprout from the white, pillowy sands.

Fresh the ferry from Florida, competitors kayaks are unloaded in the Bahamas. Photo Paul Lebowitz, Hobie Cat Co.

Fresh off the ferry from Florida, competitors’ kayaks are unloaded in the Bahamas. Photo Paul Lebowitz.

Only one outcome felt like an inevitability, achieved by an angler who could no longer be denied.

"I’ve finished second twice, third, fourth, and sixth. Last year I was in first after day one, and got my hopes up. I lost one tournament by one-tenth of a pound," said EKF regular Joe Kraatz of Florida. He turned in a spectacular two-day 72.9-pound tally and finally claimed a tournament victory on the strength of late heroics both fishing days. But first, the foundation.

Kraatz set himself up for success by a one-drop stick of a 17.2-pound yellowfin grouper early on day one. He stuck out a deadly slow period, riding out a nasty, pervasive wind, and hooked up again with just 30 minutes left in the fishing day. The freight train blew right through the station, nearly spooling him before heartbreakingly busting him off.

He didn't fret. He quickly tossed out another bait and bam! He was right back onto his kicker fish, a 30.4-pound kingfish, yet he wasn't in the lead.

First-time saltwater angler Nick Weber of Minnesota pinned a live goggleeye onto a jig and let the unconventional combo dangle. He hooked up and pried a 39.1-pound grouper out of the reef – the heaviest ever logged in EKF competition. That single fish held up well enough for an overall fourth place and $1,500.

A record-setting first day set the foundation for the top finishing spots. Photo Paul Lebowitz, Hobie Cat Co.

A record-setting first day set the foundation for most of the top finishers. Photo Paul Lebowitz.

Canadian Brian Arnold added to the mayhem when he brought a 40.2-pound kingfish to the scale – an impressive new EKF record for a series that has seen more than its share of big kings. It earned him third place and $2,000.

Kraatz didn't look back. Luck played a role. He was rebaiting a hook when a mahi mahi swam by his kayak almost in touching range. He rushed his cast, seemingly crapping out when it splashed down three feet back. A 7.7-pound mahi hit it immediately. Finally, Kraatz picked up a 17.6-pound wahoo while drifting, completing his 72.9-pound total for a convincing win and a hefty $10,000 check.

Brandon Nodal of Florida scored 54.8 pounds to take second place in just his first EKF competition. Nodal, who focused on fishing the bottom, said he thought it would be easy. It wasn't. "I got very few bites that counted. I made them count," he said. Nodal won a Limited Edition Hobie Outback, just one of 500, valued at $3,400.

Joe Hector founded EKF just a short time ago, in 2011. Since then the series has fostered a lively offshore fishing scene in southeastern Florida. EKF events include the Summer Slam Series and Sailfish Smackdown contested out of Pompano Beach, Florida, as well as the annual Battle in the Bahamas. Later this year Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournaments will expand its offshore action to Texas.