By Jim Van Pelt
January 16, 2015: The long-awaited weekend of the second annual Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament's Sailfish Smackdown, the tenth event in the highly successful Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament Series founded by Joe and Maria Hector, finally arrived. Anglers from around the country had descended upon Bru's Room Bar and Grill in Pompano Beach, Florida, for the event's captain's meeting and kickoff party. This year's Sailfish Smackdown saw over 50 anglers, nearly five times as many as last year's event. With free food provided by Bru's Room, captain's bags courtesy of all the event's sponsors and a huge raffle with items such as a custom sailfish mount from Global Fish Mounts, a $1000 check towards a new Hobie kayak from Nautical Ventures, an autographed print from Guy Harvey, Costa Del Mar sunglasses and much more, the kickoff party was truly an event in itself. After the raffle was complete and a thorough explanation of the rules and events of the weekend by Joe and event coordinator, Doug Perez, anglers started to quickly filter out of the patio in order to prepare themselves for the weekend's events.
Day One: The beach became littered with kayakers eager for their shot at the elusive sailfish and the more elusive title of Extreme Kayak Fishing champion. Hillsboro Inlet Live Bait was waiting just offshore with a live well full of goggle eyes and pilchards, ready to be delivered straight to the kayakers throughout the day.
7:15 am: Launch time and a mad dash to get out on the water and be the first one hooked up. As the pack of kayakers thinned and people started to go their separate ways it was clear that people had been doing their research to prepare for this year. There were kayakers flying kites, using balloons and trolling with a two and three rod spread. The ingenuity alone is truly a spectacular sight to see.
After a few hours there was a very apparent weather shift. The wind started to pick up and along with it so did the fish. The VHF crackled to life and, "MAHI ON!!" was relayed throughout the anglers. We made our way over to Tod Johnson who was fighting a determined mahi. After a few minutes Tod was able to gaff his 14.1-pound fish which put him in first place in the YakAttack Dolphin Division.
Almost immediately after Tod's mahi, the radio again crackled to life and two anglers, Jon Venarchick, who was offshore for the first time in his kayak, and Robinson Rodriguez nearly simultaneously hooked up on sailfish. It was now a race between these two anglers to see who would land their fish first. After nearly an hour of fighting, Jon was finally able to get his leader touch putting him in first place. Shortly thereafter, Robinson secured the leader and moved his way into second place. While still celebrating the safe releases of the first two sailfish, Joe Kraatz announced that he too was hooked up on a nice sailfish. After another hour of fighting and no jumping, which is unusual for a sailfish, there were some that questioned just what exactly Joe was hooked up to. Joe was certain he had a sailfish on, and after a few more minutes of fighting it was clear as to why Joe is one of the best billfish kayak anglers on the water as the fish was finally visible, and Joe was now safely in third place.
Just as quickly as the bite turned on, it was gone, and day one came to a very exciting close.
Day Two: There were some extremely hopefully anglers and a few nervous ones hoping to keep their place in the money. Almost a mirror of the prior day the wind picked up a few hours after launch and Ryan Whalen came across the radio announcing that he had a sailfish on. After a short fight Ryan was able to get the leader touch and move into fourth place. After a photo-op with his catch, he was safely released.
Not to be outdone, the Oklahoma boys, the winners from last year, showed that it was not just luck last year and found themselves again hooked up to a sailfish. Lynn Hall managed to land his sailfish and secure fifth place and prove that Oklahoma is a state that produces some serious offshore kayak anglers.
A few more fish were caught throughout the day but none that could move the anglers out of their respective spots on the leader board.
3 p.m.: Lines came out of the water and the 2015 Sailfish Smackdown officially came to a close.
Results and Prize List:
1st – Jon Venarchic Sail ( Naples ) 10:33am $3,000 Check from Turbo USA, Costa Glasses
2nd – Rob Rodriguez Sail 11:02am $1,000 check from Nautical Ventures, Costa Glasses
3rd – Joe Kraatz Sail 11:52am $500 Check from Nautical Ventures, Costa Glasses
4th – Brian Whelan Sail 9:35am Sailfish art painting from Peter Agardy SaltWater Brewery
5th – Lynn Hall Sail ( Oklahoma ) 11:05am Costa Glasses
$500 YakAttack Dolphin Division – Tod Johnson ( Texas ) 14.1 lbs
Congratulations to all the winners and Joe and Maria Hector for putting such a great event.
See you in the Bahamas!!