Anglers hook up with extreme action in Sailfish Smackdown challenge

Battling three- to six-foot waves and attempting to reel in fish almost the same size as their kayaks, anglers took it to the extreme while competing in the first leg of the Sailfish Smackdown off the shoreline of Pompano Beach.

The Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament certainly lived up to its name with over 60 participants braving the tough weather conditions to test their ultimate skills in the sport. Having $20,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs was an attractive incentive.

Even for the experienced kayak anglers, the challenging elements posed a big problem. Sailfish Smackdown organizers were willing to postpone the event for a week, but the anglers voted to go ahead and give it a shot since there were many entrants from out of town and the delay might have forced them to drop out.

A winner is determined by the number of sailfish caught, and the tiebreaker is based on the earliest time the fish is caught.

With the waves hitting hard against the fishing lines and creating extra drag, and not being able to paddle their kayaks toward the fish, the competitors faced great adversity. It was a challenge in itself just to keep the watercraft upright against the waves.

The determination to succeed impressed Extreme Kayak Fishing Tournament president and founder Joe Hector.

"This was definitely the most challenging tournament we have ever put on, but also the most rewarding," Hector said. "In seven years, we never had to deal with something like this. These guys are the best of the best and we had a lot of safety boats out there. It was crazy and rough."

The conditions obviously caused a big downturn in the number of fish caught.

"We had a lot of fish lost because of the conditions," he continued. "(The weather) pushed the limits and showed what these guys can handle. It's pretty amazing."

Franco Natividad took the top prize of $5,000 and he was also awarded the Global Fishmounts Sailfish Trophy for his catch during the first day of the weekend action. The longtime bass fisherman was entering uncharted territory as it was his first time participating in the extreme kayak event.

"I'm hooked now," an excited Natividad said. "I never kayak fished before and didn't know what to expect. The sailfish took me for (quite a) ride and I had a battle for 40 minutes before bringing it to the side of the boat. I was exhausted and excited. The conditions were pretty rough and the farther you went out the bigger the swells. I'm still getting use to the tides and currents."

Rob Rodriguez finished as the runner-up and took home $2,000 plus a sailfish plaque. Third place went to Texas angler Erik D'aloise, who won $1,000 and a sailfish plaque.

Rodriguez is an experienced fisherman and guide who has been an avid kayak angler for over a decade. He use to fish out of Dania Beach and is very familiar with the local conditions. He has placed in four of the five Sailfish Smackdown tournaments he entered, with three second-place finishes and a fifth-place showing.

"I caught my 60 to 70 lb. sailfish on the second day of the tournament," Rodriguez said. "Most experienced kayak fisherman will call in "sailfish on" when you have eyes on the catch and know it's an actual sailfish. I have caught many sailfish and know by the feel what kind of fish has been hooked. They don't fight or run like regular fish."

The second leg of the Sailfish Smackdown will take place April 7-8 in Pompano Beach. For more information,