Broken Arrows Chris Thomas

Vegas oddsmakers missed a golden opportunity last week as a pair of Oklahoma kayak bass fishermen entered the nation’s first offshore sailfish tournament — and won.

Broken Arrow firefighter Chris Thomas and friend Ryan Jones of OKC Kayak in Oklahoma City took first and second place, respectively, in the Extreme Kayak Fishing Sailfish Smack Down at Pompano Beach, Fla. on Jan. 25-26.

Thomas landed a nice trophy, $3,000 and some Costa sunglasses. Jones brought in $1,000 and some Costa shades. The prizes were secondary to the experience, however. It was the first sailfish for Thomas and a first time fishing offshore, ever, for Jones.

Thomas often fishes Texas offshore waters, but it’s hard to find a sailfish down there, so he has had his eye on the Florida coast for some Saltwater Fishing in Florida.

The tournament came along as an off-chance opportunity and, as Thomas put it, “we accidentally won it.”

Entering a tournament seemed like a good way to learn.

“I figured I could spend money and hire a guide or pay a $150 entry fee and fish with some of the best around,” he said.

Thomas and Jones researched in advance and quizzed locals upon their arrival and went offshore before the tournament to troll for king mackerel and use their electronics to scan the bottom for structures and depths. “We kind of pre-fished it like a bass tournament,” Thomas said.

While scouting they spotted sailfish “free jumping” and planned to return to that spot the next morning for the tournament. It paid off as Thomas hooked up first, then Jones.

As the anglers catch the fish they are required to radio a help boat that documents the catch and takes the fish from the angler for safe release. The fish are not weighed or measured. “The fish only comes out of the water for the picture,” Thomas said.

Winner of the tournament is determined by who catches the most fish. Twelve anglers in the tournament last week caught three fish on the weekend, “which I guess isn’t bad for kayak anglers,” Thomas said. He won by virtue of being the first to land a fish. He almost caught a second sailfish, but it spit the hook, he said.

Sailfish are the fastest fish in the world and can swim up to 68 mph. Thomas said his fight with a 30- to 40-pound sailfish lasted about 20 minutes and ended three-quarters of a mile from where it began. He described the fight as “a sleigh ride of a lifetime.”

Extreme Kayak Fishing is the biggest offshore kayak tournament series in the country, said founder Joe Hector. Their main summer series often has 150 to 200 entrants.

Radio chatter as Thomas hooked up relayed local anglers’ feelings on the matter. All the anglers carry VHF radios so all can hear it when the help boat is called, he said. “When Chris got on and said, “Oklahoma’s hooked up” you heard guys moan, but Ryan, then when he called in “Oklahoma Two” the locals were cursing, ‘Oh, crap! You gotta be kiddin’ me!’ We even asked him if he was joking and he said, ‘No, I’m hooked up!’ ”

Hector credited Thomas and Ryan for doing their research and listening to advise of locals and getting it done.

“For them to come down and beat those guys, it was unbelievable and awesome,” he said.

“All I wanted to do on the trip was catch a sailfish and I did that,” Thomas said. “And I got an incredible looking glass trophy.”