It’s an enticing proposition. Combine a couple million bucks during the peak blue marlin season at one of the most popular resorts on the planet and what do you get? Experienced, professional teams from Seadrift, Texas to Wanchese, North Carolina and all ports in between converging on Sandestin’s Baytowne Marina. All hope to be the last team standing on the stage at Sunday’s awards brunch, gripping and grinning with that ginormous check. But could these visiting teams be bucking the odds? Do the local boats have a home waters advantage? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t.
“If this were a cobia tournament the locals would definitely have an advantage. But for the Classic it’s a different story,” says Capt. Brad Benton, skipper of Aldente, a 70 Viking owned by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. The boat is based at Sandestin. “With the extended range now the playing field is much more level. Preparations for the local boats might be a little easier since we know the marina staff. But as far as fishing reports, the Louisiana-based boats probably have better intel. I try to talk on the phone to some of the Venice charter boats to keep on top of things.”
Benton says his team tries to pre-fish right before the tournament to see if good water is close. They’ll also stockpile bait. He studies satellite imagery beforehand looking for patterns and current to avoid unproductive water.
“I like to stick around after the captains’ meeting to talk with some of the other crews,” he adds. “You can pinpoint a few more details there. We all know who tells the truth and who tells stories. So you decipher all that and come up with a game plan. The key really is knowing where not to go. With the range of our boat now we’re able to get out of the high-pressure areas and eventually we find some quality fish.”
Capt. Stan Blackman, who is fishing with the UPTOIT team this summer, grew up in the area and has been fishing the Emerald Coast his whole life. Those experiences offer certain advantages, he feels.
“Locals do have historical knowledge about where and when stuff shows up, where to find bait and how to keep it alive in certain parts of the bay, what bait to use, things like that,” Blackman says. “So that