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 may give us a slight edge. We also have a communication network. We’ll get some intel, but how vague or precise it is depends on the level of friendship. For example, someone may say the bite is good around the Double Nipple, but that’s a big area and the actual spot may be 15 miles away.”

Blackman is another dedicated user of satellite imagery and says anglers who can accurately interpret the supplied data along with local knowledge acquired over the years will have a better understanding of when, where and why fish will be in certain areas. And like Benton, he also pre-fishes before every event.

“You gotta go early to scout and check everything out,” he adds. “We’ve always called them the ‘Shakedown, Breakdown’ trips. You never want to go into a tournament with issues that haven’t been addressed. Tackle breaks, things on the boat break so you definitely want to get everything fixed before the money is on the line.”