Three dozen sport-fishing yachts set off Friday afternoon under clear, sunny skies to kick off the 15th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. That number is down considerably from the 91 committed prior to Tropical Storm Cindy zipping ashore earlier in the week near the Louisiana/Texas border. Afterwards, boats up to 72 feet long chose to stay at home rather than face the storm’s remnants, despite a favorable weekend forecast. Yet Intense, a 39-foot Contender center console and the smallest boat in the fleet, is among those that are saying, ‘Right back at ya, Mother Nature!’ Neal Foster, of Mobile, Alabama, is the boat’s owner and captain of the team.
“There will be six of us aboard including a camera man,” Foster says. “We’ll run southwest according to the weather, but we’ll probably end up going around 1,200 miles round-trip. This is pure hardcore fishing. If it rains, your ass gets wet. It there’s lightning, you hunker down and go through it. We don’t get much rest other than a quick nap in a bean bag. We don’t have a salon or AC, no hot water or hot food. This weekend won’t be for the faint of heart.”
Wahoo is the name of the game for Foster & Company. The team fishes depths from 350 feet to the deepwater floating rigs over natural bottom. Baits include dead ballyhoo, hardtails and “whatever I can throw at ‘em,” Fosters says. Intense consistently brings hefty wahoo back to the scales, taking second place in the 2015 ECBC. If the speedsters are finicky or a couple contenders are already on ice, the team will shift gears and focus on tuna. Foster often bets across the board in the wahoo optional divisions, depending on the other boats, and also enters a few tuna categories.
“I’m just glad these guys allow us to fish these big boat tournaments,” he says. “If we go, compete hard and come back and win, we feel good because we’ve gone up against some of the best anglers in the Gulf. But at the end of the day, we’re going to fish regardless.
“In this game you have to be prepared and ready,” he adds. “You have to be in the right area. But you can’t make that fish bite. The good Lord has to be willing. If it’s not our turn, it’s just not our day. But we’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost.”
Foster, who is 52, attributes his endurance to staying in shape and having a positive attitude.
“One of our guys is about my age, but the rest of the crew are in their 20s. We’ve conditioned ourselves to take that beating when others can’t. When they have to slow down or back up, we push forward. If you want it, you can do it. Everybody has that inside them. But nothing is possible without a lot of hard work and sacrifice, even when you’re fishing.”
Spoken like a true marathon man.