There were several great story lines associated with last month’s Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. In addition to a record number of boats (91) and the record purse ($2 million-plus), there was the underdog theme with the high school buddy team catching the largest blue (699.2) aboard Can’t Deny It. The combination really made for a memorable 16th year.

When the awards presentation was over, though, another significant record came to light. Born2Run, a 72 Viking owned by Dana Foster of Pensacola, took the Top Release honors and walked away with a check totaling $328,885. It is the largest payout ever in a Gulf of Mexico event in the release division. Capt. Myles Colley and the veteran team scored and released four blue marlin to earn the unprecedented payday.

“We’re still thinking about what happened,” Foster said a couple weeks later. “We didn’t realize the significance until we read the press release describing how it was the largest payout in the Gulf for releases. I thought, wow, that’s pretty outstanding. I also thought about the skill level of the other boats. This is the best of the best, so for us to release four blues with that competition, I’m really proud of our accomplishment.”

“We generally have the exact same team every time,” Colley adds. “Dana is usually in the chair and Robert Bonifay and Tyler Maxwell are the mates. Doug Franklin and Bryan Paul are additional anglers and crew, plus we have the best chair-turner/cheerleader in the business in Lisa (Foster, Dana’s wife). Everyone knows what to do and takes directions well, which is really important. We’ve got six or seven Go-Pros running, plus underwater cameras recording during a fight, so there’s a lot going on. But that allows for quick fish identification and lets us get baits back in the water quickly when the bite is hot.”

For the 2018 season, all Gulf Coast Triple Crown Championship events (five total) agreed to raise the minimum length to kill blue marlin to 107 inches. That typically equates to a 450-pound fish or better, although the length/girth formula has been skewed this year due to some exceptionally fat and short fish. Foster believes the attitude on releasing blue marlin is changing.

“I’m not sure if it’ll be this year or next, but sometime in the future we’re all going to concentrate more on releasing than killing these fish,” he predicts.

“We don’t set out to strictly release fish or to kill fish,” Colley adds. “We see what the other boats are catching and make decisions from there. It’s hard to kill a fish. You have to get it close enough to sink the gaff and get it aboard. That’s tough. It’s a lot easier to release a 500- to 700-pounder. So I can’t say which is a better test for a team, catching multiple fish or killing one big one. Both have different skill sets.”

The debate over scoring multiple catches versus one giant will likely go on as long as sportfishers troll weed lines or soak live tuna near rigs. But one thing is certain: It pays to play and in the release division, that payout can be very big indeed.