In the cockpits of 79 different boats spread across the central Gulf like floating mats of sargassum, the hustle of activity is underway. Baits are being bridled, outrigger tag lines are being clipped into place, gloves and gaffs are within easy reach and adrenalin is pumping as hard as the nearby oil rigs. The 18th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic has begun, with $1.7 million in prize money on the line. Will the action be as blistering as it was last weekend? Will the billfish be stacked up and just as hungry? The next 48-plus hours will tell the tale of the tails. Breathe Easy, a perennial contender on the competitive Gulf circuit, is hoping to be in the thick of it again.

“It’s hard to imagine a bite like that two weekends in a row,” says the boat’s skipper, Patrick Ivie. The veteran helmsman has seen most of what the Gulf can offer after more than 20 years, first as a deckhand before climbing up to the bridge. Ivie is now running the latest version of owner Matt McDonald’s Orange Beach-based convertible, a 72 Viking. The crew brought it up from South Florida in the wake of Tropical Storm Cristobal and finished third in release division at last week’s MGCBC with seven blue marlin releases. That tally would have won many other recent big-game events.

“We’ll take a look at the forecast charts to see what’s lining up and make the best decision,” he says about the final destination. “The west side of the river has been slow, so it’s sure to be a very crowded scenario in that pocket of pretty water east. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out.” He predicts a boat will need five blue marlin releases to win this week’s Catch & Release division.

Ivie also believes the lower catches of dolphin are a direct result of the number of blue marlin around this season.

“Those blues have been wreaking havoc with the dolphin,” he explains. “They’re prime forage for those bigger billfish, so that’s why fewer are coming to the scales.” Yellowfin tuna have more than made up for the shortfall, with triple-digit entries the norm on the leaderboards.

Not everyone will be able to see the outcome live, though. For friends and family members of teams competing who can’t make it to the Baytowne Marina for Friday and Saturday night’s weigh-ins, there’s a perfect solution. CatchStat will be on hand to provide real time scoring so viewers can keep track of the action nearly as quick as it happens. Dave Garcia is the company’s developer and owner.

“We started working on the technology in 2003 and officially launched it in 2005,” Garcia explains. The late Kaye Pearson (Bertram/Hatteras Shootout) was instrumental in its development. The basic web site quickly morphed into enhanced automation with an emphasis on the entertainment aspects of the sport. CatchStat has since worked with more than 600 tournaments to provide live scoring, data entry and live streaming of the various contests.

“It’s really amazing how much people get into it,” Garcia adds. “It’s a great way for family and friends to follow along with the action offshore. Our analytics show most spend 30 minutes or better checking out the leaderboard, various boats and how they are doing. During the ECBC weekend, we’ll have 600,000 page views.”

CatchStat will be linked to fishecbc.com and there will be live feeds to the bars and restaurants throughout Sandestin’s Baytowne Village. Two large Jumbotron video displays will also showcase the event as it unfolds.

So if you love big-game action and can’t make it in person, tune in. There will be plenty to go around, from the Mississippi Canyon to the docks at Baytowne Marina.