As registration winds down for the 18th annual Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, most crews are retiring to the salons of their respective sport-fishers to pour over charts and plot strategy. Deciding exactly where to fish is a tricky proposition. Focus on one rip, rig or color change and it could mean a bonanza. Or be off by as little as a few miles and face long, boring hours staring at barren water. With more than $1 million in prize money on the line, it’s a very calculated risk.

The epic bite during last weekend’s Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic (101 billfish released, 10 blues released by Born2Run) has every ECBC team praying for a repeat performance. According to Hilton’s Realtime Navigator, a popular offshore forecasting service, the main oceanic features were still present mid-week. Weather patterns were stable, so that isn’t likely to change. Altimetry charts show a huge unfavorable downwelling east of Appomattox, but good nutrient-rich water south of Who Dat and west of Thunderhorse. That’s the same basic area that produced earlier.

“I think that storm [Tropical Storm Cristobal] really helped us out,” says Capt. Jeremy Cox, skipper of Lolita, a 68 Hatteras that won third place in the MGCBC with a 508.2 blue marlin. “It moved the bait around and brought the big fish in. The bait was pushed away from the rigs, the tuna followed and that made it easier for the marlin. All those rigs on the east side are usually good, although this week is supposed to be calmer and hotter. But that current is still pushing straight north, so it’s going to be a hard choice as to where to go.”

Lolita is based in Destin and the large team competing will be comprised of family members of owner Ed Womac. Cox has been fishing the ECBC since 2006.

“There’s something special about this tournament. So we’re definitely motivated and will try a little harder to win our hometown event,” he says.

Team Supreme, another local boat, has always been a serious contender and is also coming off a strong performance last weekend. The 76 Viking, owned by Allen Krake and run by Capt. Jared Quick, released six blue marlin but Quick isn’t sure if the bite will be as strong this week.

“It may be tough,” he explains. “There were a lot of big fish caught after that storm came through and moved things around. We’ll just get out there, see where the Loop Current and bait are, roll the dice and give it a shot.”

Quick says he likes to live bait but has caught his biggest fish trolling. Team Supreme is set up to do both in case the bait is hard to find or floating grass is a problem.

“Weather, water conditions, those things are out of our control. But everything you can control, you want to make sure you’ve got covered.” Quick is also motivated to win his hometown tournament and do well competing against his many friends also running boats this week.

“I expect it’ll take a 600-pounder or heavier to win this year,” he adds. “And I also think it’ll take at least five or six fish to win catch and release. Everyone wants this one, so you have to go above and beyond to stay competitive.”

The showdown starts at noon on Thursday, once the fleet blasts off from Destin Pass. By the time the scales close Saturday night at the Baytowne Marina, we’ll know for certain which strategy paid off.