Last year’s Emo Walleye Classic rookie champs seek repeat success

By Daniel Adam
Staff Writer

When Shawn Brown and Payne Hunter competed in the Emo Walleye Classic last year, they entered the top-10 boat parade with a 25-horse skiff. And since the boat didn’t come equipped with a livewell, they were pulling their tournament-winning catches out of a cooler.

That was the first time either of them had fished a big tournament, and they came out on top with a two-day total of 33.18 lbs.

“I’ve always wanted to fish in a tournament like that,” says Hunter, who regularly competes in smaller derbies. “[Winning] was really a big surprise to me especially it being our first year. That’s kind of a big thing.”

“It was exciting,” says Brown. “I’d been wanting to fish that tournament for a while.”

Both of them have been fishing since they were young, with family members teaching them the ropes. Brown and Hunter, who themselves are uncle and nephew, have lots of familial ties in the tournament.

Brown’s brothers, Terry and Keith Wilson, and cousin Leroy Wilson are all perennial Walleye Classic competitors.

“They’re always in the top 10, top 15, so I like outfishing them,” says Brown. “They’ve been doing this probably since the tournament started. But they’ve never won. So that’s a big checkmark on my side.”

He’s also got another nephew, Jaxon Calder, who — like Brown and Hunter — will be fishing in the Classic for the second time. Hunter says he enjoys competing against his cousin Calder and rubbing in last year’s victory.

“We’re always pretty competitive going against each other,” he says. “It’s really fun.”

Hunter says he loves fishing with his uncle and competing against the rest of the family. He says he’s looking forward to this weekend, and is hoping for some repeated success.

Though river conditions aren’t near as intense as last year, Hunter says higher water levels might help them find success in the same spot that won them the tournament last year. He says their second day was fish after fish after fish.

“I think we caught about 25 fish together,” says Hunter.

He says most people might not expect walleye to gather there because of how close it is to shore. In summer, Hunter says that spot is only about 3-4 feet deep.

This year’s competition begins Friday morning with the flights starting to leave at 8 a.m. from the launch in front of Golden Age Manor. Weigh-ins begin shortly after 4:30 p.m. once anglers have started to return. Day two gets underway at the same time with flights returning an hour earlier.

Teams are allowed four fish per day. Competitors are allowed two fish over 18 inches, and the other two must be between 12 and 18 inches. The heaviest total weight after two days wins. Based on 30 boats, the top team will receive $6,000.

With their winnings from last year, Brown says he opened an investment account, while Hunter bought himself a new set of golf clubs.