14-year-old TJ Barker is ready to fish his first “real” tournament with his dad, Jon. The pair are set to compete against about 30 other teams in the 2022 Emo Walleye Classic next weekend.
TJ says he’s fished a bunch of smaller derbies, but this is his first real taste of tournament fishing.
“It’ll be good, I’m excited,” says TJ. “And I’ll get out of school, so that’s always a plus.”
Both TJ and Jon are looking forward to proving their angling abilities.
“He’s always thinking he’s a better fisherman than me,” says Jon. “So it’s a good place to go show him he’s not.”
TJ has been fishing for as long as he can remember. Jon says he always made sure his kids were immersed in the outdoors.
“He’s always been fishing,” says Jon. “He’d been in the boat in the car seat.”
The father-son duo always fish together in summer anyways, so this tournament is something they wanted to do together. Jon says it would be nice to win, but it’s about more than that.
“We obviously want to do good, but the biggest part of it is to spent some time together on the water,” says Jon.
“It’s really about showing him who’s the better fisherman,” says TJ.
“He’s very competitive, and he’s a very good fisherman too,” says Jon. “He’s not scared to try different things. And in all fairness, he is probably a better fisherman than me, but I guess we’ll wait and see.”
He says they’ll pre-fish for two days leading up to the tournament.
The river changes all the time and Jon says there’s always more to learn. He says you can have spots where you catch fish one day, but not the next. He says you need to have a whole bag of tricks ready.
“We’re still learning,” says Jon. “If you’re not learning something new every day, you’re not paying attention.”
While many are stressed about this year’s conditions, Jon says he’s not worried about the high water changing walleye’s habits.
“They’ll be there,” he says. “You’ve just got to figure out how to catch them.”
Even if they don’t take home top prize, Jon and TJ are still eligible for the $250 Elmer Haglin Family Award, sponsored by Keith Smith. This is awarded to any team with family relations — grandmother-granddaughter, father-son, sisters, etc. TJ also has the chance to win the Rookie Award, presented by the Emo Walleye Classic, valued at $250.
Jon says he’s fished five or six Walleye Classics already, teamed with Riley Caul. In 2019 — the last time the Classic had a waterfront tournament — they finished 7th.
Jon did not compete in last year’s virtual competition, and there was no tournament in 2020.
Walleye Classic organizers were able to come together and bring the competition back to its original waterfront format this year.
The Classic is run entirely by volunteers — nobody is getting paid. Jon says he’s found a new appreciation for the work the tournament organizers do.
“I’m really glad that Riley (Caul) and I decided to help out a bit because it definitely makes you appreciate everything that everybody does to make it happen,” he says. “It doesn’t run without the volunteers.”
He added that anyone seeing volunteers next weekend should thank them for all they do — he says they do it for no other reason but the sake of other’s enjoyment — organizers don’t fish the tournament.
Fishing will be on Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28. Teams can register as late as May 26, prior to a mandatory rules meeting that night.