Jim Kalkofen Talks ‘Retirement’ and the Walleye Tournament Industry
Oct 31st, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Oct 31st, 2009 at 12:00 AM
SW: This is Steve Worrall with OutdoorsFIRST speaking with Jim Kalkofen on a fine, stormy, wet day in October. How are you doing Jim?
JK: Doing great! Always good talking with you Steve.
SW: Well, I imagine this weather has somewhat effected your ‘outdoors activities’ the last few days.
One of the main reasons that I set this call up, Jim, is to find out what JK is up to? One of the questions that I get whenever I run into pro fishermen or industry folks is “Hey what’s JK doing?” Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you have been up to over the past couple of months and what your plans are for the future.
JK: Well I appreciate that Steve.
You know, I stay in touch with quite a few of the anglers as well because I am doing a lot of writing about fishing topics, walleyes especially, and that is a great reason to visit with all the friends I have made over the years and pick their brains because you and I know that the pros out there who are fishing are some of the most not only intense, but innovative folks in the fishing world. They have more ideas than you can imagine, and when you drag all that stuff out of them you say, “Man no wonder they are so good!” So I have a lot of fun visiting with them. I am doing a lot of writing, not that that is interfering with all of my fishing, I am doing a significant amount of fishing.
SW: That I could tell just from my inbox! I am getting some fairly substantial pictures of things like small mouth, and walleyes, and bluegills, and crappies, so it looks like you have been catching quite a few fish this summer and fall.
JK: Well I have. You know in almost 20-years I have worked with In Fishermen and then moved up here about 14 to 15-years-ago to Brainerd, I kept looking at all these maps and listening to Al Lindner, and talking to the camera crews, and where they have been fishing, talking to my friends, and I keep making and having this long list of places I wanted to fish. Well, now I have had an opportunity for the past year, and in addition to fishing all of the popular names, the big names, the Mille Lacs, and those places I have actually done something that I really am having fun with, I took one of my Dad’s old 14-foot boats, have a 15-horse Mariner on the back of it that I bought for him in the mid 80s, and I have a Minnkota bow mount, well its actually a transom mount that I mounted on one of their V-brackets on the bow. That boat is designed especially for what I like to fish, shallow rivers and small waters. You know two of us can easily lug it around. I can pull it up on rocks when we have big muskies on and I’ve been in places where nobody has been for years just because I have access with that tiny boat! A push-pole and little bow mount can get me to amazing places, and you are right Steve, muskies and small mouth on the rivers. We have a tremendous number of rivers in Minnesota that are I would say can you use the word ‘untouched’ would be fairly accurate.
SW: Yes, I would agree with that! That boat I am quite familiar with, by the way, I saw that boat on Musky Bay on Pelican more than one time. That is quite a rig you got!
JK: And you know aside from repairing the 18-holes my Dad had in the boat… I asked him, “What are all the holes for?” and he said “Oh I needed to hang stuff” He had wires and cords and stuff all over the place so I got busy welding, but you know what? That boat gets me into the places, I am not saying that you go out and immediately buy something like that, but its a good second boat and once you start fishing these places, like within 10-miles of Brainerd. I caught a 52-inch musky, my Pastor with me caught a 52-inch musky, not the same one and those were on different trips. One day my son and I had three muskies with a 47 and a 50-incher in there, and I know you musky fish a lot Steve. People travel thousands of miles to get into fish like that and we were within 10-miles of Brainerd!
JK: The small mouth around here! There are rivers that run forever loaded with smallies. In fact, I was with a guy this summer in August and I said, “I just want to count the small mouth we see in the river.” You know ones we had spooked. It was common to see 7 or 8 small mouth that were following one that was hooked and we saw over 100. The guy looked at me, he says, “OK we’ve seen 100 smallmouth, do we have to keep counting?”
SW: You can stop counting now! Interesting! Lets talk a little bit about the writing Jim. I know you just finished up an article for Walleye FIRST on Scott Fairbairn’s retirement and that was a very interesting piece. It has generated a couple of responses from Scott about an interesting move on his part. What do you have on the docket for future articles and what do you have going in the writing world?
JK: Well, you know one of the nice things about having been in the trenches for so long; it give me a perspective of things that are going on and there is something right now that has been I guess not only on my heart to talk about and to write about, but then with the opportunity through Walleye FIRST; It is going to be a series of stories that I think are really going to be exciting because the thrust of the stories will be ‘what’s the future of the competitive walleye game’. I have interviewed outboard manufacturers, and tackle manufacturers, I am talking with pros, and tournament sites (communities), and boy I am learning a lot about this story! The key is there are a lot of people saying, “What do we do? Tours are making announcements. Entry fees are being announced. Sites are being announced. What do we do? How do we make money? How do we promote for our sponsors?” The consistent theme I am learning through all of this, Steve, is that there is opportunity out there, there is plenty of opportunity, and now is a good time to take advantage of the opportunity and a lot of people are saying, “Well its expensive.” We are going to get into that and we’re going to talk to the pros. Frankly over the years the top pros… sure, they have won money fishing tournaments, but the fishing pros who have been consistently in the public eye have made their income from sponsorships and we learned that from Scott Fairbairn’s article; that is going to be a bigger part of their lives is selling and marketing, and they are not going to lay down and quit with all the opportunity out there. Plus they have to be honest with themselves; it is going to be wise for the pros to continue with the tours and keep them up in numbers and participate, keep them strong as they move forward. The whole story is about talking with everybody and take a look at what direction this is going, how people working together can make it even better, and the interviews are rolling along! I have half-dozen more to do and then we are going to start generating those stories some time next week.
SW: You have been talking with industry leaders, you have been talking with manufacturers as you said, I just wanted to stress the point that you are not just talking to the pros and asking them what they are going to do, you are talking to people like Evinrude, and Fintech, Lindy, and folks like that and saying, “All right what direction are you as a company headed for the future of competitive walleye angling? So this is going to be from every possible perspective, correct?
JK: That is right. In fact, I am talking to the tournament sites and the chambers too. We have always said tournaments are lucrative for the communities, well we are going to find how so. If a tournament promised 200 boats coming into a community and 60 show up, then the community is not as pleased, but I tell you what just the promotions that occur by having a tournament at a site where they catch lots of fish really is significant for those communities so I mean all aspects of this are going to be reviewed. What I am finding is that the competitive urge of fishermen never goes away. Right here in Brainerd, for instance, there are six leagues and once a week all season long or all summer long they have their competitive events, and these leagues keep the guys talking about gear and equipment and boats and tackle and “What is Tommy Skarlis doing? What is Gofron doing?” They compete in a group of 12 to 15 boats and that is an important part of fishing. Maybe there will be a return to the grassroots.
I always look at marketing and say we certainly always come back to a starting point at some time; this could be it, Steve. So it is interesting to look at this whole tournament walleye fishing future issue. I am looking forward to this story; it will grow a lot of legs when people say, “Well what about? And what if?” Maybe it will even generate some competitors who traditionally have been at knuckles with each other getting together and saying, ‘What together can we do for the good of the Industry?’ That is a big part of what I am seeing as well. You know before there might have been a reluctance to talk to your competitor, and now I think it is an essential part of doing business to maintain what is happening in the walleye market.
SW: I think you are absolutely correct there. I see almost a paradigm shift where it used to be you would see the ‘other circuit’, if you will, as direct competition and now must see them as partners in making absolutely certain that the competitive angling world, not just walleyes, but all of them move forward in the future. Is that what you are sensing as well?
JK: Yes sir, exactly, and I think in the whole context of the future in just specifically walleyes there will some people who just fish the big tournaments, and AIMs and the FLWs, and there will be team guys looking at the MWC and Full Throttle and MWS and some of the other names and state events. I am also interviewing and talking to organizations like the Otter Street Tournament, they have had 300 boats plus in their tournaments since the early 90s and they are still pushing people away. So that is an important aspect of walleye competition, and we will be just basically talking about grassroots all the way up.
SW: Well lets talk a little bit about AIM. AIM has not released their schedule yet. They have an owners meeting this Saturday and I suspect that directly after that we will hear a little more from them. FLW Walleye Tour did announce their schedule and announced that as a result of all of the factors that we have just spoken about, the tough economy, etc., that they have eliminated the league and have cut their entry fees down to $750.00, gone to two divisions, East and West, and of course with the cut in entry fees and loss of sponsorships and things like that the payout has been dramatically reduced. What are your thoughts on that particular circuit and the direction that they have taken basically as a survival tactic, what are your feelings on all of that?
JK: The FLW has always been a tough competitor as far as one circuit against another and what they have done is address what they perceive as the needs of the angler; that is, to lower the competition costs, the entry fees, etc. As a result I think that there is probably no better time in history to fish a competitive walleye pro/am event, especially with the entry fees being what they are. Not having to cough up $1,500.00 bucks… you are coming up with $750.00. This will allow certain anglers who have been fishing leagues and team tournaments to maybe step out and say, “Hey I want to see how well I can do” especially if the Tour comes to their area. You know, that way they can stay at home and have all those reduced costs. I think it is an answer to how the FLW sees the market right now. I know the total pay out is going to be quite a bit less, but that is something I think the pros have expected. There is no word out on contingencies, so we don’t know what the individual manufacturers are going to do for their pros, who look at it in just one sense; ‘I can’t make money fishing a tournament’; it’s really no reason to quit because if you fish tournaments and do well then you make your money from selling and marketing yourself, not just publicly, but through the corporations and the manufacturers. And…It will be working outside the Industry where more of that money will be.
SW: Interestingly you mentioned that the contingencies have not yet been listed and that is something you will cover in your articles in the near future, correct?
JK: Yes, and some of the manufacturers are talking some pretty interesting things about what they are going to do with contingencies. As I have a chance to visit with them, I am going to share that information in the articles too. I think the contestants will be pleased to know that they are not neglecting, not turning away, not just turning off the lights on the Pros! They will maintain and continue contingencies with their top pros and they will have programs for others, but the contingency program means- to win that money you are going to have to own and fish their products- and it will give people a chance to consider those products when they do their purchasing. There is a lot that we are going to cover on that end of the spectrum as well.
SW: Well that sounds really, really good. We are most assuredly looking forward to that series of articles. What do you expect, a two or three or four part series or what do you think you will have there Jim?
JK: Well I think there will be a one parter and then I am going deer hunting, and then there should be a few more parts after that Steve.
SW: So some of this will be abbreviated by your hunting and fishing trips I would assume?
JK: And some time we should do an interview about my deer hunting for WhitetailsFIRST, because I hunt by boat and you can be in the boonies in a hurry by boat. When you are deer hunting, whether it is in Ontario or here in Minnesota, it is really a fun way to hunt! I tell you what, it is like competing in a fishing tournament; you have to plan for every possible emergency and have the right gear in the boat. It is fun and I will be doing some serious hunting throughout November, but this series of stories… I think once it starts and we get one or two or three out there, there will be a lot more information flowing both ways; input from all sources, and we are going to continue and see what we can do about coming up with some suggestions for improvement for the entire Industry, solutions, and most will probably come from the participants themselves.
SW: I would guess we will probably get a lot of that kind of play, that is part of the obvious interaction that we have. The buzz word now is social networking and that basically is what Walleye FIRST is all about, and noticing the response from Scott Fairbairn’s retirement article, I expect that you will hear quite a bit from the folks out there. Let’s talk a little bit about Teen Challenge, that is something that you have become involved in and was a tremendous success last year. What JK does for Teen Challenge, and what Teen Challenge is?
JK: Well Teen Challenge is, most people have heard about it, but it is one of the most successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in the country and, in fact, I could say world because they have 1,000 centers throughout the world. A center is basically a campus; it is a group home situation, offering about 12 to 13-months of dedicated training. It pays and that is one of the reasons it is successful. Teen Challenge has several centers in Brainerd, Duluth, and Minneapolis. There was a banquet and Ron Lindner was there, and Ron Lindner says to the Teen Challenge folks, “Why don’t you have a fishing tournament to raise money?” and they said, well we would like to do that but number one we don’t know anything about fishing and number two we don’t know anything about tournaments. Ron said, “No problem I know a guy”…. so I was volunteered to run the event or at least investigate the possibility. I did it, laying it out for them at Teen Challenge. We had 87 teams competing in a multi-species tournament on Gull Lake just West of Brainerd and we raised just a tad over $100,000.00, Steve. It was tremendous and this year we are already gearing up for an event on 6/05/2010. We appreciate the Walleye FIRST coverage and pictures and look forward to seeing you there this year. We have a web site at www.mntc.org/fishingchallenge. MNTC stands for Minnesota Teen Challenge. It helps, of course, that Al Lindner is our Honorary Director and fishing multi-species is a key. We have implemented a whole bunch of fun things into it. We allow 100 teams, and we will actually have to turn a few of them away. This is one that after only one year has grown legs of its own. So, I am working with them this summer, was assisting Teen Challenge, and the director here in Brainerd says, “You are going to come to work for me.” I said, “I got too many lakes to fish.” He says, “I don’t care.”
SW: So there you are working part-time.
JK: Part-time helping with fundraising and other activities, and the nice thing about it; I started an outdoor mentorship program so fishermen and fisher guys, and outdoor guys and snowshoe or snowmobilers; instead of being consistently with one person, 3 or 4-times a month, as events unfold we can contact the Dean and say ‘OK it looks like Saturday is a great day for fishing, who can I take fishing?’ Several of us end up taking people out so they can see what it is like fishing enjoying other outdoor activities when they are not drunk or high, just enjoying normal life; that is what it is all about. So that is Teen Challenge and we do have room, there is going to be two person tournament on Gull, the entry fee is $100.00 and the teams raise money from other friends and family, that type of thing. That money goes directly to Teen Challenge. It is a real simple deal, but we really have a ball!
SW: Well that may be something that I would have to get into. Zach and I were talking about fishing a couple of events, maybe that one we will enter. I have always done real well on Gull and actually placed and won in a couple of tournaments on multi-specie deals so I just may have to try that. That is a very inexpensive entry fee and I know a few people who might chuck a buck or two towards the Teen Challenge, don’t you think?
JK: Well that is good and one nice thing about it is that guys can fish for all of the species with the same entry fee. You can fish for bass, pike, panfish and walleyes, or you can come in at the end of the day and declare mixed bag so you have that opportunity, but here is the fun part of it; with every category you can weigh in three panfish, but you can also have a bonus rock bass, which means if you have a bonus 1-pound rock bass your panfish weight will go way up! And if you are fishing pike you can still bring in a bonus rock bass, which means if it is close and you both have 10-pound fish and you have a 1-pound rocker you win, and that is thanks to Ron Lindner’s creativity. That is Teen Challenge…6/05/2010 on Gull and anybody who is listening who wants to get in can contact me, go to our web site, or they can contact you and you can put them in touch with me Steve. We just really want to fill this, and we only have a maximum of 100 teams that are allowed by the permit in Minnesota.
SW: You will fill, of that I’m sure!
JK: By the way you asked about some of things I am doing. I am having a lot of fun learning more about muskies than I had ever thought possible by being the MC at the MAC events, that is really a hoot! I am mentoring a 12-year-old kid. I am taking veterans out fishing and one of the most important things I have been doing is I have had a gazillion invitations to go fishing with friends all over the country and guess what, NOW I can say yes!
SW: Yes, back in the 19-1/2-years that you were at the helm of the PWT you got all these offers….I am quite familiar with that. I have opportunities to go hunting and fishing all across North America really, but because of the pressures of the job one can’t do it; so now you are calling in a few of those, are you?
JK: I have been in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Colorado and really had fun up in Wyoming in the Big Horns trout fishing something I wanted to do every June but never had time. This year we were the first guys in there over the snowbanks fishing lake trout in a high mountain lake. I mean to tell you… there are so many things to do in the outdoors and I am enjoying them immensely. I really appreciate you asking, this has been great and I also really enjoy my continued contact with all of the friends I have made in the Industry over the years!
SW: Well Jim we appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and we will be looking forward to talking to you again once the first installment of your article series on the Walleye Tournament business is out. Shoot a big buck!!
JK: Will do Steve, good talking with you!
SW: All right sir, thank you!