By Mike Sharkey | Contributor
Roger Walker has been fishing the waters of Northeast Florida for over half a century and he’s caught just about every species and size of fish the area holds. He hasn’t, however, ever won the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament and he may not again this year for a pretty good reason: Walker is serving as executive director for the second year in a row.
But, just because Walker will be running the tournament with the help of an active and involved board of directors and nearly 200 volunteers who range from high school students fulfilling community service hours to long-time volunteers doesn’t mean he won’t troll a live pogie if he can.
“This year, I am going to try to fish the general tournament,” said Walker, who served as tournament announcer for five years prior to taking over as executive director and fished in the first 26 Kingfish tournaments held before knee surgery slowed him down.
Walker moved to Jacksonville from North Carolina in 1958 and graduated from Fletcher High 10 years later. He’s been a mainstay in the local fishing community ever since. Twice he has finished runner-up, but first place remains elusive.
“It would be great to win it. I have won about everything else around here,” said Walker, adding winning as executive director should not raise any suspicions whatsoever. “The scale doesn’t lie. There’s no way I could swing it to win it.”
Walker and the rest of the staff have been working full-time on the tournament since early January. This entails securing sponsors, vendors, entertainment, equipment, funding and a T-shirt artist for the official tournament T. And, this year’s artist is about as big as it gets.
“Guy Harvey has designed our shirt for the first time,” said Walker, explaining that long-time tournament board member Dave Workman knows Harvey personally. “Dave called him and said, ‘How about doing a shirt for us’ and Harvey said, ‘Sure.’ It is beautiful.
The tournament runs July 21-26 and while that’s three weeks away, Walker said there are signs the fishing will be good. After talking longer than usual to warm up, a steady southeast wind in mid-May raised the water temperature of the ocean about 10 degrees in just a few days and the fish responded. Bait fish showed up in droves and soon after big kings, cobia and other striking fish (to include big sharks near the beach) were being caught.
“This year, the kings hit the beach about three weeks early. There has already been a 40-pounder caught on the pier,” said Walker. “It looks like the fishing will be good.”
Last year, the format of the tournament was altered. Only the 10 boats with the biggest fish caught Friday were permitted to fish in Saturday’s shoot-out round, meaning anyone who caught a big fish Saturday wasn’t eligible for prize money. The format was met with a lukewarm reception. After the post-tournament board meeting, it was decided that for this year’s event the top 10 percent of the boats with a fish on Friday will advance to Saturday’s shoot-out. That means if 300 boats are registered, and at least 30 boats bring a fish to the dock for weigh-in, all of those boats are eligible for the top aggregate prize. This year’s top prize is a 21-foot Key Largo with a 150-horsepower Mercury engine.
For more on this year’s Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament, including registration information and a complete tournament schedule, visit kingfishtournament.com.