Outdoor shows aplenty during winter

Column by Larry LaGrange

Winter’s grip means more time indoors, which is a struggle for many outdoorsmen and women. We Hoosiers often stay hunkered down next to the fireplace or heating vent, perhaps looking over the TV schedule to see who’s enjoying themselves catching fish or having a good hunt on the tube. I recall last February saying something to myself like, “If I see one more fish caught on TV, I will scream.” A nasty case of cabin fever had set in. It’s like watching a video of someone eating chocolate cake. Torture.

Legendary fishermen Bill Dance and Roland Martin still have televised shows that are well done. I recall attending a Clinton, Indiana conservation club’s event in the early 1970s. After-dinner speakers in addition to Bill and Roland were Forrest Wood of the Ranger Boat Company and Tom Mann of lure-making and bass tournament fame. I can still recall those guys poking fun at each other and telling fish stories. Mann’s famous Jelly Worm product got a lot of ribbing, and he responded to the jabs in his pleasant Alabama drawl. Dance was, and still is, hilarious. Roland was a little stiff and serious but still interesting. It was a fine evening of food, whopper tales, and bass tips from guys whose livelihoods depend on catching fish.

Wood is still active with his Ranger Boat Company, but sadly Mann has passed. I recall a TV segment back in the 1980s involving Tom and Jerry McKinnis of The Fishin’ Hole fame throwing a small but hefty tailspinner lure called the Little George in Alabama’s Lake Eufala. Gracious, what a load of big bass they caught. I figured Alabama must be the Holy Grail of bassing. It may still be, with so many fine lakes down there. With his easy fireside-type narration, Jerry’s show ran from 1980 to 2007 on ESPN.

The earliest fishing show I recall watching was “The Flying Fisherman” with host Gadabout Gaddis. He would climb into his Piper Cherokee and tool all over the country looking for angling adventures. He had started with showing home movies of his exploits. He soon graduated to Outdoors with Liberty Mutual, which was carried on 73 stations in the late 1940s, had another less successful show in the 1950s, then created the very successful The Flying Fisherman in the early 1960s, also sponsored by Liberty Mutual.

Gad only had one photographer, and the shows were filmed without sound. He would add his take on the proceedings with his folksy voice, making you feel you were watching a home movie in his living room, just as he had begun. Not all of his shows featured big fish catches. Once at a Colorado lake, Gaddis filmed for five days without catching anything at all, a definite reality show. But he still aired the program, focusing on the scenery and the sheer joy of angling, even when one is not catching fish. A few years ago I fished at Reelfoot for two days in the fall without catching a single fish, or even getting a bite. At least that misadventure wasn’t being filmed for public showing.

Speaking of Jerry McKinnis, I recall him coming to the Port of Jasper for a seminar, maybe in the 1980s. Patoka Lake was fairly new, but the honeymoon was over and bass fishing had gotten more difficult. Jerry had previously aired an episode of fishing Patoka, and he made it look easy, landing nice bass right and left. An audience member asked about how that great catch came about. McKinnis said something like, “Well, my camera guy and I were passing through the area on our way to another lake. We had heard about Patoka, we had a little time, so we gave it a try one afternoon. I looked around as we motored along, saw an island (the one visible from the beach), and thought there might be some bass around it. I just started casting and hit a nice school of bass.”

He made it sound as if catching that kind of fish at Patoka was not really that big a deal. Someone in the audience, maybe me, groaned. Sometimes you just get lucky. Regardless, Jerry produced and starred in a fine fishing program, a big step up from Gadabout in technical quality but still featuring Jerry’s homespun narration.

For me, the gold standard of the many televised fishing shows today is the Bassmasters tournament programs. Hosts Tommy Sanders and former pro Davy Hite narrate the adventures of Elite anglers as they try to get the most bass weighed in three or four days of grueling competition, vying for the $100,000 first place prize. The top anglers qualify for the Classic and its windfall of $300,000. The film work is outstanding, and the locales are diverse, from California, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, to New York State. The hour-long program’s drama gets intense as the four days unfold. ESPN2 carries the show on Saturday or Sunday mornings usually starting in March. Consult the Bassmaster website for specific TV times.

In the winter it’s nice to watch someone else catch fish even if we can’t, but take heart. Spring is right around the corner.

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