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Reality comes to world of ice fishing

Posted on February 1, 2013

Isle, Minn. (AP) - Whether a TV reality show about ice fishing launches Isle into the national spotlight and whether the characters paint a picture of the sport that sits well with everyone on the southeastern edge of Mille Lacs Lake remains to be seen.

But the film crew has found its hook – a plot hook, not the fishing hook with which one boisterous bar patron had his nipple pierced during a post-tournament celebration during the filming.

They've found the fishermen. Holding giant microphones equipped to cut the sound of the wind that turned the frozen surface of Mille Lacs into a swirling white blur, they've followed the crew that clears the ice roads and rebuilds the bridges spanning cracks – cracks that reroute traffic and prompt anglers to move their fish houses. They've uncovered characters colorful enough to populate a reality TV series.

What has eluded them so far is a proper villain, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/WA7Ij9).

"Finding a villain has been a really difficult task. Everyone's so open and friendly and welcoming,'' said Joe Murphy, associate producer with Knoxville, Tenn.-based Jupiter Entertainment, which did some scouting in and around Isle months earlier.

He and a crew of 12 descended upon Fishermen's Wharf Resort north of Isle on Friday, just in time for a weekend fishing tournament that drew a few hundred people. They've filmed between 100 and 150 hours of footage so far, planning to take today off and finish up at the end of the week. The 45-minute pilot, in development for truTV, will portray two days at Fishermen's Wharf Resort – one of the busiest weekends of the year, set against a backdrop in which an ice crack dictated much of the action.

"You need people that you root for. An audience has to care about the characters. You want them to be either someone you love and you want them to win and succeed or, on the flip side, you want to hate them,'' Murphy said.

Murphy said the crew did uncover a bit of tension between those who work on and off the ice. But one idea to pit resort owners against each other didn't pan out.

The decision to scrap the working title "Ice Holes'' may indicate the direction a potential show could be headed.

"We did come out thinking it was going to be a very funny, male-skewed, humorous show,'' Murphy said Wednesday morning as he drove onto the lake to meet the production crew, which was following the ice crew. The crack in the ice that has kept resort owners busy fielding calls and building bridges Wednesday forced the ice crew to move the fish houses to a new spot.

As the wind intensified, the film crew talked about shooting B-roll of the "blizzard.''

"As you can see, the situations don't always offer up something to laugh at. It can be quite bleak, and it can be quite challenging,'' Murphy said. "It's almost got that tense, action feel to it.''

The dark. The cold. The long hours. The fear of being stranded on the lake. Trying to make a living during a short, weather-dependent season.

On Wednesday, half of the production crew followed the ice crew, and half conducted interviews under lights and cameras set up in a cozy log cabin at Hunter Winfield's Resort. Two cameramen and a co-executive producer waited, curtains drawn, for Richard "Dickie'' Gadbois of Liberty Beach to appear.

Bearded and dressed in camouflage, he eventually pulled up bearing boxes of fried chicken. Earlier, Murphy described Gadbois as the "old man of the lake,'' a man concerned primarily with fishing and the near opposite of Fishermen's Wharf owner Daron Stenvold, whose primary concern was with business.

It won't resemble MTV's "Cribs'' or something off Home & Garden Television, but the show promises at least a glimpse inside some of the fish houses – which represent the culmination of resort owners' work: pulling a walleye through the ice.

"You come in thinking you're making an ice-fishing show. Who wants to sit around watching a bunch of guys waiting to catch fish? The surprise was definitely the infrastructure around that simple sport. This business has so many facets to it,'' Murphy said.

One challenge the crew has faced: Everything – from walking to filming – takes 10 times longer on the ice, co-executive producer Jeff Grogan said, adding the goal (if the show is picked up) is to finish shooting this season."The show never really was a fishing show. It was oriented around this business and around the lake,'' Murphy said.

The crew is following a ripple – one that starts with the prospect of catching a walleye and extends to the crews who clear the ice roads, the bartenders who pour the drinks, the planners who organize a tournament.

"What they don't see is all the work that goes into getting the road safe, making the cabins ready, making the bridge safe,'' said Jill Rogholt, general manager of Toucan's at the Wharf. "We're not grooming a golf course. This is a living, breathing part of nature.''

Rogholt and bartender Matthew Jones seemed excited about the boost in business that might accompany a series.

"I just hope it brings a lot of people here to see what's going on,'' Jones said.

While the man with the newly pierced nipple who wanted a chance to appear on TV might have had second thoughts the next day, Rogholt – who relayed that bit of revelry – said she and other staff members found working around cameras and crew kind of fun.

The thing they were most anticipating once filming wrapped up? Wearing a different shirt to work. The pilot compresses nine days of shooting into a storyline spanning two days, Rogholt said employees had to wear the same clothes and fix their hair and makeup the same way every day.