Sure we fish on ice, but is that a reality show?

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2013 - 2:42 PM

LAKE MILLE LACS - A sign above the bar at the Fisherman's Wharf, just north of Isle, Minn., borrows the Las Vegas adage that what happens at the Wharf stays at the Wharf.

All that changed last week.

Now there is also a sign on the door that warns customers that a reality film crew is in the area and that everybody's image, words and behavior might be recorded and used to entertain a national television audience "into perpetuity."

That means you, bearded man covered from head to toe in dead raccoons. That means you, large inebriated man chasing your windblown sunglasses across the ice. And that means you, Jell-O shot woman who just did an incredible pratfall on the ice, then splayed out like a tipped scarecrow.

Minnesota showed up dressed for a cameo on Saturday when the resort hosted its annual ice fishing contest. Despite brittle temperatures and a stinging wind, about 300 people -- at least I assume there were people inside those bundles -- drove their SUVs a mile or so out onto the lake and fished for the lunker that would give them a shot at an array of prizes, but more important, a chance to make it an appearance on a reality television show.

If you've dabbled in cable television at all, you know where this is going. Shows like "Deadliest Catch," "Ax Men" and "Storage Wars" allow viewers into blue-collar jobs and subcultures they can only wonder about.

For the next week, a 13-member crew from Jupiter Entertainment, which produced the Discovery Channel's "Sons of Guns," will be gathering film and looking for "characters," near the town of Isle. They are working on a pilot for truTV ("Swamp Hunters" and "Lizard Lick Towing").

After initially thinking they would make a show about competition and conflicts between resorts in the area for a show called "Ice Wars," the crew has shifted gears, according to Joe Murphy, associate producer, who also shot down rumors the show would be called "Ice Holes."

"We found out the resorts work well together and support each other," Murphy said. "It seemed unfair to set up competition where none exists."

But the reality of reality television is that there needs to be drama and conflict.

He said the pilot is focusing on Fisherman's Wharf and owners Daron and Lori Stenvold and their staff.

"They have many staff members and they all have different roles," said Murphy. "And then you have the customers who want to be told where the fish are, and you have Daron trying to keep the resort going and keep paying his employees in a very compressed period of time. There are natually going to be conflicts."

A few comments in an outdoor publication's story on the potential show revealed some anxiety that it will make everybody look like "ignorant rednecks" and "two-toothed fishermen who talk like they were in 'Fargo.'"

Murphy said that he expected locals to be wary of producers from Los Angeles and New York but that the area has been welcoming and people eager to let him film their lives. Their focus is on the rigors of running a business that many see as exotic. (He did not even mention the "hookers on ice" stories, dismissed by some as legend, that prostitutes sometimes set up shop out on the lake.)

Then there's the backdrop that causes awe in Murphy: "There are all these communities going on, and it's on ice. People here take this for granted, but to others it seems ridiculous and dangerous and fascinating."

Dean Block is one ice fisherman who thinks the show can work. "When you see 'Ice Road Truckers' and 'Amish Mafia,' then yeah, there's a good story here," said Block. "With this tournament and the Eelpout Festival alone, there's a story."

His buddy, Joe Czeck, tried to coax the crew to visit their ice house later. "We'll close down the bar and party till sunrise," he promised.

"We've got good footage," Murphy said. "We just need to find the story to make people come back to the show after the break."

As cameras rolled during the tournament, a few participants seemed determined to come off as the kind of "characters" the show was seeking.

"Hey, you should interview Up North Nancy," yelled one man.

Just then, however, three young women stripped off their snowmobile suits, revealing bikinis. They ran toward a group of men, then drank shots of liquor from glasses glued to a snow ski as the cameras rolled.

Up North Nancy had no chance.

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702

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