January 8

Reality TV to film not-so-wild world of Maine ice fishing

Can watching a person wait hours for an unseen fish to bite be that dramatic? We may find out after the Sebago Lake derby in February.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Ice fishing requires a person to sit in a shack or out in the open on a frozen lake for hours at a time, waiting for a bite from an unseen fish.

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Steve Howland of South Portland hauls in a togue on Sebago Lake.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans COLD TRAP: Jeremny Bessey, 19, of Canaan, clears his fishing hole of ice while ice fishing at Lake George Regional Park on the Canaan and Skowhegan town line on Saturday. Bessey arrived at 5am to fish with no bites as of noon. "It was 20 below zero when I got here. So at least it has warmed up to 1 degrees." Said Bessey.

Does that have the makings of riveting television?

National Geographic Channel apparently thinks so. It plans to send a crew to the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby on Feb. 15-16 to film segments for an upcoming reality TV series on ice fishing. But it’s being cool on the details, declining to name any Maine anglers it might film.

Network officials will say only that the show is indeed about ice fishing and will air later this year.

If the participants at Sebago end up on the show, they’ll join a growing line of Maine outdoorsmen to be featured on reality TV.

Three teams of Maine eel fishermen, filmed last eel season, are now starring in an Animal Planet series called “Cold River Cash,” which debuted last week. And Maine game wardens are the stars of a reality series called “North Woods Law,” which has been airing for two seasons on Animal Planet.

It remains to be seen whether the ice fishing show will focus on teams of anglers competing for big-money payoffs, as “Cold River Cash” does, or whether it will have the built-in drama of wardens enforcing the law in a vast wilderness, as “North Woods Law” does.

Chris Albert, a spokesman for National Geographic Channel, would say only that the cable TV network is filming an upcoming series “in the area” that will air later this year. More details will be announced later.

The filming at Sebago Lake will be done by Loud TV, a New York City production company. Paul McGuire, a representative of Loud TV, confirmed the filming but would not give details, citing National Geographic Channel’s desire to maintain secrecy.

Toby Pennels, chairman of the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby, said Loud TV contacted him about a month ago, asking if crews could film at the derby, but he wasn’t given a lot of details.

Pennels said he was told that Loud TV had already scouted in Maine and other parts of New England for ice fishermen, and that crews will film those fishermen at Sebago Lake. He said he doesn’t know who any of the featured ice fishermen will be.

Pennels said the derby attracts an average of 1,000 to 1,500 people each day, and is a fundraiser for various charities.

“I think they’ve already found the characters they want, but were looking for a good setting to put them in,” said Pennels.

But will it be a dramatic setting? With commercial eel fishing, there is some built-in drama: a limit on good spots, a 10-week season, and a catch worth $2,000 a pound in Asia. But ice fishing?

The Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby does offer $100,000 for anyone who can catch a togue bigger than the state record, 31.8 pounds. But the record has stood since 1958, so that prize is no sure thing. But a total of $15,000 does get awarded for the biggest specimens caught during the derby.

It’s hard to say what direction Loud TV will take with Maine ice fishing. The company was formed this year, but some of the company’s principal players produced the reality shows “Pawn Stars” and “House Hunters International.”

Pennels said the derby won’t get any money from the film crew, but he’s happy about the publicity for the derby.

“I think having a TV crew be part of it is a win for everybody,” he said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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