Jason Mitchell makes the transition from guiding to outdoors TVHost of “Jason Mitchell Outdoors,” a popular outdoors TV show that airs across the Midwest on Fox Sports Net North, Mitchell, of Devils Lake, was filming a segment Monday on his home water. The focus was catching walleyes in shallow water on crankbaits.
By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald
DEVILS LAKE — Jason Mitchell had put enough walleyes in front of the video camera for a good segment of his outdoors TV show.
One more walleye, though, would make it a great show, Mitchell said — especially if it measured 20 inches or longer. That was proving easier said than done — especially since it required getting the lures past northern pike that were hitting almost every cast.
“You know what they say,” Mitchell said, “the first fish of the day and the last fish of the day are always the toughest.”
Host of “Jason Mitchell Outdoors,” a popular outdoors TV show that airs across the Midwest on Fox Sports Net North, Mitchell, of Devils Lake, was filming a segment Monday on his home water. The focus was catching walleyes in shallow water on crankbaits, in this case No. 5 Salmo Hornets, and Mitchell wasn’t about to vary his technique for the sake of putting one more fish in front of the camera.
Honesty, Mitchell says, is the hallmark of a good fishing or hunting show. Even if it means spending nine hours baking in the sun on a glass-calm lake, tough conditions for pitching crankbaits, which catch more fish with a chop on the water.
“Days like this, you just have to grind it out,” Mitchell said. “To me, it’s the integrity of the show.”
One thing’s for sure, anyone who thinks filming an outdoors TV show is a breeze wasn’t on the water Monday with Mitchell. He and his cameraman, Joe Andersen, put in a long day for a segment that will last no more than 10 minutes.
The goal, Mitchell said, was to catch six or seven walleyes, and when he and Andersen called it a wrap early Monday evening, they had their show.
Check another one off the list.
A Minot native, Mitchell, 37, cut his teeth in the outdoors as a fishing and hunting guide and still operates a guide service on Devils Lake. These days, though, he has a crew of 10 guides who handle the bulk of the workload.
From filming, to selling advertising, to production work, hosting an outdoors TV show is a full-time gig.
“I still do a little bit of guiding,” Mitchell said. “I love guiding. I thought it’s what I was meant to do. But I have to focus on the TV show.
“It’s very competitive. You really have to do a good job for your sponsors. If you don’t, they won’t be back the next year.”
Mitchell had some big shoes to fill when he bought the rights to the “Tony Dean Outdoors” TV show in 2008. A longtime outdoors communicator from Pierre, S.D., Dean launched the show in 1985 and was planning to help Mitchell ease into the business.
He and Mitchell had worked together on numerous TV shoots.
In a May 2008 interview with the Herald, Dean said Mitchell was a logical choice for carrying on the show’s tradition because of his successful guiding business and experience with marketing a line of fishing rods.
“You’ve got to be a salesman, and if you can’t sell advertisers, you can have the greatest show in the world, and it’s not going to get on the air,” Dean told the Herald. “Jason has proved he’s very good and likes it, and he’s very good at it. I think he’s going to turn into a pretty good outdoor communicator.”
Dean didn’t get a chance to enjoy retirement or help Mitchell with the show. He died unexpectedly in October 2008 from complications after an appendectomy. He was 67 years old.
That left Mitchell to learn the ropes on the fly.
“It was a crash course,” he said. “I remember Tony telling me things, and at the time, they didn’t make sense. He really laid the groundwork. We try to carry on that legacy, but at the same time, what worked for Tony might not work for me.”
Even today, Mitchell said, Dean’s persona casts a long shadow.
“If I had a quarter for every time people approached me and said they missed Tony, I’d be a rich man,” Mitchell said. “But we had a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time together.”
Finding a niche
Anyone who ever watched Dean on TV or heard him on the radio remembers what Mitchell calls “that golden voice.” Mitchell might not have Dean’s trademark delivery, but says he tries to make up for it in different ways.
“We’ve tried to follow a lot of the things Tony did but at the same time, we have to find our own niche, too,” Mitchell said. “The biggest thing Tony taught me was the integrity factor. If Tony didn’t catch a fish while filming, you didn’t see him catch a fish on that show.”
Improving the quality of the production is a goal, Mitchell said, and that’s where Andersen comes into play. A 2011 graduate of St. Cloud (Minn.) State University, the Bemidji native has a background in TV and media production.
Mitchell said that background already has helped the show since Andersen came onboard in May 2011.
“Joe has done a great job raising the quality,” Mitchell said. “I’ve always been a student of fishing. Now, I’m learning more the video angle. It helps, too, that he’s got a fishing mind.”
Watching other people fish might seem torturous, but Andersen, 24, says he doesn’t mind the long days — even the ones like Monday, when he didn’t make a single cast in nine hot hours in the boat.
“They’re all just fun to me,” Andersen said of the shoots. “If I’m not filming, I’m fishing. Getting it on film is all the better. That’s what lasts; that’s what people remember.”
“We both kind of catch the fish,” Mitchell said. “When I see him getting to his breaking point, I’ll let him take a break and catch a few.”
Following the steps
As host and cameraman demonstrated Monday, there’s a lot more to filming an outdoors show than letting the camera roll and catching a fish.
Mitchell had scripted the shoot the previous day, and every walleye played a role, with Mitchell using the two biggest fish to film the opening and closing parts of the segment. Every walleye included a series of steps, from setting the hook and fighting the fish, to bringing it into the boat for a rundown on tactics and techniques.
All of the fish, including more than 100 northern pike, were released.
With 16 two-segment episodes in a typical season, wrapping up each shoot is a relief, Mitchell said. The new season begins in November, so there’ll be lots of time on the road and in the studio between now and then.
“You know when you’ve got a good one,” he said. “When you’ve got a day like this, you’ve got to make hay. A week of wind and rain can kill you.”
Like Dean, Mitchell keeps the focus on fishing and hunting in the Dakotas and nearby states such as Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Besides Devils Lake, Mitchell says the upcoming season of his show will include the North and South Dakota portions of the Missouri River, South Dakota’s Glacial Lakes, Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota and Leech Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota.
“Within four hours of Devils Lake, we’ve got access to some of the best waters in the Midwest,” Mitchell said. “We get to see a lot of great areas and meet people who like to fish as much as we do.”
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Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to email@example.com.