All the lake's a stage: Ice fishing show comes to Wisconsin
February just blew in yesterday with all the popularity and perceived longevity as the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Even the most ardent outdoors enthusiasts find our winter to venture forth, searching for vicarious escape on the Travel Channel to destinations such as the Bahamas or Belize.
Campbellsport's Tom Gruenwald is a stark exception to this rule. Gruenwald secretly wishes winter will never end. If the icy grip of the silent season ever recedes, Gruenwald will chase it.
Gruenwald is an ice fishing junkie. He has accepted this addiction, even penning a series of books on this sport, “Hooked on Ice Fishing.”
Two years ago he made the logical progression in spreading the hardwater gospel with the "Tom Gruenwald Outdoors" show, airing weekly on Sportsman Channel. He's traveling all over the map right now, attempting to put season three of this ice-fishing-only show “in the can.”
A couple weeks ago Gruenwald was filming in Vermont. In a couple of weeks he will be grinding holes out in windswept North Dakota, just giddy about a snowstorm moving in.
The way this winter is going he might be setting tip-ups down in Alabama in March.
A few days ago I joined Gruenwald and his cameraman, Sean Casper, in an attempt to knock out several shows for his Sportsman Channel pulpit here in Wisconsin. We're still in production mode.
When Gruenwald isn't on the road with a Go-Pro camera duct taped to the front of his minivan, he is working at one of many sports shows at venues across the northern United States as the driving force behind HT Enterprises, one of the big three ice tackle manufacturers in North America.
Gruenwald started his career with HT right out of college over 20 years ago where he earned a degree in fisheries biology. He was discovered by Joanna Grahl while working as a fishing educator at Camp Fish in northern Minnesota, an outreach ministry of the Lindner organization which teaches city kids about the joys of angling.
Joanna was the wife of Paul Grahl, founder of HT. She suggested Gruenwald apply for a job.
Ironic, as HT Enterprises is located in Campbellsport, just down the road from Gruenwald's house.
His first several days at work were spent splitting firewood. This may have been Grahl's Karate Kid training method for turning Tom Gruenwald into a ninja ice fishing master.
The partnership of Gruenwald and Grahl grew HT Enterprises into a titan in the ice fishing industry. But two years ago, this dream shattered when Grahl and his wife were killed by a drunken driver in an automobile accident just a couple miles from their home.
Strong Christian faith has enabled Gruenwald to carry on—and grow this business. HT Enterprises is bigger than ever. They now offer a complete line of ice augers and outerwear under the name Polar Fire.
It is quality stuff. I barely noticed the -20 ambient temperature as we sat astride buckets lifting panfish through the ice while waiting for a tip-up flag.
Over the past 30 years I've worked with a half-dozen TV production companies, shooting hunting and fishing segments at venues across the Midwest.
The team of Gruenwald and Casper is professional and easy to work with. Outdoor shows are reality TV in its purest form, with the camera trying to capture life as it happens.
Gruenwald and I are not actors. We are fishermen. The only actors on this show are the fish, which have been petulant and moody for the past couple of days. This is the reality of mid-winter fishing.
Eventually, the fish will quit cowering off-stage and come out to fight. When they do, we'll be ready. This legal addiction called fishing is something a junkie just can't walk away from frozen turkey.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.