It's been 25 years since Babe Winkelman launched "Good Fishing," but despite the milestone it's business as usual around Babe Winkelman Productions.
"We're excited about it," Winkelman said, "because not many TV shows of any type last 25 years. But the opportunity to do what we do is reward enough. Hopefully we can do another 25 years if I live that long."
Winkelman came to Brainerd in 1975 when his construction business, which had 197 employees, was giving him "more Excedrin headaches than you can imagine." He was prompted by a motto a business associate had passed along. "Don't learn how to earn, learn how to live."
"What he was telling me," Winkelman said, "is that it's lifestyle that makes you wealthy, not how much money you make. I loved construction work, it's a great business, but in the fall of 1974 our corporate attorney didn't want my father and I to ride in the same Suburban to go out deer hunting together. That got a little thick."
So Winkelman sold his business and spent the summer guiding in the lakes area. In the fall he bought a half-interest in Lakeland Wholesale Bait and Tackle. But in the spring of '76, while he was fishing a tournament in Texas, Winkelman's business partner filed for bankruptcy.
"I had about $2,000 left," Winkelman said. "I filed for unemployment and drew for 13 weeks.
"I filed for an extension and they denied it. They said I made too much money the year before, that there were no employment opportunities for me in the Brainerd area and recommended I find another place to live."
That was the last time Winkelman was unemployed, however. He continued to guide and also began freelance writing for newspapers and magazines, holding fishing tournaments and conducting seminars.
But the break that led to TV success began with a 30-second commercial he made for Deep Woods Off insect repellent.
"I got more exposure from those 30-second spots than everything I'd done for the past 10 years," Winkelman said.
A short time later Channel 3 TV in Duluth hired Winkelman and Ken Strozack to do fishing tips that ran during the 10 o'clock news. The news director gave Winkelman a crew and the equipment he needed to do more in-depth shows which were the forerunner to "Good Fishing."
Over the next year Winkelman called every TV station in the nation and pitched his new show. Remarkably, he got on 120 stations. Sponsors included Lowrance and Ranger Boats. Winkelman expanded his offerings to include audio tapes on how to fish. Customers snapped them up.
Today Winkelman and the crew at Winkelman Productions show no signs of slowing down. In fact, in the coming year Winkelman said he will launch what "I believe will be the biggest single thing I've ever put together in my life. But it will be a little while before we can talk about it."
Winkelman's line of food products will hit store shelves soon and contains, among other things, several kinds of jerky, seasonings, breading mixes, dipping sauce, marinades, batter mixes and others.
"Cooking's been a part of the show for the past 20 years," Winkelman said. "We found while doing the show that people around the nation have entirely different tastes."
Winkelman said when he finally calls it quits he will retire on his Perham ranch, which consists of 260 acres with an option on another 80. With help from his wife Kris and youngest daughter Karlee, Winkelman is turning the ranch into a haven for wildlife.
"It's so much fun," Winkelman said. "I grew up a farmer and always liked working on the land. I have 105 acres of tillable ground and I want to maximize it's potential, not just for hunting but for all wildlife. We've put up 15 wood duck houses. We have food plots everywhere. We have geese, deer, turkeys, both color phases of ruffed grouse, bear, fisher, mink, otter, beaver, bobcats. I planted Hungarian partridge but they haven't taken yet. We built a bird sanctuary for songbirds. It's really something to immerse yourself in the sounds of nature."
VINCE MEYER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
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