Behind the camera

Matt DeYoung • Mar 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

As the bobber disappeared under the surface of the frigid Manistee River, Jimmy Gretzinger swept back on the fishing rod, setting the hook on a solid steelhead.

That’s a bit unusual for Gretzinger. He’s typically the one behind the camera, capturing footage of fishing and hunting opportunities across the state for his television show, “Michigan Out of Doors TV.”

“Oh, I’d say it’s probably 80 percent of the time we’re behind the camera,” said Gretzinger, who lives in Grand Haven. 

But occasionally, Gretzinger is able to get in front of the camera. Such was the case March 8, during a steelhead fishing trip on the Manistee River.

As snow fell and the wind gusted, Gretzinger joined a pair of friends aboard Pier Pressure, a 26-foot jet-powered river boat operated by Captain Mark Chamura.

The day had its ups and downs, starting with engine trouble that crippled the boat and greatly limited the range of the excursion.

“We were going to head 9 miles upriver,” said Lenny Vaughan, a Grand Haven native who also runs fishing charters out of Manistee.

Instead, the boat’s 9.9-horsepower kicker motor was called on as the primary form of propulsion, which greatly limited the number of hot fishing spots that could be visited.

Still, the anglers aboard landed three beautiful Manistee River steelhead and had plenty of other bites — enough to keep warm on an otherwise bone-chilling day.

“Days like today, I can hand the camera off and do a little fishing myself,” Gretzinger said.

Still, his main task is capturing the stories of anglers and hunters across Michigan and sharing those stories with viewers across the state.

Gretzinger joined the “Michigan Out of Doors” team in 1998 and became the show’s executive producer in 2001.

He said he’s loved the woods and the water since his days growing up in Ludington. He still enjoys hunting and fishing, especially when one of his three kids can tag along. But, most of the time, he’s behind the camera.

“It’s still really fun for me,” Gretzinger said. “I’ve caught enough fish, shot enough deer. I still like to do it, but it’s equally fun, and as difficult, trying to capture that on camera. There’s a challenge involved, an artistic part involved, trying to tell a good story.”

Going into an assignment, Gretzinger typically has an idea of what kind of footage he hopes to capture.

“Like today, with steelhead fishing, and mostly all of the fishing we do, we’re trying to get set-up shots, showing where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with,” he said. “We don’t know how many fish we’re going to catch, or what the weather is going to be like, so that’s hard to plan for. But we try to do some more artistic shots, getting some close-ups of the melting snow on the river, the motor in the water, tight close-ups on the fishing gear, the rods and the tackle we’re using. Then we have to wait and see how the day unfolds.”

As all true hunters and fishermen realize, not every day is a successful day. Sometimes the fish don’t bite and the deer don’t show up.

When that happens?

“Sometimes you just can’t salvage it,” Gertzinger said. “If nothing happens, it’s unusable stuff — but in hunting and fishing, that’s what happens. You don’t get a deer every time you go out, so we try to find something else, a different angle on the story.

“Today, if we didn’t catch any fish, we wouldn’t do a story,” he continued. “Five or six fish is perfect. We caught three fish, so we’ll do a little shorter story. We’ll go over the techniques we’re using. Each story has its own challenges.”

Gretzinger’s perception of “challenging” has changed over the past few years. His wife, Dana, died in January 2017 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Losing Dana and taking on the role as a single dad to kids Jamie, Charlie and Scout, have certainly changed his perspective on life.

“I used to be more stressed than I am now,” he said. “Today, if we had not caught a single fish, I knew I was still going to have fun. If we can’t make a story out of it, maybe we pull footage from a steelhead story from a couple years ago and run a rerun. Is that ideal? No. But I knew I was going to be with a lot of fun people, so even if the whole thing goes south, I knew going in it was going to be a fun day.”

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