December 29, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Maine eel fishermen anticipate stardom

New reality show set to air

Television shows about outdoor lifestyles and professions are the new rage in reality TV. But Jason Leavitt and Mike Bradley of Scarborough think “Cold River Cash” will be even more popular than the rest.

“I’ve never seen anything like it on TV. We pretty much do and say whatever we want. It’s amazing what happens alongside a riverbank in the middle of the night when normal people are sleeping,” said Bradley, 46, who eel fishes in the spring with his brother-in-law.

“We have a lot of battles, a lot of fights over fishing spots. We’ll stand there 20 hours a day to hold a fishing spot.”

“Cold River Cash” follows three teams of Maine eel fishermen competing for cash in the race to harvest elver eels. It premiers Thursday at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.

Leavitt and Bradley, along with Jason’s father, Lee, compete on the show against two other teams of Maine eel fishermen. It’s an outdoor-adventure series along the lines of other similar shows.

The TV reality show featuring Maine Game Wardens has developed a following since Animal Planet rolled out “North Woods Law” in 2012. And A&E’s smash hit “Duck Dynasty” about the wealthy Louisiana family who manufacture duck calls has broken rating records since it came out a year ago.

But the Maine fishermen who wade up small brooks and streams in the middle of the night to reap a profitable harvest of eels are confident their story will leave Americans spellbound.

“There was a kind of gold rush for eels that actually started in 1993 to ’94,” said Jason Leavitt, 41, who runs a painting company with his brother-in-law when they’re not eel fishing.

“Then in 1995 everyone figured out how much (elvers) were worth – as much as $1,000 a pound. That’s when everyone and their brother decided to get into it. The last two years, you got almost $2,500 a pound for it. This was the second gold rush.”

The producer of the show thinks the high-stakes fishing race will leave viewers mesmerized.

It is the element of “man intercepting with nature” that executive producer Keith Hossman said is the undeniable draw to the new show.

“We really work to make our reality shows as real as possible. But I think this is different from other reality shows,” Hossman said.

“It’s an exciting world about people who are not like you and me. And I think when people go into nature, they feel more alive. I think we all have a yearning for that experience. I’m excited about it. I love these guys.”

The fact eel fishermen are secretive and competitive and sometimes combative offers the makings of pure entertainment, Hossman said.

The rough and dangerous and sometimes volatile ways of these hard-working fishermen gives insight into a profession not understood or even known by many, Hossman said.

“These are just not characters I meet every day. Maybe in Maine and maybe around fishermen you see that more. But to me they’re bigger-than-life characters. That’s something we look for,” Hossman said.

And during the footage as they race, rush and work hard to harvest more eels than their neighbors, sometimes the language gets a bit rude.

“They’re are a lot of bleeps,” Hossman noted.

But Hossman added, the Mainers in “Cold River Cash” also are inspiring, which is why he feels certain the show will gain popularity.

“They’re just these characters who grab life and are living it, and they’re doing that in nature. That’s the sweet spot for us at Animal Planet: Where man and nature intersect and people are passionate,” Hossman said.

“It shows Maine, which is obviously beautiful, but it also shows their passion, their steadfastness. It’s what I think of when I think of Maine.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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