Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The TV Newslings Explain "Catching" Sturgeon

I may have mentioned one or two times on this blog that the lack of depth and experience in today’s broadcast newsrooms annoys me more than a bit, but Sunday evening it was a source of humor and laugh-out-loud entertainment.

Nothing exposes your lack of credibility to an audience like completely blowing a story which deals with a deeply culture-specific regional activity like sturgeon-spearing. This past weekend, a Kentucky man, whose wife is from the Fox Valley, speared a 212-pound sturgeon that set a new record for the biggest lunker ever taken out of Lake Winnebago. The DNR figures this critter was an even hundred years old, hatched from an egg laid in 1910.

The Kentucky man, Chad Denton, pictured above with his prize, got the sturgeon-spearing bug from his wife’s Menasha family. This was his third trip up to Wisconsin to join his in-laws in pursuit of the wily sturgeon. These prehistoric fish lure spearers from all over the nation, and the Lake Winnebago sturgeon-spearing season is studied by biologists around the world. It’s very carefully controlled and as soon as the carefully-calculated yearly limit is reached – they close the season immediately. A fellow by the name of Ron Bruch has been running the DNR’s sturgeon-spearing program for decades.

I’ve been sturgeon-spearing on Lake Winnebago, back in my Fox Valley days,so I know a bit about it; you can’t live in the Fox Valley and NOT know about sturgeon-spearing season, if you pay attention to the news at all. Everybody covers it – the radio and TV stations from Milwaukee to Green Bay; the local papers; and it’s a general topic of conversation in the deep winter.

Full disclosure: my single sturgeon-spearing “participatory journalism” experience consisted largely of imbibing Korbel Brandy against the cold, standing over a gaping hole in the ice with spear poised for a couple hours, seeing nothing, and then sitting in the comfy bar at the South Side Ice Yacht Club (Oshkosh) and telling fish stories.

As usual, I digress.

The Sunday night 5 PM news on the local NBC station was sandwiched in between live coverage of the Olympics, and since Daytona was a boring bust this year with all the pothole problems, I suspect even more folks than usual were watching the NBC telecast.

I like the young anchor, Dana Brueck, who’s also one of the best reporters in Madison. She’s a Chicago girl, smart as a whip, graduate of the fine J-school at NorthWestern University, and she’s doing some reporting that’s turning heads in the Madison news community. She’s logged some on-air time in Michigan and South Dakota, and she’s also a big force with one of my favorite organizations, WAGS…the Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs.

She told the story about how the new record sturgeon had been “caught” on Lake Winnebago, and then, doing the requisite chit-chat in the “toss” to the weatherman, Chuck Koch, she mentioned the sturgeon story again. Koch lost all credibility with me forever when he expressed his surprise that Lake Winnebago was even “open” at this time of year.

Earth to young weatherman: Lake Winnebago is NOT open…sturgeon are speared through huge holes (not to exceed 48 square feet by DNR rule) cut through the TWO FEET OF ICE on the lake. This kid, according to his bio on the NBC-15 website, is from Viola, WI, a UW grad, and he’s done brief TV stints in Milwaukee and Green Bay….and he thinks Lake Winnebago is OPEN on February 14th?

Then, at the end of the broadcast, when they do the “happy-talk” fill prior to the NBC Nightly News, sports-boy Nick Austin (whose online bio says he went to school at Central Michigan and did a brief stint in Colorado TV) joined Brueck and Koch and they re-hashed the story about the record sturgeon. Austin wondered aloud about what kind of pole and line were strong enough to pull in a 212-pound fish, and further inserted foot in mouth when he said something about how tough it must have been to “reel in” that huge fish.

Earth to young sports-boy: it’s sturgeon-SPEARING season. You know what a SPEAR is, don’t you? But that subtlety apparently escaped the notice of the newslings.

My wife, also a Chicago girl who’s never set foot on the frozen expanse of Lake Winnebago in the wintertime, looked on with me in amazement as we watched this train-wreck unfold. We shared incredulous looks and then burst out laughing when the broadcast mercifully ended.



  1. OMG - LOL . . . I commented to my husband about that very same news discussion. I would have thought that during the commercial break someone in the news room (heck even a camera person) would have tapped him on the shoulder and mentioned that Lake Winnebago is most certainly frozen and that sturgeon are speared. But either no one knew this - or the joke was on the "in front of the camera" folks.

  2. (same anonymous person as above) Check out today's version of the State __urnal. They accidently printed a picture of Bode Miller directly over the J and O of the word Journal. Too funny.

  3. Haven't you heard about the new device for sturgeon spearing? It's a compressed air-powered mini-harpoon. It's mounted on the ice next to the hole and has an impressive range of motion. It's the nearest thing to being on the deck of a whaling ship as you can get on the frozen surface of Winnebago.

    Anyway, once the sturgeon is harpooned, there's a winch that you crank that "reels" that bad boy in!

    You really oughta keep up with the times, Timmy.

    The Town Crank

  4. I wondered at the time if they were doing that intentionally. Of course, if you have to point out irony, it isn't. TV never gets that.

  5. I watch 15 a lot but didn't catch that report. Please tell me Dana Brueck didn't say anything stupid like those other guys. She's one of the better local reporters, which means she'll be off to a bigger market one of these days.

  6. This is hilarious! Wisconsin winters are so cold they can apparently freeze newslings' brains.

    Winches? Ha! Here. Have a look at this bad boy, wrecking the shanty and putting up a battle. This is how it really plays out. WARNING: YouTube link to footage that may horrify vegetarians http://bit.ly/ahGxWa

    Bonus: Some good hillbilly banjo pickin' for accompaniment. And MEMO: To the newslings ... That ain't Farmer Fardle's back forty those SUVs are driving around on. It's the lake, frozen solid as I-90.