Back again for its second season is Animal Planet’s hit series Hillbilly Handfishin’. Reel Film News recently got the chance to speak with Skipper Bivins and Trent Jackson, stars of the hit show to discuss season 2, noodling in general, and a little about the production aspect of the series.
Here’s what they had to say…
The show has changed from last year with the contestants competing against each other during the show. What was the idea behind this?
Skipper Bivins: Well, it’s just a lot harder…competition. It just makes it more ‘out on the line.’ There’s going to be a definite winner and loser but in our minds everyone is a winner because they walk away with the memory of a lifetime.
Last year you had the problems with the drought. This year it looks as though things were different. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Skipper: The fishing was just a little bit better. We did have more water, but yea we were still in the drought. We had to fish very hard to find the fish we came across.
Trent Jackson: We actually had some fish die off again, which we’re investigating to find out what the problem is. But fishing was tough in the later part of the season.
Tell me a little bit about the production of the show. Talk about how things start from the beginning of the morning.
Skipper: Actually in the morning, of course it takes a while to get a crew of about 30 going. There’s 6 of us in the family with Jackson and Jeannie and my family. And there’s 6 on the guest list and then we’ve got a crew of about 20 or so that go with us. And there’s still folks around camp that’s taking care of business. So it’s really hard to get that many people up and going and motivated. We have dry starts, and wet starts. Of course there’s a learning process that goes on with your camera crew. We had several crew members in that had actually never done this type of show and it’s pretty tough to get all your ducks in a row.
Do you ever find it difficult to fish with that many people (crew included) in the water? With that many people it must be tough to keep the fish around.
Skipper: Oh definitely. The fish hear very well and they sense the sound in the water as vibrations. And with a group of about 30 it pretty much sounds like a herd of elephants coming down the creek so it makes it a lot tougher.
One of the things I always find interesting is how you pick the locations you fish at. For instance in episode 1 on the first day you fish at Cash Creek, the second you picked Beaver Creek, and the last you fished at Red River. How do you go about picking those locations each day?
Jackson: Well actually we’ve got several holes in all three rivers and it’s simply by elimination. We fish from here one day and if we don’t have any luck, or if we don’t have very much luck we go to another place but actually these three rivers are the best. We grew up there. We’ve caught thousands of fish there over the course of our lifetimes and we’ve been fishing these same holes since we were 11 years old.
Talk to me about the two of you and how you originally met, the friendship in general…
Jackson: Well we grew up 10 miles apart and had heard of each other. We ran into each other on the creek fishing and kinda started fishing. We were tired of fishing behind each other and then going to different places so we teamed up and we’ve been having fun ever since. It’s been an amazing friendship and it’s turned into something that is good for all of us and our families.
Did you ever expect the show to be the huge success that it’s turned out to be?
Skipper: We didn’t fully understand all the aspects of the filming end of it. We knew that what we were doing was very exciting and it’s the kind of rush that once you do it you’ll do it for the rest of your life. We knew we had something. We just didn’t know the details about how they were going to go about filming it and editing it.
And how much influence do you have when it comes to filming it? I would assume you would have influence where the cameras go so that you can get the best shots.
Skipper: No, these guys are really, really professionals. They do an excellent job. Half Yard Productions has come in and they bring the best crew. We’ve had the best sound men and the best camera men I’m sure in the world. So they come in, in adverse conditions. They’re right in the thick of things with the beavers and the snakes right there with us and they’ll work long hours. If we fish all day to catch a fish, they’re right there with us.
Jackson: And you know this has been a learning experience for the camera crews as well. And we have the utmost respect for them.
You mentioned if you “fish all day” and in the first episode of the second season there’s a scene in which it seemed to have taken a long time to catch a fish. What’s the longest amount of time it’s taken to catch a fish when you went out?
Skipper: I think as far as the person catching the fish in the hole we actually had a guy take about an hour and 47 minutes. You know it’s really hard – if I were trying to get you to pick up a rattle snake, if you don’t want to it’s really hard to make someone pick up a rattle snake if they don’t want to. So a lot of these folks have committed to coming and catching a fish but once they get there they really don’t want to have to touch one to do it.
Do you have a time limit you normally impose in order to allow everyone the opportunity to fish?
Skipper: Yea, you know we like to have someone jump in and catch a fish in 10 or 15 minutes. It’s usually no problem, but every now and then you’ve got the scaredy cat that’s just afraid to do anything and we’ll threaten them about bringing in a girl in their place to catch the fish. And usually that prompts them into doing the best that they can do.
Jackson: We want everyone to know that we have the patience of Job and we make sure that everybody catches a fish and it’s not an easy thing to do if you’ve never been in this kind of situation. But we show all kinds of patience and we do make sure that everybody catches a fish.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the show is when you size the contestants up. Are you sizing them up both as individuals and to determine which holes they can be put into?
Skipper: Well there is some truth to that. We do size up each and every contestant as they come in to – who might have some special needs that need addressed. Who’s going to be the most afraid and we don’t want to put someone on a fish too big that they can’t catch. So according to their body size is how we put them in the hole. Obviously if you’ve got a 275 pound man you can’t put him in a really small hole. We’ll try to put them in a hole according to their body size.
Is there ever a time where you might stretch someone to their own limits?
Skipper: Oh definitely. There’s a lot of people that come in and they have a lot of attitude and they’re thinking this is going to be an easy breeze so Jackson and I might try them just a bit and we’ll usually have a little fun with them. And you slide ‘em in a hole with an exit and an entrance hole and when they slide their foot in Jackson will grab them from the other side. Spook ‘em just a little bit. To let them know that hey, this is the real deal.
Jackson: I don’t care who or how big and tough you are, the instant that someone slides into a hole with a fish they forget all about being tough. And they actually put their life into our hands and sometimes we take full advantage of that. (Laughter)
What’s the most challenging part about getting them into the hole, or just fishing with some newcomers to the sport in general?
Skipper: Well the most challenging part is like – Tim and Tom, the preachers that came in with us. One of them, he would get in the hole but he wouldn’t get any further than about neck deep into the hole. There’s something about sliding into a beaver hole, you know it’s a beaver hole but a catfish has taken over but to convince someone to go all the way to the back of that hole. The fish may be 10 foot to the back and he only wants to go in 5 foot deep and no matter how much you push on them and shove on them you can’t get them to go in. You actually have to take your time with them, coax them, and convince them into going in. And sometimes you literally have to trick them. We’ll tell them to move their hands down by their side so they can’t get around the holes and then we’ll give them a big old shove on the shoulders, or sometimes I’ll put my foot on the back of their cheek and give them a big shove.
Jackson: Skipper’s son, he weighs about 270 pounds and all three of us couldn’t get Tim to shove into that one hole. He just wasn’t going to go in – super human strength there.
Skipper: It’s something called self-preservation. They get in the hole and they know there’s a mini-catfish in there, and just something about it. Self-preservation kicks in and everything within their body says – NOOO.
In the first episode you picked Dusty and Dena to be the team captains. Are you going to be encouraging the contestants to pick one from each group to split them up? Or is it really going to be up to the contestants to pick?
Skipper: No, actually it was all up to them. We would just look them over, size them up and when we got into the water we picked captains and I deliberately picked couples that came together as captains because then they were on the opposite teams. We kind of wanted to take everyone and take them out of their comfort zone this year. Last year they got to fish with their partner and got to lean on them, or they could carry them or use them as a crutch. This year we took that element out and made the couples captains then they picked other people and more often than not it split everyone up. And that was a good aspect of the show I think. To have to fish with someone that they’d never even met.
It sounds like the competition aspect is going to be a lot of fun on this year’s season. Can you give us an idea on what to expect with some of the upcoming episodes?
Skipper: Oh you can expect some toe crunching. Lots of yelling, lots of screaming. You can expect some beautiful women. And there were a few tears. But you know the thing about having beautiful women cry? Is that Jackson and I got to console a lot of them. (Laughter)
Jackson: We had some big men and we caught some big, big fish this year. It’s just going to be non-stop action. I promise you that everyone will be on the edge of their seats.
Well Jackson I love how on the first episode you said that you would have picked the two women on your team and a six-pack of beer!
Jackson: (Laughing) Well, who wouldn’t have!
Well thank you both so much for your time and we here hope you have a great second season!
Skipper: You bet, thanks for having us.
Jackson: Appreciate it.
Hillbilly Handfishin’ Season 2 premieres Sunday, July 29th on Animal Planet.