BRAINERD, Minn. — A nationally famous fishing television show host and one of Minnesota’s most iconic outdoorsmen has run into an upstream financial battle in the changing world of outdoor media.
Babe Winkelman — the burly, bearded, plaid-clad outdoorsman who for 40 years hosted the nationally syndicated show “Good Fishing” — filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in federal court March 9.
Donald Edward Winkleman and his wife, Kristeen Winkleman, of Brainerd, also doing business as Babe Winkelman Productions and Winkleman Water Solutions, told the court they have about $1.4 million in assets, including their home, hunting land and personal items, and liabilities of more than $800,000.
Court documents show the Winkelmans owe money on mortgages for both their home near Brainerd and a recreational property near Perham in Ottertail County, as well as taxes due to the Internal Revenue Service, Minnesota Department of Revenue, balances on multiple credit cards and several other creditors.
The documents state that Babe Winkelman Productions grossed $185,240 in 2019, but that business owes $402,280 in trade payables.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for May 18 in front of federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel in Duluth.
Winkleman, 70, said that his outdoor shows, off the air for about a year, will resume when his finances are straightened out, likely in online and streaming formats.
“I’ve never been through anything like this in my life,” he said.
Winkelman declined to comment further, however, referring questions to his attorney, William Kain. Kain did not respond to several requests for comments.
YouTube videos and audio podcasts are a growing venue for “professional” anglers and hunters to showcase their talents with little overhead and no syndication costs, and for advertisers to reach their audience and potential customers, while some traditional outdoor television shows and publications have seen declines in viewers and advertisers.
In a 2019 Salstrong.com podcast, Tom Rowland, producer of Saltwater Experience TV and other outdoor shows, said the industry is going through breakneck change from traditional television shows to streaming services, Youtube, podcasts and other online avenues.
“There’s no question that viewing habits have changed,” he said, noting that many young people don’t have cable or satellite TV, don’t even own TVs, and watch their outdoor video on demand when they want on computers or phones. That’s lowered the value of TV advertising on outdoor shows, he noted, making it harder for show producers to gain sponsors.
As opposed to Chapter 7, which is a total liquidation of assets, Chapter 13 of the federal bankruptcy code provides for adjustment of debts of an individual with regular income. Chapter 13 allows a debtor to keep property and pay debts over time, usually three to five years.
According to a biography, Winkleman grew up on a dairy farm near the small town of Duelm, Minnesota, just east of St. Cloud. He started guiding anglers in 1965, at age 16, and started fishing in tournaments in 1970.
In 1973, he helped found the Minnesota State Bass Federation and served as president for nearly three years. That was also the year Winkelman started writing for outdoor publications and gave his first fishing seminar.
He moved full-time into the outdoor media profession in 1975, guiding, fishing in tournaments, teaching seminars and promoting Lindy/Little Joe fishing tackle. He became a field editor for Fishing Facts magazine, writing for them and a host of other publications.
In 1978 Winkelman became semi-famous when SC Johnson used his rugged northwoods image to introduce a new product to America, Deep Woods OFF mosquito repellent, in national television ads. Winkleman’s first TV show, “Good Fishing,” hit the airwaves in 1980 and had been on ever since, until recently, on both national cable and local over-the-air channels. A second show that focused on hunting, “Outdoor Secrets,” followed later.
Winkleman was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Fishing Hall of Fame of Minnesota in 2001.