On a late-July afternoon, a longtime fishing and hunting guide is testing the crystalline waters of the Little Red River below the Greers Ferry Dam at John F. Kennedy Park. He hopes to hook a hefty “slot fish” or maybe something even larger — a trophy rainbow trout would do, but a big German brown is his ultimate prize. Many of his more-recent days afield have seen the guide trailed by a cameraman and fitted with a wireless microphone. His is the life of an outdoor enthusiast turned TV-show host. And while he is a half century removed from his first outdoor escapades, the outdoorsman is only a few mountains and hollows from where he was first introduced to the wild world.
Raised on a farm
For David Mitchell, known as “Mountain Man” among his peers, his love of the outdoors began when he was just a tyke. His grandparents, his uncle and his father were all hunters and anglers. So, it seemed only natural that Mitchell would follow in their boot tracks.
“I’ve done hunting and fishing all my life,” Mitchell said. “It’s all I really know. I’ve worked jobs, but I learned this at an early age. I’m 56 now, and I’ve been going for about 50 years. Our family had plenty of rabbits and squirrels. That’s what we ate back then.”
Mitchell said he could not have been more than 4 years old when his grandfather Nick Crozier helped him hold steady a .22 rifle to harvest a squirrel from a tree outside the Mitchell family’s residence, a home on a farm in the Mount Pisgah community near Searcy.
As Mitchell grew, he became further enamored with the outdoors, adding quail, duck and deer hunting to his repertoire.
“Daddy — his name was Hoye Mitchell, but everyone knew him as ‘Wort’ — was my quail hunter and taught me how to wingshoot, but I didn’t start duck hunting until I was in junior high school,” the Mountain Man continued. “My most memorable
experiences are of quail hunting and squirrel hunting,” he added, mentioning that his uncle Charles Crozier also often took him in search of fish and game.
“Back then, if you found a deer track in the garden, you called all the neighbors to come over and see it. Then we started kind of a community club with the neighbors and began creating habitat for the deer. There’s still a lot of deer in that community now.”
Have gear, will travel
Upon reaching adulthood, Mitchell began seeking any kind of hunting or fishing adventure he could find —adventures both near and far.
He had grown up drowning worms in stock ponds on the family farm, sharing an old 12-foot aluminum boat with his grandfather on Lake Conway and learning the pools, eddies and ripples of the Little Red River. His hunting trips had often been no farther a journey than the woods that surrounded his eastern-Ozarks childhood home.
Then Mitchell left home to become a guide for everything from trout and other fish to wild game such as elk, mule deer, bear, whitetails, quail and turkey. In fact, he has been a part of six “grand slams” — the term turkey hunters use when someone harvests one each of the four major species (the Eastern, Rio Grande, Osceola and Merriam’s) of the birds found in the United States.
Guiding allowed him to connect with others who had chosen to live their lives in pursuit of wild creatures. The list of his acquaintances includes the likes of noted turkey callers and hunters Larry Shockey, Don Shipp and Jack Maxey, the latter-most of which is the world leader in grand slams.
“I have been all over the country from Florida to Texas, South Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas and so on,” Mitchell said.
His guiding and his newfound connections also led him to work with others in producing videos and television shows that documented their outings.
“I’ve filmed for some of the top people in the hunting and fishing industry. In fact, I was the first one to film a double grand slam in its entirety,” he said, then added, “I even went to Africa in 2006 to film and hunt.”
Much of the footage Mitchell shot with a video camera has been viewed on networks such as The Outdoor Channel and ESPN, as well as local market network affiliates in several locations.
After more than 30 years of being almost exclusively behind the camera, an idea that surfaced in the first half of 2013 shot him into a new role.
Ready in 3, 2, 1 …
As Mitchell has explained it, the concept for Outdoors on the Little Red (www.facebook.com/OutdoorsOnTheLittleRed) was birthed “on a whim.”
“It all happened because there was an opportunity there, and we took it and ran with it,” Mitchell said, referring to Billy Lindsey, one of the owners of Lindsey’s Resort and a co-host of the show, and Steve Porchet, the show’s cameraman and editor.
“We started talking about something we could do that would attract people to the area. We had a cameraman and a host and a community wanting to do a show. We talked about it, and two weeks later, we had a show on the air.
“We had to move quickly on that first one. We did all the shooting, got the advertising and got it edited in less than two weeks,” Mitchell said.
After what the Mountain Man termed a successful first season, Outdoors on the Little Red shifted from a satellite/cable television channel to a handful of network affiliate stations. The show is now seen on stations in the Little Rock, Jonesboro and Memphis markets.
“Reception for the show has been great. We have continued to move up and get good Nielsen numbers in all three of our markets. In fact, in Jonesboro, we’re beating Wheel of Fortune,” Mitchell said, referring to a May-ratings-period 25.4 market share among viewers age 18 and older. That number tops the weekend version of the game show that has been airing in some format since 1975. Howell Westbrook, account executive at KAIT8, the ABC affiliate in Jonesboro, added that the show’s ratings beat out all other shows in its time slot in the Jonesboro market during the same ratings period.
Outdoors on the Little Red features a variety of fish and game activities, “not just bass fishing or trout fishing,” the host explained. “We change guests on a weekly basis — try to provide a wide knowledge base so that we and our viewers can learn some things — and are always giving tips on baits, rods, hunting conditions and so on. We fish and hunt with people who are able to pass on what they know, people like noted fly angler Chuck Farneth and Trout Magnet creator Jeff Smith.”
Not about me
While Mitchell will readily admit that he enjoys shooting the episodes of Outdoors on the Little Red, he is quick to mention that the show is not about him.
“This is not for glitz and glamour. This is more for fun. We’re not going to make a living off of it, at least I’m not,” Mitchell said with a grin. “Instead, we want to keep doing the show because our sponsors want to pay for the airtime and our viewers have accepted us so well.”
Getting to the point of becoming an outdoor TV show host, Mitchell said, has not been accomplished through his individual efforts. Instead, he credited friends like Mississippi River catfish guide Allen Goodwin and Steve “Wildman” Wilson of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission as the people responsible for his — and the show’s — success.
“I’ve done so many types of fishing and hunting because of my friends who are big into it,” Mitchell said. “It’s easy to make a show when you can call them and rely on them like a pro staff because these people are the elite in the outdoors. I owe a lot to my buddies because they will call and get me on the fish, the deer, the turkey. We depend a lot on these longtime friends to make our shows.
“I may not have the knowledge about a particular place or technique. I don’t know it all, but I can go out and get a friend who does, someone who can speak credibly about it so that I can learn and talk about it and help our viewers learn.”
Mitchell said he believes he has learned a lot from years of being behind the scenes as a cameraman, from his countless time spent in a blind or boat while guiding, and from the family and friends who’ve shown him along his way.
Now, he said, “I’m just enjoying the opportunity to do these shows and pass an interest in the outdoors on to the kids. I love to work with them on the show, at fishing derbies or for guided hunts. I want to foster an interest in them and get them involved in ‘The Great Outdoors.’ My greatest memories are as a kid in preparation and thought of a successful hunt, of not being able to sleep the night before. It’s all about the kids. On the show, I often say that these trips are about forming bonds and memories that will last a lifetime.”
Staff writer James K. Joslin can be reached at (501) 399-3693 or firstname.lastname@example.org.