It's nice work if you can get it -- at least that's what Larry Csonka says.
Csonka, the NFL Hall-of-Famer, has embarked on a second career as a cable TV outdoors show host and was on the Kenai Peninsula recently filming for his series "North to Alaska."
"All the time I spent in training camp in Miami, I always dreamed about being up here and fly-fishing in a nice stream on the Kenai," Csonka said after a drift boat fishing trip on the Kasilof River in late June.
"When I finally got out of ball, I could afford to do it -- but not all the time. I still had to work. ... That's how I realized God likes me. After all those years of punishment in the NFL, I got a job fishing and hunting."
Csonka doled out plenty of punishment in his NFL career, defining the role of the power running back in the 1970s. He retired after the 1979 season with 8,081 rushing yards in 11 NFL campaigns, averaging 4.3 yards-per-carry, and is best remembered for his contributions to the Miami Dolphins' perfect 17-0 season in 1972.
Csonka broke into cable television as the host of a show called "Suzuki Great Outdoors," sharing his enthusiasm for the outdoors with his viewers. The program made just a couple of forays into Alaska, and Csonka said that when the ratings for those shows came in, he figured there was enough interest to do a show exclusively in the Last Frontier.
"I went to the production company and said, 'I want to do another show just in Alaska,'" Csonka said. "They laughed, because they knew how hard that would be."
Csonka decided to form his own production company -- Zonk! Productions -- and pitch the idea of an outdoors show about Alaska. He enlisted the help of Audrey Bradshaw and Tami Murray as executive producers.
Bradshaw often joins Csonka on camera as the program's co-host.
"Ten days later, I walked into the Stihl company and had a good meeting with them, than I talked with the NAPA people," Csonka said. "They said, 'We like the idea of being out there where our equipment is being used. Let's do it.'"
Four years and some 40 to 50 episodes of "North to Alaska" later, Csonka was back on the Kenai Peninsula at the invitation of Tim Berg, president of Tim Berg's Alaskan Fishing Adventures Inc.
"I was aware that they had a show, and I called up Audrey," Berg said. "She was aware that we had done some shows with the Fox Network, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. That gave our company some credibility, and we worked out some arrangements for putting together a trip for him."
Csonka spent five days on the Kenai Peninsula at the end of June.
He went halibut fishing on Cook Inlet, took a fly-in trip with High Adventure Air Charters to Lake Telaquana in the Lake Clark National Preserve to fish for grayling and sockeye salmon, did some bear viewing, took a drift boat fishing trip on the Kasilof River and finished up his trip fishing for halibut and rockfish out of Seward.
"We sent him on a lot of different adventures," Berg said. "We wanted to show him a lot of different things people can do in Alaska."
Some special arrangements had to be made to tape the trips. For example, a second drift boat with the film crew in it followed Csonka and Bradshaw down the Kasilof to document their exploits.
Nothing is staged for the show, though -- Csonka has a genuine knack for catching fish.
"Larry is a fish magnet," Berg said. "That guy catches a lot of fish."
"I've been pretty lucky," Csonka said. "Alaska fish like me, probably because I turn most of them loose."
Csonka had a decent afternoon on the Kasilof. Both he and Bradshaw reeled in a king, but Csonka admitted that Bradshaw landed the bigger fish.
"I'm told by the people that study the stats that the fastest growing area of outdoor sports is among women," Csonka said. "I don't know, but I would think that women would prefer to see Audrey catching a fish."
The episodes of "North to Alaska" filmed on the Kenai Peninsula are schedule to air on TNN starting in January 2001. Csonka also will host an outdoors show called "Csonka Outdoors," in which he'll explore much of the Lower 48, and Central and South America.
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