Born and raised in Dunnellon, Florida, Jimmy Nelson grew up on the water. He spent afternoons and evenings with rod and reel in hand. He always dreamed of turning a weekend hobby into a lifelong investment.
Nelson worked as a real estate agent for about 10 years, but when Florida’s housing market began declining around 2006, he began to change his focus.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do,” Nelson said. “All I knew is that I wanted to be able to fish for free because it was too expensive, and I wanted to see the world.”
At age 36, Nelson spent his free time taking clients out fishing on his boat through his Extreme Fishing Adventures Charter Company.
“I didn’t have time to do many charters. I couldn’t give it 100 percent while working,” he said. “But I remember some of the people I would take out fishing telling me that I would make a good host for a show.”
In 2008, he officially traded in an air-conditioned office for the captain’s seat. He began to focus on filming his first pilot episode as owner and host of Extreme Fishing Adventures.
Now, Nelson said the pages of his passport are filled, and the show has been featured on networks such as FOX Sports, Discovery Channel, Bright House Sports Network and NBC Sports.
But, he said, it hasn’t been a total success story. The first few years brought financial struggles for Nelson and his family of five as he paid for travel, equipment, bait and gasoline all out of pocket.
Creating The Show
In 2008, Jimmy Nelson lived in Dunnellon with his ex-wife Jessica Nelson and their three sons; Matthew, 10, Nate, 8, and Shawn, 7.
Jessica Nelson, a stay-at-home mother and author, said her initial reaction was pure excitement. She said her former husband was already self-employed as a realtor, which made it easier to shift his focus to launching the show.
But Jessica Nelson admitted the biggest obstacle was the lull in paychecks.
“The hardest part came in the beginning,” she said. “We had to adjust to a lowered income as we tried getting a show started from the ground up.”
With only a boat and fishing rods, Jimmy Nelson used money saved from his real estate business to purchase all the equipment needed to film his first episode.
With the help of a friend and Dunnellon resident, Samuel Spornhauer, Jimmy Nelson bought a camera and went to the Gulf of Mexico near Crystal River to start filming.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Jimmy Nelson said.
The two of them went to high school together at Dunnellon High School, where Spornhauer was first introduced to television production during his junior year— his only experience before diving into Extreme Fishing Adventures.
“The cameras do all the work,” Spornhauer said. “It’s a matter of getting the right angles, so I practiced doing that. Plus, being on the water was fun for us both.”
Filming was one thing, but turning the videos into a single, edited segment required skills they didn’t have.
“That first year was stressful,” Jimmy Nelson said. “I had all this raw footage, but I had never edited a video in my life.”
After finishing the first episode in 2009, Jimmy Nelson began the process to get it televised.
“It was hard to find people who were willing to give me a chance,” Jimmy Nelson said. “My editing was amateur quality, but I called anyone I thought would listen.”
After a few months of trying, he said he was able to buy airtime with Bright House Sports Network.
With rising expenses and no profits, he then reached out to any diving, fishing and boating companies that would consider paying Extreme Fishing Adventures in exchange for advertising on the show.
Episode One aired that same year.
Six years later, Jimmy Nelson said he is making a living.
“Networks seemed to really like the footage I had,” he said. “I started getting sponsors like Salt Life and Cressi. And once the show started actually making money, everything kicked into high gear.”
The show receives money and equipment annually from about 30 sponsors in exchange for advertisement on the show and social media. A makeshift team of two turned into a team of 10 working professional cameramen and editors.
Jimmy Nelson said he has traveled throughout the U.S., Bahamas, Cayman Islands and South America filming for the show.
Corey Penny, Ocala resident and master electrician at Penny’s Electrical Services, said he is a big fan of the show and likes to see Jimmy Nelson’s latest catch.
“I like the fact that he loves to target monster fish, the ones that get the blood flowing, and that he’s not scared to show you how he catches them and what he uses to catch them,” Penny said. “Anyone would love to be in his shoes.”
Jimmy Nelson said the show isn’t just fun in the sun; it’s hard work that requires him to be away from home at least two weeks out of every month.
“Constantly being on the road seemed fun at first, but it was not exactly what I anticipated,” he said.
Even as the housing market began recuperating, Jimmy Nelson said he plans on hosting Extreme Fishing Adventures for as long as possible.
“I will host until I’m way too old, probably,” he said. “I love to fish, and I’m happy to do that for as long as they’ll let me.”
Jessica Nelson said her sons think their dad is a superstar.
“My sons think he is the best fisherman in the world,” she said. “And they brag about him to all their friends.”
Jessica Nelson said the show has expanded her family’s exposure to different places, people and experiences. She said it is important to follow your dreams.
“Do your research and go for it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, and if someone laughs at you, ignore them. You have one life. Make it the best life you can.”