By Mandi Bierly
Updated April 16, 2013 at 08:19 PM EDT
Credit: Discovery Channel

Tonight, Deadliest Catch returns for its ninth season on Discovery, and there is top-notch drama even before the fleet leaves Dutch Harbor. Here, courtesy of exec producer David Pritikin, is a tease of what’s to come.

• Elliott Neese is now his own boss: Fired from the Ramblin’ Rose in the offseason, the show’s youngest and most polarizing captain has gone more than $1 million in debt to buy his own boat, the F/V Saga. Most shocking perhaps: Seeing the pride in his father’s misty eyes may, at least for a moment, have you thinking you’ve misjudged Elliott. “People love him or they love to hate him. I think this is truly his redemption year,” Pritikin says. “You find yourself kinda getting what his angst is all about this season. Seeing him with his father, who’s working on deck, is a great story for Elliott.” But, Pritikin warns, “He goes through the season not without his problems. His boat is aptly named for him this season — the Saga.”

• Jr. gets extra competitive: Elliott and Seabrooke captain Scott ‘Jr.’ Campbell don’t make any bets this season, but with more of the fleet fishing the blue grounds, Jr. will show us a bit of a different side. “He’s still a great guy,” Pritikin says, “but he has some devious tactics of his own this season.”

• Battle for the Northwestern wheelhouse: Brothers Sig and Edgar Hansen get into it while the boat’s still at the dock. “Edgar’s been wanting a place in the wheelhouse with Sig for years now, and he’s feeling that he deserves it, and Sig is thinking about it, but he wants Edgar to show more initiative. He doesn’t want to hand it to him,” Pritikin says. “This season we find out if Edgar gets the wheelhouse or not.” He’s got competition: Fan favorite Jake Anderson is also now pushing for a captain’s seat.

• A Time Bandit money crunch: The ice during last year’s relentless winter did a number on most boats, including the Time Bandit. The Hillstrand Brothers sunk a lot into repairs. Now there’s added pressure for them to earn to stay afloat. Bad news for the fleet, but good news for viewers: “During Opi season, the ice does return again, and equally as bad,” Pritikin says. “The guys have never seen anything like it. It seems to be common place, the ice is always there.”

• Danger abounds: While there’s no dramatic medevac this season, there will be serious injuries, Pritikin says. In the premiere, we see a minor one. Time Bandit deckhand Mike Fourtner is positively giddy getting to do some needle work on Andy Hillstrand. “He’s an EMT as well, so any time he has the pleasure of hurting his boss, it feels great to him,” Pritikin says. “Obviously he wants to help him, but certainly the guys like to play around with you. That’s life on a boat, right? He knows it’s not life-threatening, so he might as well have some fun with it.”

• Greenhorn drama: A big story line on the Wizard this season, Pritikin says, is whether a greenhorn (a newbie) will make it through the season. “Capt. Keith is notorious for having greenhorns lose it on this boat,” he says. Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski is back, this time as skipper of the F/V Cape Caution. Longtime Catch fans will be worried watching his greenhorn Mikey Mitchell at the rail (do not lift your foot!). But there’s more tension than waiting to see if someone’s going to get caught in the rope and be pulled overboard. “It’s a good story on the Cape Caution because there’s two father-son combinations: Wild Bill and deckhand Zack and then Mikey and his father Kerby, who used to be the captain of the Cape Caution,” Pritikin says. “Mikey and his dad drive Wild Bill crazy this season, but I think Mikey causes more havoc later on as well, not just in the first episode. His father puts him in jeopardy at one point as well.”

• Only one Harris brother: While Jake continues to deal with his personal issues, “He’s not with us this season,” Pritikin says. “He’s got to put some of his demons behind him before anybody lets him back on a boat. We wish him the best. We hope to see him return.” Josh Harris is back on the Time Bandit and contributes to the overall theme of the season: “It’s this youth rising movement, young versus old. A lot of these guys have been deckhands for many, many years and they all want to step up now. Josh is one of them. He wants to carry on his father’s legacy and buy back the Cornelia Marie, the boat his father, Phil, captained. This season we find out if Josh buys the boat back or not.”

• New views and ways to interact: Tonight’s premiere features some beautiful, haunting underwater shots looking up as the fleet heads out of Dutch Harbor. Before each episode this season, the captains will host a pre-game show called The Bait. They’ll talk about what happened the previous week and tease what viewers will see that night. “It’s the blue-collar View,” Pritikin laughs. There’s also a new Deadliest Catch Fantasy Game.

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Deadliest Catch

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