On April 22, Discovery’s Emmy-winning reality series Deadliest Catch returns for its tenth season (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET). Viewers will have to wait until Opilio season to see the return of the Cornelia Marie, and the arrival of Mandy Hansen, Capt. Sig’s 18-year-old daughter, on the deck of the Northwestern. But there’s plenty of drama during red crab season, beginning in the two-hour premiere: From the government shutdown delaying the fleet’s start, which forces them to take bigger risks to make their delivery dates, to a greenhorn (and a captain!) nearly waving the white flag. EW sat down with captains Keith Colburn (Wizard), “Wild” Bill Wichrowski (Cape Caution), and Johnathan Hillstrand (Time Bandit) to chat about it all — including why you probably won’t be seeing them with a woman on their crews anytime soon.
Entertainment Weekly: Red crab season got off to a late start because the office that issues your fishing permits was closed. Keith went to Washington to testify in front of Congress.
Capt. Johnathan Hillstrand: They cost us over $15 million, whether anybody likes to say it or hear it.
How did that situation add pressure to the season?
Capt. “Wild” Bill Wichrowski: We had to get crab to market by a certain date. But what it also did was, there was some crab put on the market before we were able to fish, and it affected our price — at least a dollar, dollar-and-a-half a pound.
Capt. Keith Colburn: Not only that, but because we did lose a few days, there was a small percentage of the fleet that could fish because instead of their IFQs [Individual Fishing Quota] they had CDQs [Community Development Quota]. So now you’ve got guys out on the grounds ahead of you with an unfair advantage, and now their partner boats are gonna get this inside information. Normally, when we’ve got an even start and everybody gets there at the same time, you make a mistake, you can respond. Because chances are, everybody’s gonna make one or two mistakes. But when guys have a four-five day head start, they’re already skimmin’ the gravy off the top and we’re comin’ in blind.
We’ve seen the teaser for season 10 [watch it below]. How would you describe this year, in general?
Johnathan: It’s bloody. We got to see quite a few of the shows for filming “The Bait” [the captains’ pre-game roundtable airing April 22 at 8 p.m. ET]. It’s the most blood I’ve ever seen. We were watching people gettin’ hit in the face with hooks, and it makes us laugh, because we’re that sort of weird, demented person. But then it started showin’ some of the faces with the blood, and then none of us were laughin’ at all.
Keith: And none of us were watchin’ either.
Bill: We all had injuries of some sort.
Keith: Every year in the Bering Sea is different: One thing we do know for sure, we will never get a year in the Bering Sea that’s easy. Either we got too much ice, big storms, or just crazy crap like we had this year. A couple boats go down. There’s a bunch of helicopter rescues.
Talking with producers, they said there are at least three major storms.
Keith: The first storm of the season was during red crab, and I was actually heading in, and we can’t always guarantee that the storms are going to track the way they’re supposed to. I went right through the eye of the storm and was sitting in the middle of it, and at that point, I realized they were off on the forecast and that it was heading right at the fleet. So right out of the gate, you’re gonna see the fleet get pretty well beat to heck.
Bill: At the end of the season, they clocked winds at the tower at 120. We were in some pretty horrific seas, and my boat’s not that big. You can fit my boat on the deck of [Keith’s], and we took one wave that was so big, there were plates stacked in the cupboard and some of the plates in the middle broke. So they obviously went up in the air. The plate inside the microwave broke. And the [wheelhouse] door was shut, but there was so much water pressure on the door, it shot all the way across the wheelhouse like a big pressure washer. The crew comes up into the wheelhouse, and they’re lookin’ to see if you’re afraid, so you kinda go, “Oh, we’re all right. It’s fine. Just go downstairs.” But it was a pretty nasty ride.
Johnathan: I almost lost a guy.
As in overboard?
Johnathan: Yeah. One of our greenhorns didn’t know what he was doing. I couldn’t find the buoy, and he decided, “I think I better go up on the bow and help him find his buoys.” I’m climbing 35-40 foot waves, and I go, “Do not go up on the bow!” He goes, “Me?” I go, “Yeah. Do not go up on the bow.” I got hit by this wave, and if he would’ve been up there — it scooped the water all the way over the back of my wheelhouse — he would have been in that wave.
Keith: Going on the bow of a crab boat in 30-foot seas is about the same level of intelligence as lathering up with raw meat and diving into a tiger cage at the zoo during feeding time.
Bill: It’s like trying to put a tarp up in the wind, too.
Keith: [Laughs] Hey, we had a tarp up this year again. Did great this time.
Bill: [To EW] You’ll notice we zing each other every once in a while.
Let’s talk about greenhorn issues. You have another one, Bill, as always.
Bill: [Laughs] I beg your pardon.
I think a lot of viewers wonder what the hiring process is: Is there ever the temptation to take on a guy you’re not quite sure of because if he fails miserably, it’s good TV? Or is there really no surefire way to tell who can cut it?
Bill: I don’t think any of us purposely look for someone that’s not gonna work out. Say you’re a boat owner, a crab guy, and this is my résumé: I’m an ex-Marine. I worked on commercial fishing boats in the Gulf. I currently work on sportfishing boats. Wouldn’t you think that’s pretty good? And this particular guy was the worst guy I’ve ever had in my entire history on a boat. He was that bad. And you’ll see it. He tries to quit like five times. We only had four guys on deck, I needed him.
Johnathan: I took a guy that had been on another crab boat. I never met a guy like this. I don’t really want to say anything bad about anybody, but I have to constantly watch this guy. And if I tell him not to do something, he’ll do it. I’ll say, “Stay away from this spot,” and he’s like a little kid, he has to go there. Like, “Don’t push this button.”
Keith: There’s no perfect recipe for hiring a new deckhand. It’s buyers beware.
Bill: And so many people want to do it just because of the show. When somebody says, “Hey, I want a job on the boat,” a lot of times, I’ll say, “Well, I don’t have any jobs on my boat, but I know another boat that’s not on the show” to see if they go, “Oh yeah!” or if they go, “Oh, well, I don’t know.” If all they want to do is be on the show…
Johnathan: You get these guys going, “I’m the best.” I go, “Well then, how come you don’t have a job if you’re the best?”
Keith: I had a guy come down the docks just last year like, “Yeah, I’m your guy. Any of those crybaby crew of yours fold up, I’m your replacement.” So I’m thinkin’, okay, here’s a guy who’s bringin’ an attitude — he hasn’t even gotten on the boat yet — obviously I’m not gonna hire him. The guys with the attitudes are the worst.
Bill: Keith had a series of years there where he was grindin’ them up more than the bait.
Johnathan: Now it’s my turn. [Points to Keith] There’s the happy boat. [Points to himself] Here’s the screamin’ boat over here.
Keith: Maybe that’s the biggest shocker about this season. Spoiler alert: Capt. Keith doesn’t have to throw anyone off the boat!
The Time Bandit lost Mike Fourtner, Johnathan. Is that part of the problem?
Johnathan: Yeah, and then I have to replace him with all these new guys. The one new guy: I wake up for some reason, and he’s talking to the Coast Guard on the phone. Our EPIRB [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon] has been goin’ off for a half hour. He goes, “Well, uh, I’m trying to get this beeping noise off, and then I’ll wake the captain up.” They’re saying, “Wake the captain up now.” And he goes, “They’ve been telling me to wake you up for 20 minutes.” And I go, “Get the f— out of my chair.” The Coast Guard’s on my phone, and they go, “That is probably the stupidest human being we’ve ever talked to in our lives.” [Bill and Keith laugh]
Bill: That makes you proud.
Johnathan: So I’m looking for the EPIRB that’s in our safety kit in the wheelhouse, and the phone cord is stretched, and the phone zings out of my hand, and he picks it up, and he goes, “Hello?” They go, “Why did you put him on the phone again?!” I just had to tell him to get the f— out of the wheelhouse. And he always goes halfway, and then I gotta tell him again, “No, go all the way out of the wheelhouse. All the way downstairs. OUT!” Ohmygod, I’ve never yelled so much. [To Bill and Keith] I’ll make you look like a little cupcake.
Bill: I’m not gonna tell you too much, but I had a guy actually come up and demand that I turn the boat around and take him to town. That is probably the longest continuous bleep in the history of the show. I went black for about three minutes.
Keith: Last year, I had a kid named Dane. On the show, it looked like Dane rode the boat for maybe a day; he rode the boat for almost seven days after he quit. The thing is, they go to bed for the first day/ day-and-a-half, and they get rested up, and then they’re fresh. And then all the sudden they’re like, “Well, wait a second. How come you’re not goin’ back to town?” Then you have to worry if you’ve got a knucklehead or loose cannon, that they’re gonna maybe do somethin’ in the engine room, sneak up on you in the wheelhouse. I mean, you don’t know these guys. Being out at sea and not knowing when you’re goin’ home — when that’s where you want to go — can do some crazy things to people.
I remember Bear Grylls did episodes of Discovery’s Man vs. Wild with Will Ferrell and Jake Gyllenhaal. Have you ever been asked to take a celebrity out?
Keith: I had Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. say that he wanted to come on the boat. I said, “There’s no way. I hurt you, I would have 20 million fans who want to kill me.”
Johnathan: What if he hurt one of his hands or his foot?
Keith: These aren’t Survivors chasing a golden amulet through some desert or jungle. There’s no way we’re bringin’ on people who have no business being there. But there isn’t one of us who doesn’t get asked all the time by NFL football players — all kinds of guys who could probably make it.
Bill: They offer big money to ride along, but there’s no place for them. It’s hard enough to have a camera guy.
Johnathan: [Deckhands] have the hearts of athletes. I had a blood pressure problem this season. You’ll see. I had to leave the boat. But I took my kid’s blood pressure, and it’s like 112 over 60. He’s like a marathon runner with his heart. They could go runnin’ up and down with basketball guys and then go, “Hey, now what do you want to do?” They wouldn’t barely break a sweat. Their hearts are that strong because we work them so hard.
Keith: People ask all the time, “Aren’t they cold out there?” They’ll come off deck, they’ll have ice outside their rain gear, inside their rain gear, inside their boots, and as soon as they pull it all off, they’re steaming. They’re soaked from sweating and running so hard. And that gets you back to why a lot of guys don’t succeed: You can sit there and run a few wind sprints, but when you’ve got a guy with a bullwhip behind ya all day long going, “Faster! Faster! Faster!”
NEXT: The captains talk Jake Anderson, Josh Harris, and Mandy Hansen
Jake Anderson returns to the Northwestern at the start of red crab. I saw an interview after last season in which Sig said he’d like him back, but Keith joked that someone else, meaning Johnathan, was looking for guys. Did you ever approach Jake for real, Johnathan?
Johnathan: I hired him! He was mine, and I was so happy. And I would have had a perfect, no problem boat. But they gave me Sunshine off the Northwestern.
Keith: Nice trade. Instead of Jake Anderson, they get Sunshine.
Johnathan: We renamed him Moonbeam — and lots of other names. His name’s Nick, so he’s got Nick-names. He’s the nicest kid ever, but he doesn’t belong on a crab boat. He makes great TV.
Bill: [To EW] Hey, you’re getting a lot of insider information. [To Johnathan] You know we’re being recorded.
Josh Harris and the Cornelia Marie return for Opi season. Producers have told me he has a co-captain, Casey McManus.
Bill: It’ll be interesting to see how it’s portrayed, how much he is driving.
Johnathan: I’d like to watch that myself…. We gave him a S-H-I-T shirt: It says, “I am the S—” on the front, and on the back, it says Skipper Harris in Training. [Laughs] We made him put it on without seeing what it said on the back…. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s gonna do it. He’s a little bit cocky.
Keith: He is a little bit cocky. But in all seriousness, we’re just givin’ him a hard time because he’s basically a greenhorn captain. As captains who’ve been out there, between the three of us, 90-plus years at sea, you always rib the new guy.
Bill: He’s getting an education. If your father’s a mason, that doesn’t mean you can build a fireplace.
Johnathan: Plus, he didn’t have to learn like us: He has a skipper. We were the guy. Everything was on us. All the paperwork was on us. You miss one piece of paperwork, you don’t go fishin’. We were sweatin’ bullets. Those were different days.
Bill: [To EW] Insurance won’t let him just take a boat out [now].
Johnathan: [Directly into tape recorder] We love you, Josh Harris. [To EW] Remember his dad [the late Capt. Phil Harris]? He did a lot of yelling. He was one of the best there was. We were watching the best of fights on boats.
Keith: I thought it was gonna be all me.
Johnathan: I thought it was gonna be all you, too, but it was just Phil. “Yeah, you could be an astronaut, but you’re not!” I loved Phil.
Let’s talk about Sig’s daughter Mandy, an accomplished gymnast, joining his deck for Opi. What do you guys think of that move?
Keith: The [uneven] bars is all about upper body and core strength. So even though she’s tiny, she’s still pretty tough.
Bill: And what was great, she’d sit at a table with us, and she could hang with the conversation. She’s intelligent.
Johnathan: She’s got the Hansen mentality. She wanted to go fishin’. Basically what she told her dad was, “I’ll go out on another boat if you don’t take me on your boat.” I told Sig, “I’ll take her out, but she’s gonna come home knocked up and pregnant.” I got all those young guys on my boat now.
Keith: So needless to say, Sig put her on his boat as quickly as possible so he could keep an eye on her.
Have you guys ever had female deckhands on boats you’ve worked on?
Johnathan: Yeah. They end up knocked up and pregnant…. My daughter should be named Opilio Hillstrand because her mom was out on a ship when she was conceived.
Bill: My daughter was conceived on a boat, and her name is Delia, which means “jewel of the sea.”
Johnathan: [Bill] met his wife in Togiak, Alaska. That’s the Death Valley of Alaska.
Bill: They put row techs on the boat, and end of the season, I just kept her. It took the ship two days to figure out she wasn’t there. They called me up and said, “Hey, did you take somethin’?” I said, “Yeah, she’s here.” [All laugh] But I always worried about takin’ a woman on the boat, because there’s a lot of women that watch the show, and if she didn’t make it or —
Keith: Would you be the most evil man ever? I’ve had that thought, too. There was a gal who flew to Alaska about three or four years ago. She got a hold of me in advance. She’s from Wyoming. She’s about 6′ tall. Her arms are bigger than mine. She was, like, a Division 1 volleyball player. Raised on a farm. If there’s ever a girl that’s gonna be able to do it, it’s her. So I said, “You know what, I don’t have any work, but you can stay on the boat, and that way you don’t have to spend über amounts of money trying to find a job while you’re in Dutch [Harbor].” She was diligent. She was lookin’ every day on the dock, and every day she would come back and say, “I didn’t find anything. Are you sure you don’t need a deckhand?” Ohmygod, after about three days, I’m like, “Oh please, please, find a job or leave.” I just got freaked out.
Johnathan: Was she hot?
Keith: She was attractive, yeah.
Johnathan: She would’ve got me. [All laugh] It’s hard to have girls out on the boats because the guys start trying to do stuff for them. “Here, let me do that for you.”
Keith: They’re a distraction, plain and simple. That’s the number one reason why we don’t have women.
Johnathan: Sex is on our minds enough that we don’t need to see someone bend over. It’s like if you put eight people on an island together, and there’s one female. Something’s gonna happen. Like Naked and Afraid. Some of them might be Naked and Pretty Happy. [All laugh]
Isn’t there also a superstition that women are bad luck on boats?
Keith: You can’t do that anymore because 30 percent of the time we have state observers come on the boat, and most of the time, they’re girls. So if you’re freaked out about a girl on the boat, how are we gonna catch crab when the state says, “Oh, here’s your observer for the next month-and-a-half, and it’s a girl”?
Johnathan: Young 18-19-year old girls, and they end up having relationships with sometimes a few of the guys.
Keith: Not on my boat. They know the rules. Don’t go down that road.
Johnathan: I can’t wait to see if Mandy Hansen can hold her own. I’ll say, “Wow,” if they don’t have to help her out and she hangs for the whole time.
Keith: Or will Sig let her try to hang? Is he gonna baby her? Is he gonna be rough on her? Is he gonna protect her?
Is retirement, and who’ll inherit the wheelhouse, going to be discussed on the Time Bandit this year, Johnathan?
Johnathan: Yeah, you’re gonna hear stuff that’s been asked too many times, then people snap and say, “F you, you’re not in my family anymore.” Andy had to tell my son, “You’re dead to me. You no longer exist” because the camera guys kept having Scotty zero in on Andy and trap him in the wheelhouse.
Keith: That’ll make the show.
Johnathan: It’s gonna be bulls—. But he said it. He should’ve kept his cool.
Bill: Something will happen, and you’ll think, “Ah, that’s gotta make an episode,” and then all season you watch for it, and that doesn’t make it but something that you can hardly remember does. It just works out for editing…. My mom’s like 85. She’ll call me and say, “I’m so happy you weren’t on the show much last night. It means everything must be going okay on your boat.” Her perception is all they do is show all the bad stuff.
Keith: My mom just stopped watching.
What are moments you were surprised didn’t make it into the show over the years?
Keith: Two years ago, I took a wave that moved the entire stack about four feet, destroyed four pots, and I had to jettison pots, do a bunch of crazy stuff to get into town, never made the show.
Bill: I did a crazy MacGyver fix on a generator, and nothin’.
Johnathan: We had the same thing, where it was blowin’ 50, and we just barely got our motor goin’. Just as it came up really hard, a guy on deck almost got hurt, and it shows [Capt.] Elliott [Neese] fixin’ an air compressor instead. An air compressor, you don’t even need that to run your boat…. You know why we watch the show: Because we love to watch the misery and pain of these other guys, because it makes us feel better about our pain and misery. [All laugh]
Bill: [To EW] It’s funny, you haven’t asked anything about Elliott. This is normally the way it goes: “Hey, Capt. Bill, love you on the show. Why are so mean to your son?” And then the next thing is, “What’s up with that Elliott guy?” Those are usually the questions I get on the road.
Johnathan: Snoop Dogg asked him that in the elevator.
Keith: When I’m on the road, I get, “Hey, Keith, why are you so mean to your brother? Why is Bill so mean to his kid?” [Bill and Keith laugh]
Producers told me Saga remains a good name for Elliott’s boat.
Johnathan: Elliott’s doing the same stuff Elliott does…. [But] you’ll see a four- or five-minute segment where he is a hero.
Keith: Elliott has some redeeming qualities and some redeeming moments. [To EW] And that’s all you’re gonna get on Elliott.
Bill: Remember Dallas, and how everybody hated J.R.? He’s the J.R. of Deadliest Catch.
Keith: Which is the best thing that ever happened to “Wild” Bill and myself. [All laugh] I’m serious, man. I used to get so much hate mail, and then Elliott came along.
Johnathan: If J.R. and the devil could figure out how to have a baby, that would be Elliott. [All laugh] But otherwise he’s probably a great guy. I don’t really know him that well.
The only captain we haven’t touched on is Junior (Scott Campbell Jr.). He has a serious back problem on the Seabrooke. Do you guys see that and cringe?
Johnathan: We have bad backs, too, so we know his pain. I’ve had my back hurt so bad that I’ve thrown up. It made me literally vomit, and I still fished the season. I’m glad I never had the operation that he ends up having because he still hurts. We saw him, and he got up out of the chair like a 70-year-old man. He’s got a battle ahead.
Keith: If you have any weaknesses on the Bering Sea, and you’re sittin’ in the chair, it will exploit them, and you’ll be retired before you want to be retired. So it’s not good.
Johnathan: Now you know the whole season.
Bill: Even that Elliott’s the devil’s spawn.
Johnathan: If Keith Richards and the devil could figure out how to have a baby together, there’s Elliott.
Keith: And Joan Rivers. [All laugh]
Bill: Other than that, we all really like Elliott.