A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a phone interview with two of the captains from the hit TV show “Deadliest Catch”. Captains Johnathan Hillstrand and Wild Bill spent a few minutes talking about life out on the Bering Sea.
Family Review Guide/Interviewer = F | Captain Johnathan Hillstrand = JH | Wild Bill = WB
Family Review Guide: I wanted to let everyone know that Captains Johnathan Hillstrand and Wild Bill are from the hit Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch”, and I am excited to have an opportunity to talk with them, and ask them a few questions about their upcoming season.
JH: We’re Happy to be here.
Family Review Guide: Thank you. So, some of my readers had a few questions for you guys and the first question I have is “How are the feature boats selected for the show”?
WB: Well, John was on first, so I’ll let him answer this.
JH: Well, they had certain captains, like Captain Bill, he’s sort of legendary. Me and my brother were lucky. It’s hard to get the best of the best. They asked us one year, we said no, then the next year we went, “We might as well do it if we have a good documentary for our kids, because it was just a documentary and all. It’s reality and pretty much God is the director most days, so we’re just happy with everybody and happy they selected us. We’ve had a great time and everything’s been great.
WB: Actually for me, I retired. I retired and I was fishing in Mexico and Costa Rica and things were getting a little tight financially. Everybody was tying up their boats, and my buddies the Hillstrands, they’re like, “Dude, you’ve got to come back and try to get on this thing because it’s pretty exciting. There’s a lot of exposure and I think you’d enjoy it.” And that’s– those– John and Andy kind of were the ones that were key in bringing me back to the fishery and being on the– part of the show.
Family Review Guide: Wild Bill, you weren’t a part of the show from the beginning of the series, and I wanted to know if you had any regrets for not signing up sooner?
WB: Well, the thing was, I had retired when the fishery changed. But I had gone to the sport fishing side and I’d been running boats in Costa Rica and Mexico. Sport fishing and the money got a little tight when the financial world kind of fell apart, and John and Andy were pretty influential in bringing me back into the fishery, and also introducing me to the people that produce the show, which opened a door for me, which is how I got to be on the show. And would I trade the couple years that I had sport fishing in Costa Rica or crab fishing? Probably not.
Family Review Guide: What changed in your personal lives as a result of the show?
WB: Well, with me, I do some fundraising. We all try to do some good along the way, but we get recognition. A lot of people– obviously the viewership is pretty high, and people live kind of vicariously through us and it’s– a lot of the hard working souls, American– a lot of countries, they can relate. And, you know, I kind of use this phrase, but it’s giving it a voice that people listen to so hopefully we all use it for something to spread some good along the way, along with entertaining ourselves and others.
Family Review Guide: That’s great. I agree, a hundred percent. What is the best thing that has come for both of you as a result of doing the show?
JH: You know what really makes my day? I have people that will come up to me and say, “Oh my God, it’s you! You made my whole summer.” So it feels pretty good to make somebody’s whole summer. I’ve also had people that have said that, “They said I would never walk again, and watching how hard you guys work, I put my mind to it and I walk now.” So it’ll tear you up, some of the stuff. And the letters we get, you know. We’re an inspiration to a lot of people. It’s crazy that we didn’t sign on for it, but for a lot, we’re a role model in a lot of ways to a lot of people. Feels great!
Family Review Guide: That sounds really inspiring. Amazing. How long are you guys out at sea for one time?
WB: Well a trip will go, like, seven to maybe 12, 13 days, depending on the weather, and how good the fishing is, and what your delivery schedule is. But typically season’s two to three months long, and we have two seasons, so basically we work from the end of September through coming up after around Thanksgiving or a little after we usually come back right around Christmas, and we work until March, sometimes April, depending on the weather and the quota.
JH: This is Johnathan. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it takes us a week just to get to Dutch Harbour with our boats and a week to get home, and you could write an adventure about that. We got to go through whatever God throws at us. And then we do our 12– ideal trip is five or six days, but sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes we’re out there for three months, so not anybody can do that, you know. You’re on a little, tiny, hundred-foot vessel. It’s a lot like a jail cell. So a lot of people don’t have it in them, but the reward is the money. Like my guys on King Crab, it was a 12-day season, they made fifty-four thousand dollars. Not all of them have college educations, and they’re all young guys, and that’s good money.
Family Review Guide: That’s a pretty good deal. Here’s kind of a funny question for you. After a long trip, which smells worse: the bait locker or the crew’s cabin?
JH: Ha! We keep pretty clean quarters. We make a bit of a mess when we are out-of-town but when we head to town, that boat is spotless. All our crab is kept live, so they don’t stink. We can’t deliver them unless they’re live. And it’s a very clean product and the water’s, you know, 34 to 38 degree waters. Nothing can really live in that except the crab, and the bait station is kept like a hospital. But we do get dirty or grungy when we’re out fishing and we don’t have much have much sleep. But, on the way into town you know, we have a day and a half run to town, we clean that boat up spotless, and I’m sure Bill does too.
WB: As far as cleanliness, you have a lot of people in a confined space, so if you don’t keep the galley area clean, and the head, aka bathroom clean, any kind of cold or flu or anything will spread like wildfire, so it’s in our best behalf to keep the boat clean. And the guys are probably the stinkiest thing on there but we’ve gotten to where we use hand sanitizer on the boat. All the spray cleaners or disinfectant type soap. It saves us money and time if we keep the boat clean.
Family Review Guide: Absolutely. With it being so competitive out on the sea, do you ever get your pots sabotaged by other boats?
JH: Only if it’s a prank. Only if it’s someone pranking you.
Family Review Guide: Everyone’s pretty respectful otherwise?
JH: Yeah. Since the seasons change to a quota system, It used to be in derby days, there were guys who would risk their lives by stealing crab, but we don’t see it much anymore.
Family Review Guide: That’s good. So the deck hands sometimes give the greenhorns an initiation. Does the same apply to the film crew you guys have on board?
WB: Well that’s kind of– it’s a tough enough job that the job itself is almost like an initiation for them, because they’re going to have spit balls no matter what happens. So we mess with them a little bit. You know, they have a tough deal, you know.
JH: If you can’t get your survival suit within a minute, you’re not allowed– by coast guard law, you can’t go fishing. So we usually to get them on the dock– we’ll get like a hundred water balloons, a couple dozen eggs, and as they’re trying to put the suit on, we’re egging and water ballooning the hell out of them. We do little things like that to them. There’s never dull moment on these boats, you know.
Family Review Guide: So I noticed there’s never any women on the crews. Are women not allowed, or are they discouraged on them?
JH: It’s mostly the wives and girlfriends don’t like it. Just the shocks that we throw in the box, they’re over 100 pounds. So you can’t have a little, petit, five foot two girl up there because she’s throwing her own body weight.
WB: There have been a handful of girls that have done it, and there was one girl that was actually captain for a while, and then she had her sister on there, but it’s not real common. There was a couple gals a few seasons ago up in Dallas looking for work, but just as John said it– you remember when you first started putting women in the locker room, it just– There’s nothing against women, I’m sure there’s a lot of them as tough as some of these guys but, you know, there’s one bathroom on the boat typically and it just– It creates problems.
JH: And then you have guys that are trying to hit on her that want to help her out . And then she might end up, you know, pregnant. So three months with seven testosterone fueled guys, with a hot little girl, you might have your hands full. And then there are other things to worry about like discrimination and such. It’s sort of a men’s fishery.
Family Review Guide: How do you guys cope with responsibility for your crew’s safety when emergency help can be a really long ways off?
JH: We have to be a doctor. We have a medical kit, we get on the phone with Coast Guard and sometimes we’ll have to administer morphine, a lot of times, you know, tourniquet and then, you know– They have doctors– They actually have a doctor in air in the helicopter that’s coming to give the guy a lift if soeon loses a leg or something. We have to be our own doctors, stitch each other up sometimes.
WB: It’s a lot easier if they don’t get them hurt.
Family Review Guide: How are the Harris boys doing? I noticed that the Cornelia Marie is returning. Are you glad to have them back?
JH: The young guy is still having his problems and demons, fighting his demons, but Josh sort of has it together. And he comes back for opening season, and he’s got a captain with him and he’s bringing his Dad’s boat back out, and he’s going for it. He’s giving it all he’s got, and trying. You’ll just have to watch and find out.
Family Review Guide: That’s great. Do crabs now seem to be getting smaller as the years go by, and does the crab industry seem to be affected by the influx of radiation from Japan?
JH: Not that we’ve known yet.
Family Review Guide: Where do you see fishing going in the next 10 years?
WB: Probably on a parallel to where it is now. There’s pretty stiff regulations. The only thing that’s changing is the government’s taking a little more every time we turn around.
WB: So they’re going to regulate the fishery well but I think the only thing that’s going to affect it is fuel cost and probably how much– how much– how many more taxes the government wants.
JH: It comes right out of our pockets. When the federal government took over, they take 10% community development quota tax, 5% enforcement tax, 5% cost recovery tax, 5% buy back tax, 3% over the dock tax. So we’re losing 27% right off the top. We’re still a state fishery. State manages it. They do well– a great job, and the federal government, I can’t say nothing bad about them.
Family Review Guide: The last question before we wrap this up. How come Sig always catches more crab than everybody else?
JH: You’re going to have to watch because I think there’s a new sheriff in town.
Family Review Guide: Well thank you guys so much for answering our questions, I really appreciate it.
WB: All right, you have a good day.
Like this interview? See our Interview with Bill Klein from the TV Show “The Little Couple”