Deadliest Catch fans, the wait is almost over. The Emmy-winning Discovery reality series returns March 29 for its twelfth season with a two-hour premiere. John Gray, an executive producer for Original Productions, spoke to Yahoo TV to preview what’s ahead, boat by boat. Get ready…
It’s a new boat for the show, but one with a father-son backstory that’s right in its wheelhouse. The skipper is 23-year-old Sean Dwyer, the youngest in Catch history. “Sean’s dad, Pat, was a really well-established fisherman in the Bering Sea. He passed away, very tragically, from ALS a few years ago in 2013. Before he passed away, he purchased the Brenna A with the specific goal of setting Sean up for the future. Sean and his mom have been working towards this moment. It’s a really emotional story of Sean carrying the torch from his father into captaincy,” Gray says. “He’s a good captain, which a lot of guys aren’t at that age. He’s an impressive young guy.”
He’ll have to be: his 290,000 lb. quota comes from Capt. Sig Hansen. “Sean was not planning on going out king crab fishing; he was getting his boat ready to go opilio fishing. Sig had a lot of bairdi quota. It is a crab that is hard to catch, and you need to get out there early. Sig knew Sean’s father and had heard that Sean was looking for an opportunity, that he was a good young skipper. Sig saw the opportunity A, to give a young captain a chance, and B, for his own benefit to have somebody go out there and catch his quota,” Gray says.
Sig makes a bold decision to visit grounds he hasn’t fished in over a decade. Will it pay off? “He is a guy that always has a couple tricks up his sleeve. I don’t want to give anything away in terms of whether or not he catches his crab quickly,” Gray says. “Of course he has challenges just like everybody. Sig faces some challenges this season that he’s never faced before, which is really great.”
One challenge Sig does know well returns: bad weather. “We see one of the most violent storms that the guys have ever seen. I’m sure that we say that every season, but during this season, there is a point where the fleet has to run and hide, and the waves and the storm are so violent that they bend the steel of the Northwestern’s bow. We have never seen anything like the violence of the wave that shocks the Northwestern,” Gray says. “It is a very testy Bering Sea this year.”
Jake Anderson remains in the wheelhouse, ready to captain his first king crab season. "Last year he was essentially trying to get there, now he’s trying to prove that he belongs,” Gray says. “He wants to wash the stink off the Saga and make it his own. Part of that is physical: he actually wants to change the color, and he wants to do those kind of things so that he puts his stamp on it. Part of it is cultural: Jake wants to figure out what his brand of fishing is.”
The Deadliest Catch producers love working with Jake because, as fans know, he is very honest with his emotions. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and is not afraid to speak his mind and be who he really is, which makes him a great subject for a documentary television series,” Gray says. “For Jake, it’s figuring out how he harnesses that passion that makes him a great character, but that can also make him a combustible person as well, in a positive way for the sake of his crew and the sake of his success as a captain. That’s his big challenge.”
But will we see Jake cry this season? “Well, we haven’t edited everything. Whether or not we show it, that’s still being determined, but of course Jake cries,” Gray says with a laugh. “All you have to do with Jake is say his son’s name, Aiden, and he starts to tear up.”
Capt. Casey McManus and Josh Harris are again working as partners. “Josh has to take off the training wheels for himself personally, and also for the success of the Cornelia Marie. They have a lot of quota. They have to fish a lot, and Casey shouldn’t have to do it all on his own, so it’s important for Josh to step up,” Gray says. There’s added pressure, too: To pay for over $1 million of upkeep on the Cornelia Marie during the off-season, Josh had to sell a majority of the boat to investors.
“When I heard what Josh and Casey had done, I was like, ‘It can’t be real.’ They had given up a majority stake in the boat, but they needed to,” Gray says. “The Cornelia Marie had an engine that never worked, and you can look in early seasons of the show — that boat has always broken down. It needed a major overhaul. What they’ve done is set the stage for the Cornelia Marie to hopefully succeed for years to come, but if they don’t catch the crab, they’re out.”
Like fans, the producers are rooting for him. “Midway through [filming] the season, we’ll start to look at what big picture themes are starting to emerge. We do it every year. A few years ago, it was ‘new blood.’ There was an injection of new blood into the Bering Sea. And then it was basically ‘young versus old.’ It wasn’t just young guys coming into it, it was the young guys sort of battling with the old guys. Then it evolved into ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Okay, you’re here, now be careful what you wish for because it’s not easy. Well now, these young guys really need to ‘seize the day’ at this point. They only have one shot,” Gray says. “This is a fishery that is incredibly competitive. There is almost a gold rush of crab this year, because the quota is up. These young guys will be replaced if they cannot deliver. So they’ve worked hard to get where they are, they have gotten a chance, and now they just have one shot to seize the day and make their mark as crab fishermen.”
Even the veterans can find themselves at a major crossroads. As the season begins, Capt. Keith Colburn has recently broken up with his wife of 25 years. “He is at a real low, and part of that is because of what’s happening off the water. For Keith, it’s a story, in many ways, about a guy who is ready to get a fresh start. And a fresh start is not easy,” Gray says.
When the Wizard crew is ready to toss the lines and leave Dutch Harbor, they have to go searching for their skipper, who’s having one last toast at the local watering hole.
“Something that’s really interesting is that when Keith is trying to get over these kind of things, oddly enough, his key therapist is one Johnathan Hillstrand,” Gray says. “Help always comes from unexpected places, and for Keith, it comes from the tender heart of one Johnathan Hillstrand, which is an incredibly touching thing. Two guys, who were basically about to come to blows years ago, are now consoling each other as life unfolds around them.”
Is Freddy back on the deck of the Wizard? “I will say that Freddy is back on the show,” Gray says, “but he is not on the deck of the Wizard…”
The Hillstrand Brothers have their own rough start to the season — getting the Time Bandit into a situation that could cost them a six-figure fine and potentially their fishing license. “There is a standing time where you can legally start to drop pots. If you start before then, it could be incredibly expensive and you could essentially derail your entire season, if you ‘cheat.’ Let’s just say that Johnathan Hillstrand is not great at keeping time,” Gray says. “He has to make right what he did wrong.”
Life is never easy for Capt. Wild Bill Wichrowski. Or, as Gray puts it, “The Cape Caution is always an interesting one, and not just because Bill has such amazing hair.”
“Bill is at a point where he would like to essentially fish from the shore, which means that he ultimately retires and figures out a way to hand over the torch his son, Zack. Zack has slowly been moving into that role, and this is a big year for him: Bill has essentially allowed Zack to pick the crew, and is relying on Zack to train the crew, so that Zack can move up. Zack can’t leave the deck until the deck is working properly,” Gray says. “You would think that Zack would choose wisely, and of course, as luck would have it, he does not. From the first set, they have some challenges. Yeah, it’s great.”
Season 12 of Deadliest Catch premieres March 29 at 9 p.m. on Discovery. Also returning is “The Bait,” a series of one-hour pre-shows, at 8 p.m. on Discovery.