September 28, 2007


I've interviewed plenty of celebrities during my career. World famous chefs. Music superstars. Super Bowl coaches and quarterbacks. NASCAR racers. Presidential candidates. The last guy to step on the moon. The guy who lit the Olympic cauldron at the L.A. Olympics. This guy. This guy. Dave Thomas from Wendy's. Wendy herself.

But only once has someone famous told me a joke about a duck fart: John Hillstrand, Alaska King Crab fisherman from the Discovery Channel show "Deadliest Catch." (John's on the left. Andy's on the right. They insisted we pose for a photo.)

With John and Andy Hillstrand of Deadliest Catch

"Know how you make a duck fart?" John said with a voice that sounded like it had too many cigarettes in it.


He moved in closer for the kill and lowered his voice to a purr.

"You squeeze him."

I met the brothers - the self-proclaimed Bad Boys of the Bering Sea - last night at the opening of the new Council Oak steak house at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa. They'd been in town for a week doing media interviews and riding Harleys with fellow fisherman Phil Harris from the show..

Their Discovery Channel bio describe them thusly:

John and Andy Hillstrand of Deadliest CatchBrothers Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand share the skippering duties on board their family-operated vessel, the Time Bandit. Designed by the Hillstrands' father and custom-built by the brothers, the boat features luxuries unheard of on other crab boats, such as staterooms with queen-sized beds, a four-person sauna and a dishwasher.

Johnathan is the captain during king crab season. He runs a tight ship and is not afraid to speak his mind. When he's not embracing the elements at sea, the Homer, Alaska, resident enjoys a zest for life on the edge that includes riding a Harley that is rigged to rocket to 120 mph at the touch of a button.

Andy Hillstrand is skipper during opilio season and also runs the business side. During the off-season, Andy spends time at his ranch in Indiana, where he engages in his other passion -- training horses.

The youngest of the brothers, Deckhand Neal Hillstrand is responsible for prepping the boat at the start of each season and serves as the cook. Deckhand Nathan Vandecoevering also returns to fish on the Time Bandit.

I asked if there was such a thing as "crab groupies." They confirmed that there were.

"He gets them all," Andy said.

"Must be the backwards hat, the goatee and the saving-guys at sea thing," I said.

"Yep," Andy said. "The saving guys thing was big."

Here's a clip from the show:

John and Andy Hillstrand of Deadliest Catch sign an autographIt's clear that the brothers are intensely close. Don't know how you couldn't be after spending so many hours at sea.

"This is my best friend in the world," Andy told me.

Their other brother, Neal, is the cook onboard who rarely gets on the show. They said he was an amazing cook. But both Andy and John like to cook as well.

We sort of hit it off after I told them I had lived in Alaska and had gone crab fishing off Nome on the Bering Sea while I was covering the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in 1991.

"You went out on the ice?" Andy asked?

Yeah, I said. A guy I roomed with for the end of the race in Nome took me out a couple miles on his snow machine on the frozen Norton Sound during the Iditarod to pull up a trap. I had to hold the rifle in case a polar bear showed up. We lost sight of land at one point when a ground blizzard blew the horizon out of view. Our compass froze over. We made it home okay, but I can confirm that you don't want to lose your bearings on the Bering Sea.

"We don't like hard water," John said.

Makes sense. During one show last season, the Time Bandit was nearly crushed near Dutch Harbor after the crew unloaded the boat's catch.

"The only hard water we like is in our drinks," Andy said.

Andy Hillstrand of Deadliest Catch signs an autograph I asked which they were more tired of, crab or that damn Bon Jovi song the show uses as the theme in the opening credits.

"We love Bon Jovi, man!" Andy said.

"They called and asked if we could autograph some shirts," John said, sounding shocked. "They called us!"

An interesting note: Andy said that back in the '80s, he put that very song to some home video of them hauling in crabs. Andy was especially stoked Thursday night because he had just met Robin Zander of Cheap Trick.

"He said he's a big fan of the show," Andy said. "I was, like, Robin Zander, dude. No way."

Where was the worst place they've ever been pinched by a crab?

"I was pinched once on the penis," Andy said. "And that was with the crusher claw."

Alaskan King Crab from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel's Council Oak restaurantI also asked if everyone always tried to feed them crab wherever they went.


What they hate: crab cakes.

"Crab cakes can kiss my ass," John said.

They'll be selling fresh-packed crab direct to fans starting in October from their Web site.

When I asked if they ever thought crabbing would make them famous, they both shook their heads.

"Nobody should get famous from crabbing," Andy said.

When I can clean up the audio - we recorded what I hoped would be a podcast, but the only semi-quiet place we could find was in a plexiglas wine room that sounded like an echo chamber - I'll post a link to it here.

Until then, check them out this weekend on my buddy Tony Fatso's On The Grill radio show at 3 p.m. Saturday on WFLA AM.

Posted by Jeff at September 28, 2007 05:08 AM | TrackBack
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