‘Deadliest Catch’ Captain “Wild” Bill Wichrowski Interview Plus Exclusive Preview Of Emotional F/V Scandies Rose Rescue Episode

Captain "Wild" Bill Wichrowski

The next Deadliest Catch this Tuesday covers the tragedy of the F/V Scandies Rose. Summer Bay Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski is at the center of this episode as his naval background and knowledge of the crew is central to the story telling.

It is also his personal relationship with the captain of the Scandies Rose and his crews’ closeness to their crew that drives the emotionally charged Deadliest Catch episode.

Also, we witness a gutted Monte Colburn of the F/V Wizard who is reeling from the news of the doomed crabbing vessel and the loss of his friend.

So much that his brother Captain Keith Colburn is called in a last minute intervention to sober Monte up from his grief over losing his friend Gary Cobban, Jr., the sea captain of the F/V Scandies Rose.

Presented in a backwards timeline, Deadliest Catch narrator Mike Rowe leads this heartbreaking chronology of the fleet that shares actual news footage of the disaster. He also gives the lay of the new season.

Now the fleet is after the opilio crab and this takes them right up to the Russian line. The tensions have never been higher between the American fleet and the Russian crabbers.

The profound nature of the weather, the near misses and dangers inherent in crabbing and the sudden loss of beloved friends inhabits the next episode that you will not want to miss.

The news reports heard over the radio and the reactions of the fleet tuning in are gut wrenching.

Deadliest Catch Captain “Wild” Bill Wichrowski

“Wild” Bill Wichrowski is originally from Irwin, PA, and he has called the fishing grounds in the Pacific home for some time.  He has extensive experience as a naval engineer, boat electrician, and commercial fisherman.

His experience in the Navy has served him well as an Alaskan king-crab fisherman.

Greenhorn Vasily was the drama on the Summer Bay last week. Pic credit: Discovery

Last week, we saw how his greenhorn Vasily worked everyone’s nerve, especially Nick on Wild Bill’s Summer Bay. Bill paid off Vasily and sent him packing.

But this week is a dramatic one as Deadliest Catch features the US Coast Guard and their efforts to rescue the F/V Scandies Rose.

This week sees the tone of the show go somber as Deadliest Catch fleet captains all process the news of the loss of the F/V Scandies Rose. We do not know the entire story as of yet, but between 10 p.m. on Dec. 31, when the Scandies Rose crew hit the mayday button, and 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day when two crew members were saved by the U.S. Coast Guard, something terrible happened.

The fishermen who perished were Captain Gary Cobban, Jr., David Lee Cobban, Arthur Ganacias, Brock Rainey, and Seth Rousseau-Gano.

TV Shows Ace spoke to Wild Bill Wichrowski of the Summer Bay ahead of this powerful episode of Deadliest Catch.

You had quite a season.

Wild Bill: Oh, I know. Yeah, it was a one for the books. Not a book that I want to get either.

The season has focused on the Russians, and here you are dealing with Greenhorn Vasily, talk about him.

Wild Bill:  He was just an argumentative hard head. I don’t even know why he had the desire to go because there’s a chain of command which is followed and if you don’t have any knowledge of the industry, you start out at the bottom like any job.

But he just fought it and fought it and fought it the whole way. And you know, everybody’s all lawsuit happy. So honestly, in the old days, 10-15 years ago, somebody would have knocked him out by day two.

But it doesn’t apply anymore. My job is to try to turn them around and get them to become a functioning crew member and try to keep the guys from killing him.  I tried every technique I could. Nice guy, mean guy, tough guy, funny guy and no guy could change this guy’s outlook on life.

I think he was looking for the American dream without putting the effort in.  He was one of those kinds that was lawsuit happy. He was always talking about suing so and so, and not a guy that you want to have in the most dangerous job in the world where there’s a chance of injury at any time.

So, It was a tough one. You only have five guys, so if you take one out of the equation, you’re putting it on four guys. So we tried to use them when we could, but okay…I think you saw that actually, and I think he did more harm than good when he was out there. So yes.

How did he cross paths with you to get hired in the first place?

Wild Bill: You know, we had a crew member who dabbled in the addiction [issues] and I fired him. We got one guy to show up that was experienced and we had an empty spot, and it got down to the last minute. We had to get out of town, and were actually a little bit late getting out of town and he [Vasily] was a big, strong, healthy guy.

And honestly, I’ve never met anybody that I couldn’t get to conform to the job. I’ve had some guys who were, rough stuff, kicked off boats for being mean. I’ve had some guys that needed motivation. They were just slow to begin with…but I’ve never had anybody so argumentative as Vasily.

This world is a lawsuit happy world. So we couldn’t get down to the old school method of bringing him around. We just kind of ate it. We could get him off the boat.

It was powerful. You’re like, I’m going to give you all your money. Just go away.

Wild Bill:  Well, I knew that there would be a lawsuit involved. It would cost more money if I did not. And typically, that guy wouldn’t get paid because your contract reads that you perform all the required tasks and you’ve finished the job to the end.

I would end up probably paying four or five times that with attorneys because attorneys are the only reason we have attorneys. It would have been a big negative cash flow thing.

So I just wanted to be rid of him and I didn’t think he could find anything else to talk about or complain about if I just paid him. So that’s what I did. Yeah.

I asked this of all the captains,  is there an end date for the series in sight for you? 

Wild Bill: Right now with the economy, I don’t. I’m partners in the Summer Bay and other boats. It’s strictly salmon tendering and in the back of my mind… If I could get both these boats paid off. Yes. So when somebody else comes in to run them, if it’s not quite as efficient or things go wrong, that the investment will survive.

I think I’d like to see the boats paid off in full.  I don’t owe anybody anything. I have a lease on my car and everything else I have is paid for. So, yes,  I’m not big on owing any money to anyone. I tried to wait, save cash to buy things.

[My home in] Mexico has been paid for in cash over the years. All my cars are paid for in cash except for the one lease.

This next episode is about the F/V Scandies Rose. Talk about that and how the Coast Guard acted…

Wild Bill:  The Coast Guard acted impeccably, as always. They were there essentially as quick as they ever could have been. And they’ve followed all their protocols.

We still don’t know what happened to the boat. It was adverse conditions. The boat was actually built to crab. It wasn’t a makeover boat. Like the F/V Wizard, I think it’s a retired yard oiler or something from World War II.

Scandies was a big machine and it was built and designed just to crab. Gary was a phenomenal captain. He had tremendous engineer. I knew Art [Arthur Ganacias] really well for probably 25, 30 years. And he had deck hands on there that were some of the best in the fleet.

So it’s just a mystery. And as Sig Hansen and I have been talking lately, that it lets us all know that none of us are insulated from the possibility.

The news reports that I read on it said that they felt that ice was building up on the side. And it being in the middle of the night when the weight of the ice built up it pulled it right down. Do you think that that’s what happened to it?

Wild Bill: No, there’s legalities involved. And to quote that before the Coast Guard summarizes what’s going on might be a push. It was a serious night for weather temperature or air temperature and weather and wind conditions.

So, that’s what you would lead to be led to believe. I’m kind of stammering on this because you have got to be careful with your words because of legalities anymore.

My friend was Gary, the captain. Gary and I went back, I knew him for a million years. I had my crew members…two of them had worked on the boat.

Nick was buddies with all those guys. I mean …it’s a small community to begin with, but, what was bizarre is Landon, my number two guy, he was a little disgruntled last summer about some stuff that was going on and he was going to go back to the Scandies Rose just cause he worked on it before.

So we kind of convinced him collectively convinced him to stay on our boat, but he essentially could have been on board the boat for that trip. And that was the really heartfelt moment when I had to let him know because Gary was one of his mentors in life.

I’m going to switch gears on you. Discovery gave the late Phil Harris’ son Josh, a spin off called Deadliest Catch: Bloodline. Based on the premise that he found Phil’s charts off of Hawaii, the Kona coast. I know that you like to sport fish. I didn’t know if you saw any of that and if you had an opinion about it.

Wild Bill:  Well  I’m an avid fisherman since I was a little kid and I’ve been fishing the blue water. I ran a boat out of Costa Rica for years. That was always the ultimate vacation. A lot of times we would leave Dutch Harbor. We would get to Anchorage, planning on maybe going back to Seattle, then we would throw our sea bag in the trash and buy a ticket to Hawaii.

You get to Hawaii and buy a set of flip flops, two pair of shorts and a couple of tank tops and would stay until it was time to go back on the boat for the next season.

So, being a fishermen, being a crabber, a lot of times we would charter when we got there and meet somebody that would take us fishing. I knew Phil had a love of the [Kona] fishery, but I catch a lot of grief from my buddies.

I mean, I know tournament fishermen, all around the world, and those guys [Josh and Casey], they’re lucky to catch a cold. Some of the stuff I see is just, and I’ve only watched it once or twice and not out of disrespect for them, but I mean it, honestly.

They had a Bloodline episode where Johnathan [Hillstrand] came over to help him and Jonathan’s a hell of a salmon fishermen. And I brought Johnathan, Andy and Neal [Hillstand] all down to Mexico.

There was an episode a long time ago when they came and fished one of my boats down in Mexico and we had a great time. And we all caught a bunch of fish So yes, I thought it was a little weird that I didn’t get a call to break the boys in, but you never know?  I may get an opportunity to show them the ropes a little bit and I won’t be easy on them. [laughs] If it happens,

Are you glad to see Johnathan back in the fold?

Wild Bill:  Yeah. He needed to get back on the water. You know? Johnny is like a lot of other crabbers. He doesn’t do good in the off time. That’s the hardest time for a guy like that. We live for the adrenaline. We live for the drive, the push, the success.

And when you’re home and you’re looking out the window of your house, and he’s hanging out in Seattle or Alaska. It’s probably raining. So it gets to you after a while. So I think it’s healthier for them to be back on the boat.

What do you make of a Harley Davidson and his controversial spying tactics? 

Wild Bill:  Harley and I are long, long time buddies from years and years ago. We salmon fished together probably 25 years ago. We’ve actually rolled around in the dirt a few times, in that old school, maybe one or two tequilas too many way.

We’ve kind of been beating on each other and laughing over the years. But he’s a good old school fishermen and that’s kind of old school technique that the taking a peak… it doesn’t come across well.

I don’t do it. But years ago that was a common way to prospect, so to speak, where instead of wasting time and effort and money in bait. Yeah. Kind of pull somebody’s pot and see what’s in it.

But he’s in a little bit of a precarious position with the fans because Harley’s his own man and he doesn’t care what people say, but he’s in a little hot water with the fan base. I get a lot of people asking me about it, but you really know Harley’s. He’s a, he’s a good old boy. He’s funnier than hell. He’s got a good heart.

Harley, to your point, is the trying to conserve resources so we can get his quota in and pay his guys and get on with his life. Who is not on the show that you wish were back?

Wild Bill: To answer the Harley thing. I’m really glad he’s there because now I’m not the biggest ass on the show anymore. So…

You were never the biggest ass.

Wild Bill:  Well that’s true. Keith has been there too the whole time. [laughs] Well who do I miss? Ricky [Quashnick] was a good guy with the F/V Maverick. And Mike Wilson with the F/V Kiska, but he probably is one of if not the best fishermen in Alaska.

That guy is so methodical. He s within a fraction of a fathom when he’s set in his gear. I mean, he logs every little thing. And he is ultra successful. He has the biggest quotas in Alaska. He’s like a machine. He doesn’t quit and he’s kind of a later in life mentor, as far as his production productivity and his work ethic. To me, he’s a hell of a guy. Yes.

Tell me your biggest fish story. What’s the most marvelous fish you’ve ever pulled out of the sea?

Wild Bill:  September before I was in Panama and I hooked the 500 pound Black Marlin on stand-up gear. That means there’s no chair to put the rod in.

So basically the rig is strapped to me and I released the fish, but it took a long time and we were just in an open center console, and while we were fighting the fish, this huge storm engulfed us and lightning was hitting the water around the boat as we were heading back in.

It was raining so hard. The boat was actually filling with water, so we were ending ankle deep and rainwater. It was a torrential tropical storm basically, and the hairs on my arm and my neck, my hair was starting to stand on end and I actually sat there and I thought, ‘you know what? I’ve led a pretty full life and I’ve cheated death in the Bering Sea for how many years?’

And if this is how I go, that’s the way it’s going to be.

I didn’t know that we were going to make it in alive, because lightning doesn’t play.

No, it doesn’t. It kills a lot of people that people don’t realize how dangerous it is. Are you a superstitious guy?

Wild Bill: Ehh… I think we make our own luck.

 Deadliest Catch airs Tuesdays at 8p on Discovery.

April Neale

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