Exclusive Interview: Capt. Keith Colburn Talks Loss, Rifts, And Nearly Losing F/V Wizard Ahead Of ‘Deadliest Catch’ Season 17

Keith Colburn

Captain Keith Colburn of the F/V Wizard lays it on the line for us, as season 17 of Deadliest Catch resumes on Discovery on April 20. Already the series has aired the premiere on the streaming newcomer, discovery+.

And for those impatient to be back with the Bering Sea boys once again, it’s a whole new bag. And unlike last season where the drama pitted the USA versus Russia and surviving Hagibis, a killer storm, this season it’s the fallout from CoVID-19 and the financial stressors that make the guys rethink their normal adversarial relationships.

Is it “join forces and survive” with Captain Sig Hansen orchestrating open lines of communication among the fisherman?  Or just backstab and lie over the radio this season?

Captain Keith gave us a shockingly honest reveal of his mindset of the fleets’ captains, and also spills about the recent trashing of the Wizard that nearly killed his brother Monte.

Captain Keith Colburn is in it for the long haul

And as for Captain Keith Colburn of F/V Wizard, he will still be competing with his fellow Dutch Harbor crabbers, some of them friends, others not so much.

Now that Johnathan Hillstrand is firmly back in the fleet fold and Keith’s brother Monte Colburn by his side, the drama shifts as the rift between Scott Campbell, Jr., aka “Junior” has deepened.

However, the friendship between Summer Bay captain Wild Bill Wichrowski has also strengthened. Keith talks at length about how he and Bill have a great working relationship and a natural rapport.

This season on Deadliest Catch

Captain Keith is still embittered over Captain Steve “Harley” Davidson of the Southern Wind’s shady fishing methods. Still. He does reveal that the fleet will cooperate with each other and share intel more freely, although the extent of that is the wild card he won’t lay down and reveal.

Fans love how Colburn works hard and yet is quite emotional, as he and his brother Monte mourned the loss of the F/V Scandies Rose last year, and are still gutted by the loss of their friend Captain Gary Cobban, Jr.

This season begins with a sad goodbye to fellow Deadliest Catch fisherman, Nick McGlashan. Colburn had the utmost respect for Nick and these losses weigh heavily on the Colburn brothers, and he talks about that too in TV Shows Ace exclusive interview below.

In season 17, Discovery says that “half the crab boats of the Bering Sea fleet are tied up in Seattle” while “an existential threat faces the fishermen who make the long-haul trip to Dutch Harbor, Alaska,” because they face “a potential closure of the entire fishery” for the 2021 season.

The crab survey conducted during the summer by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game didn’t happen because of C0VID-19, and that means, according to Discovery:  “The captains will be fishing blind with no charts or guidance on where to find crab on the grounds—making an already challenging season even more difficult.”

And with new old faces and bitter feuds still alive, the season promises to be very interesting.

Exclusive interview with Captain Keith Colburn

Welcome back to season 17. How do you feel about that milestone? It’s getting up there.

Capt. Keith Colburn: It is amazing. I had a hunch once the show started, it really started to take off and have some longevity, but nothing like this. It’s pretty incredible actually.

What do you make of your new home on discovery plus where people can watch all of the seasons commercial-free? How cool is that?

Capt. Keith Colburn: I think it’s really cool that you can watch a commercial-free that you can get other content that you couldn’t get in the past.

Things like After the Catch and stuff like that, then they’re going to be adding more of that to where a lot of those things wouldn’t cycle through, you wouldn’t see reruns of things like that.

So it gives you an opportunity to go back and look at the guys hanging out, shooting the breeze, just all kinds of things. And, it allows me to go back and watch episodes that you remember that you may have really loved and really touched you in some way. I think it’s really cool.

Speaking of touching, the special Hell For Heroes, sort of like an extended preview of the new season, and it was also a chance for you guys sit in a warehouse and face each other and hash over things. Talk about when Wild Bill served as mediator with you and Scott Campbell Jr. How did that resolve?

Capt. Keith Colburn: First off I’m going to plead guilty of not seeing that segment. I tuned in late. When they mentioned that it was going to be a face-to-face with Junior and with Wild Bill, I thought, well, Bill would be a good moderator for this.

My guess is this is not going to go well. I’m not sure how it turned out on TV, but my guess is it didn’t go well… because things generally don’t go too good between me and Junior.

It seemed like you had a moment where everybody was laughing about something. On the scale of one to 10, and I know how you feel about Harley Davidson…regarding Junior, is there still unresolved business with him and the Lady Alaska?

Keith Colburn
Keith hashes things with Junior as Bill moderates. Pic credit: Discovery

Capt. Keith Colburn: That’s the thing is that in the warehouse or on the beach, we’re all very civil.

We are friends still, I mean I’ve had good conversations with Junior outside of fishing that have been great and we’ve interacted before and it’s been good.

For some reason, Junior and I both ruffle each other’s feathers once we get out on the fishing grounds… and now it seems like Harley is a thorn in my side all the time too. Yeah.

There were a lot of emotions in the recent Deadliest Catch that aired. Part of it was about the loss of Nick McGlashan.. You tweeted a really poignant memory about Nick. How did that weigh on you in the beginning of the season?

Capt. Keith Colburn: It’s always difficult to lose somebody out there. Our fraternity of 200 boats is now about 60 boats. And then on [Deadliest] Catch, six or seven boats, we spent a lot more time together to get to know a lot of the crew that we normally wouldn’t know.

Nick having been a mainstay with [Wild] Bill for so long was…I mean, [he was] part of that boat and part of Bill. Nick was just a great guy, a really talented fisherman, engineer, just all around incredible kid. And it’s so unfortunate that I’ve lost a lot of friends in the Bering Sea.

You told Wild Bill you lost more friends like Gary from the Scandies Rose in the Bering Sea that you have friends left alive now…

Capt. Keith Colburn: It really feels like that at times. I’ve lost a lot of friends to the Bering Sea lifestyle… I mean, what we do is basically a COVID quarantine.

We go out to sea and we are jammed into a small place, and we are just fighting to just get through it. And then when we get to town, we cut loose, and at the end of the season, guys tend to cut loose and sometimes bigger issues arise in life. And it’s unfortunate.

I noticed in the special that they paired Sig with Hillstrand and Jake a lot, and they paired you with Wild Bill mostly. Was there a reason for that or do you and Bill just get on better and have more of a rapport?

Capt. Keith Colburn: This year they had Bill and I working a lot together, and I’m going to be honest. Bill and I do work really well together. We can carry on a conversation. It is a focused conversation, you know?

I think I even saw the one segment where Johnathan said that Sig was asking him if he trusted them or not. And John said no, and Sig was like what? John’s like, ‘Hey, half the time. I don’t even remember where my gear is on the grounds.’

And literally that is Johnathan.

I mean, he can really go A.D.D. on you. He can just go off on a tangent and and it’s wild and crazy, and it’s great to get caught up in it. It is incredibly entertaining… but at the end of the interview and when you’re trying to get to the ultimate answer… or what we’re supposed to be talking about to begin with… I think Sig does a good job of kind of reining Johnathan in a little bit.

Wild Bill and I just have a real good rapport working together. We’ve done media tours together and done extremely well, live TV and stuff like that.

Bill and I are friends and he’s a pleasure to work with. It’s a pleasure to just try and get into whatever the subject is and, and really find out what we’re thinking and what’s happened and doing that. So I hope it came off like that.

It did, yet Bill didn’t listen to you about Russia. He went over there looking for work with a camera crews. Talk about that. I mean, you must’ve been shocked when you heard that he was going to Russia?

Capt. Keith Colburn: Well, that’s why he didn’t want to talk about it because I’ve been a very strong advocate for shutting down illegal fishing coming out of Russia.

Russia has damaged our crab markets more than anything over the last 25 years and is battling back in Washington, DC for 25 years to really stop the flood of illegal King crab fishing coming in from Russia.

So to hear that Bill’s going over there and going to the enemy camp to potentially be a consultant to help them find a way to catch more crab for me is absolutely mind bogglingly stupid.

And to say that the Russians are going to clean up their act overnight? Yeah, sure! And I got some swamp land for you to, for sale if you want it.

I had no idea that he had gone to Russia.

Capt. Keith Colburn: On a side note, those guys got thrown in jail all over there, man!  They got the big shakedown. Oh yea, it wasn’t all vodka and rubles. I’ve talked to Bill about it off camera and he said it was a little hairy at times. Yeah.

Have you ever fallen asleep at the wheel?

Capt. Keith Colburn: Yes. As a captain, no.

I pride myself in that, but as a greenhorn, I fell asleep at the wheel… and on a wheel watch. Two days later, I went for an engine room check, the vessel I was on at the time had a long run through a companion way, all the way to his turn to get to the engine room.

And right when I got some engine rooms and my engineer check, I remember that I forgot the watch alarm. I sprinted back to the engine room and as I’m coming up the stairs, I’m getting there. I can hear it going off. What happens is when the watch alarm, you have about a minute and a half from the time that watch alarm goes off, and after a minute and a half in the main alarm goes off and wakes everybody up.

Literally as I was getting ready to push the button, the main alarm goes off… and the Captain was like, one more time and I will tie your hands to the wheel, and make you stand up and have you drive on manual, if you ever have that happen again.

For that reason, I think he’s scared me so much that I’ve just been diligent about making sure that I stay awake.

It is open the window, drink some coffee, stand up, walk across the wheel house, do whatever it takes, because sometimes you’re so exhausted that you’re wide awake and your eyes are open, but at the same time it’s a challenge.

With that being said, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was on Wild Bill’s boat. The guy was fighting to stay awake and drooling on himself and his head nodding, and then going over it and just barely getting back up.

You just see this guy doing everything in his power to stay awake and he can’t do it. And then Bill shows up and there’s a little slap upside. The head. It was absolutely priceless. Yeah.

You noted on Twitter that the Coast Guard came to your rescue. Was that a recent thing that happened to the Wizard when you took a hell of a wave?

Capt. Keith Colburn: It is. And unfortunately I had just gotten off the boat…it was last trip very late in the season, just recently and the camera crews had already departed.

So my brother [Monte] was out there without the camera crew, and needless to say, all of their decks would have been destroyed. Monte had a full load of gear on for the final trip of the season [and] in the tank was now 375,000 pounds, and [the wave] took a window out on the port side of a wheelhouse, [it] tore up into the ceiling, took out the battery charges. And over a foot of water came across the dash, as it took out everything from the autopilot, steering, radars, sounders, everything down, gone… Drifting around.

Now, fortunately, the SAT phone and the single sideband radio in the overhead, they were undamaged as well as GPS, VHF and stuff. So he was able to put in a distress call.

He was on the phone with me and literally was getting electrocuted as he was trying to bypass things just to get, just to get the steering, to get the rudder over.

Now, we still had power. We still had a main engine. We still had everything. We just had nothing to drive the boat with the wheelhouse. It took them about five hours to get the boat in a position to where he had steering. He had minimal autopilot capabilities and navigational capabilities in order to get the boat in.

Monte proceeded the town on a 15 and 30 minute watch with the Coast Guard, as the Cutter Stratton intercepted them, boarded them. The guys were able to get more equipment up and running and get radar working, to where we were navigationally sound. The Coast Guard gave him the blessing.

He got the boat to town with electricians on, and there is more work and then he got the boat home… and now the entire wheelhouse has been completely gutted. It’s not a remodel at this point, it is a complete disaster.

Wow. Will it be ready for next season? 

Capt. Keith Colburn: It’s gotta be ready two months. Wow. I tender salmon. And salmon is my summer season. I have a plethora of electricians, carpenters, steelworkers all attacking this project as we speak.

We can’t lose a day. We can’t lose a minute. We can’t get behind on anything.

Things have to be ordered in advance to make sure everything’s in place. We can’t be waiting on parts. So this is probably the most intense shipyard I will probably ever go through in my life right now.

I know you can’t give me spoilers, but how do you feel about the sharing of information pact that you make with all the Deadliest captains? How does that work in season 17? And did it work?

Capt. Keith Colburn: How long do you think it lasted April?

I don’t want to spoil it, but when you see the burn barrel scene and then you see my hesitancy, I think it’ll pretty much give you a good idea of how things go. Good try.

But at the end of the day, it was good to actually work together. Some of us did help each other out. I’m not gonna say who, I would say probably the most unlikely of people, there was a little bit of comradery. It did help.

And, in a small way, the guys did help each other out and band together.  At the end of the day, we are all fishermen and we are all liars. That’s just what we do.

Already streaming on discovery+, Deadliest Catch will air on April 20 on the Discovery Channel, on Tuesdays at 10 PM.
discovery+ viewers will get episodes one week early.

April Neale

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