Alaska fisherman from Coupeville isn’t sure where reality TV journey will take him but he’s enjoying ride

Gavin Keohane jokes around while sitting atop his boat, the Kaliber, during a recent visit back home to Whidbey Island.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Gavin Keohane jokes around while sitting atop his boat, the Kaliber, during a recent visit back home to Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

It’s two minutes past the hour and Gavin Keohane is late for breakfast.

Suddenly, a tall figure walks into the dimly lit Tyee Restaurant in Coupeville. It’s Keohane, wearing a familiar smile, light scruff on his face and his trademark black knit cap on his head.

“It’s been a while since I’ve eaten at the Tyee,” Keohane says as he takes a seat. “I ate here in high school all the time.

“It’s a bellwether in this town.”

Keohane ditches the cap, revealing his youthful looks and a stylish full head of hair. With the cap and the whiskers, he resembles more the part of a young boat captain in Alaska. Without the cap, he looks more like Matt Damon.

Suddenly, you begin to better understand why this 32-year-old from Coupeville was chosen for a reality television series. When he starts to talk, revealing a wisdom beyond his years, you understand even more.

“It happened rather quickly,” Keohane said.

Keohane answered a casting call last summer and landed a part on the reality fishing series, Alaska Fish Wars, which recently aired on National Geographic’s Wild channel.

He is one of three boat captains featured on the show as they fish for salmon during a tight timeline in Cook Inlet. Keohane is by far the youngest of the skippers and is depicted as a rookie captain who gets tangled in “rookie” mistakes.

Keohane doesn’t get through too many bites of his “Country Scramble” at the Tyee before you begin to realize that not everything on reality TV reflects, uh … reality.

In years, he’s a kid out there on the Alaskan seas compared to the two elder captains on the show. But in expertise and knowledge, Keohane is a third generation Alaska commercial salmon fisherman who’s been captaining his own vessel, the North Crow, since 2003 and has been aboard his parents’ commercial fishing boats since as far back as he can remember.

“The story is I learned to crawl on a boat,” Keohane said. “I’ve never spent a summer anywhere else.”

Keohane (pronounced Ko-hane) is most at home near saltwater, whether he returns to his roots at his parents’ property on Whidbey Island or in Kenai, Alaska, where he lives in a converted barn he calls “fish camp” during the sockeye salmon season.

He learned the fishing trade mostly from his parents Tim and Paula Keohane, both commercial fishers, but didn’t imagine he’d take it on so passionately as an adult.

Gavin, a 1999 Coupeville High School graduate, set out anticipating a more traditional career, earning a degree in business and economics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he also was a two-year starter on the basketball team.

But eventually, the lure of fishing and the freedom that came it were too strong.

“The funny thing is, I had no desire to do it really, then I thought, financially it kind of makes sense,” Keohane said.

“I can make a little bit of money. The boat’s cheap. The permits were cheap at the time. So it’ll be a couple years and I’d probably be able to pay it off.  It was decent investment-wise as long as I wanted to do the work.

“Once I had my own control over the situation it came to a new level.”

Still, in all of his time on the water, Gavin never could have forecasted the latest adventure.

His father told him last June about an ad that appeared in a newsletter from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. There was a casting call for a young boat captain to appear in a reality TV series.

“I knew fishing was exciting,” Gavin said of the idea behind the TV show.

“It was tough to decide to take the opportunity, I guess, to at least try out, if you will. I wasn’t sure. I was like, ‘Well am I selling out?’ It’s a reality show. I’m not a huge TV fan in general, let alone reality shows. I’m not trying to go out there and be Jersey Shore or anything. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Gavin didn’t get long to decide.

The timeline was tight. He did a Skype interview, and in hours, learned that he made the cut.

“I ended up making the decision kind of on the basis of ‘Well I’ll never know, unless I try,’” Gavin said. “I would  always regret not really doing it. The reservations I had were mostly based on the prejudices I had about what it was going to be and I really had no idea what it was going to be.”

Shooting began almost immediately in June. Gavin said the crew captured footage during 10 days of the three-week fishing season, putting together three episodes for Alaska Fish Wars.

The series ran in February and will re-run this week and beyond on National Geographic’s Wild channel.

“When I talk about it, I can’t find a door big enough to walk through,” Tim joked, noting his head becomes too big.

“We’re ridiculously proud,” Paula said.

Gavin is depicted as a young captain making rookie mistakes, including sleeping in late one episode and missing a day of fishing. He smiles about how he’s portrayed.

“They keep on calling me rookie or ‘Rookie Captain Green’ and they show me doing all these mistakes,” he said.

“But I think in reality I have more and perhaps better experience than a lot of the people out there just from my situation with family and I have been fishing for a long time. So I have a role to play and I play it.”

Gavin said he was paid less than $10,000 for the series. He is intrigued by what could be in store for the future and whether it might be picked up by the National Geographic’s main channel, which would bring a much larger television audience, more money and perhaps celebrity.

He said he stays in contact with the show’s producer and is waiting to see if it will run again next year.

Gavin has been recognized a couple of times, but hasn’t experienced too much celebrity status.

“It’s flattering,” he said. “But it’s not really too much different.”


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