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Catch the Deadliest Catch
The world-famous, rough-and-tumble crew of the Northwestern will be dropping anchor in Oak Harbor Friday, May 29.
Oak Harbor resident Vinton Waldron, who fishes for salmon in Alaska, and his wife Charisse are hosting a special event at his family’s seafood market, Seabolt’s Smokehouse, to celebrate the ancient profession.
The special guests will be the salty sailors of the Northwestern, a crab fishing boat from the hit documentary TV series, “Deadliest Catch.” Waldron knows Nick Mavar, a longtime deckhand on the crab boat Northwestern, from when they fished salmon for the same cannery in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Waldron has been in the cabin of the Northwestern several times when the boat served as a tender during the salmon season, bringing boatloads of fish to the cannery.
“It’s real competitive fishing. Real tough fishing,” Waldron said.
Waldron said he expects that a whole lot of people on Whidbey will want to meet the three Hansen brothers who own the Northwestern — Sig, Edgar and Norman — as well as the deckhands.
“I heard they are just hilarious when they are all together,” he said. “It’s just amazing how famous they’ve become.”
So the Waldrons decided to limit the number of people who attend by selling a total of 250 tickets for $5 each. They go on sale Thursday, May 14, after 2 p.m.
The event will feature a Bristol Bay sockeye salmon barbecue, fishing-related music and T-shirts for sale under a big tent. A number of local fishermen will also attend to tell their fish stories.
“There’s a lot of local guys who fish in Alaska and crab in Alaska,” Waldron said. “I don’t think people realize it.”
“Deadliest Catch” chronicles the trials and tribulations of crews aboard crab fishing boats in the Bering Sea. It’s called “Deadliest Catch” because of the high risk of injury or death.
But Waldron said a show could just as easily be made about salmon fishing in Bristol Bay. Salmon fishermen face many of the same difficulties and hard work as their crabbing counterparts.
While the 125-foot crabbing boats contend with 30 to 40-foot seas, Waldron pointed out, the 32-foot salmon boats regularly deal with 15-foot waves.
“Worst we’ve been in was 25-foot seas in a 32-foot boat,” he said. “I was sitting on my survival suit.”
Waldron and his crew, which often included his children in past years, work endless hours and confront soggy danger on his boat, the Believer, to bring home the tasty fish that sits behind the glass at the Oak Harbor business.
Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists commercial fishing as the top one or two most dangerous jobs. According to Waldron, an average of two people are killed each year in Bristol Bay during the six-week season.
The Waldron clan have had close calls. His two sons, Jason and Ren, have both gone overboard; one had his foot stuck in a net. His daughter, Challon, almost struck a sandbar when she was at the helm and a large wave hit. Fortunately, everything turned out OK.
“We’ve been real lucky so far,” Waldron said.
It’s the kind of work that tests a person’s perseverance and endurance. The sheer pace of the fishing means that everyone works almost constantly during the season.
“With no sleep, you make bad decisions,” Waldron said. “Most of the public doesn’t know what true sleep depravation is all about.”
Waldron said he’s been so tired that he talked into a Coke can instead of the radio. A crew member kept putting Neosporin on his toothbrush. Waldron even delivered salmon to the wrong boat.
Waldron taught former Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon to salmon fish. But on his first time out by himself, Almon was shaken up by the 45 mph winds and a near-miss with a sandbar. He quit and put his boat up for sale.
But fishing is in Waldron’s blood. He started crabbing around Whidbey, pulling pots by hand, when he was just 8 years old. His son, Ren, has his own fishing operation in Alaska. And his daughter proved that fishing isn’t just for boys.
“My little girl, she’s 100 pounds soaking wet, but she was one tough crewman,” Waldron said.