Though crowds were thick at the Maine Fishermen's Forum last weekend, in some places they formed an extra tight knot. Chances are that within that cluster you'd find a familiar face. Keith Colburn, captain of the Wizard and star of the reality TV show "Deadliest Catch," was in town.
The story of how he came to be in Maine is interesting in itself. Colburn is an avid cyclist. After a 60-mile trek from Bangor to Port Clyde one day last summer, he was wiped out, but he accepted an invitation for a drink. Inside the bar, forum organizer and fisherman Gerry Cushman recognized Colburn despite spandex and a setting completely out of context for the Alaskan crabber. "Oh my god. I've seen everything now," were Cushman's words according to Colburn.
The recognition led to another invitation, and Colburn spent the night in Cushman's fish house — which is actually an art studio for Cushman's wife. One kindness led to another and Colburn returned to Maine (when the weather isn't quite so nice) to attend the forum in Rockland as a guest speaker. He was nice enough to stop by the National Fisherman booth for a quick interview (and dropped off the signed photo of the Wizard above).
NF: How's this year going for you?
KC: Things are going well for us this year. We're down in red crab, up in opies. There's a 25 percent reduction in opie TAC so that made things a little difficult for us. It's fishing, and it's going to be cyclical.
NF: How's your experience of being on the show?
KC: I've been on the show eight years. I get accosted when I go places. I think it's been totally positive. When the government shut down last fall [Alaska] Sen. [Mark] Begich called me and said, 'Can you guys come down and testify?' [The shutdown delayed the crab season meaning the potential loss of lucrative holiday markets].
NF: What do you think of all the tough guy reality dramas that have followed "Deadliest Catch"?
KC: When it came out it wasn't reality TV. It was a documentary on crab fishing. Crab fishing's not fixed staged or scripted. They [meaning other reality shows] don't deal with 30 foot waves, they don't deal with conditions like this [at this point Colburn shows a photo of a massive chunk of ice that was chipped off the mast — but he wasn't able to share it because the episode hasn't aired] that you can't script. The difference between Deadliest Catch and other shows, you can't make this crap up, what happens to us.
I think the shows are great, if you're documenting what guys do. They come on board and they're not after reality. They're after what's going to sell potato chips.
NF: Why did you decide to do the show in the first place?
KC: I initially wanted to do the show because I had no photographic history of myself as a fisherman. I wanted to chronicle what I did for my kids.
NF: Are you paid?
KC: Are you crazy? You think I wouldn't do it if I wasn't paid? Fishermen's egos end at the dock.
NF: How's your experience been meeting fishermen around the country?
KC: It's positive. Fishermen watch the show. They love it.
Colburn further explained that the real drama of fishing is not some petty argument between crew members, but a mechanical problem. Cameras can't convey that type of drama to a broad audience, but fishermen get it.