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Dall Sheep Poacher Heading To Jail

One of the Dall sheep the poacher was convicted of shooting. (ALASKA STATE TROOPERS VIA KTUU)

One of the Dall sheep the poacher was convicted of shooting. (ALASKA STATE TROOPERS VIA KTUU)

A Palmer man will serve 10 days in jail and pay a hefty fine stemming from a 2015 Dall sheep poaching incident, according to KTUU TV in Anchorage, which provided some details of the crime:

After an investigation by Alaska Wildlife Troopers and the Office of Special Prosecutions in the attorney general’s office, James Randall Wyatt pleaded to wanton waste, taking a sublegal sheep, illegal possession, and attempted evidence tampering, according to troopers.

The poaching took place in late August of 2015. A man reported that he and a hunting partner saw another man, later identified as Wyatt, shoot two sheep. The witness later saw Wyatt leaving the area without any animal. It was clear to the witness that the sheep had not been harvested. The killing occurred in a drainage 20 miles back on the east fork of King River. …

 

“This was one of the most egregious cases I have worked on in almost twenty years and it might never have happened if it weren’t for ethical hunters coming forward to help,” said Trooper John Cyr, a wildlife trooper that worked the case. “They not only reported the kills but provided valuable information which proved critical in identifying the person responsible. Poaching hurts animal populations as well as puts ethical hunters, who put in time and dedication to follow the hunting regulations, at a disadvantage.”

The station reports that Wyatt’s jail sentence included 2 1/2 years suspended, and his fine of $17,200 also carried $35,000 suspended. But he could be on the hook for both if he commits any jailable offense in general or fish and game offense covering the next five years.

 

 

 

 

 

By Land Or Sea?

Traveling Alaska 5 Traveling Alaska 3

 

The following appears in the June issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

 

BY PAUL D. ATKINS 

It was an epic hunt, but like all epic hunts it was a challenge. The big moose, plus two enormous caribou sat in game bags under a tarp a mile or so upriver.

It was a long way from our camp, but also the only place where a pick-up by plane looked remotely possible. So with our cache secured, we constructed a makeshift gravel runway running adjacent to the river. I was pretty proud of it, even if it was only 300 feet at its longest point and rough in spots.

Our pilot had instructed us over the satellite phone that morning to build it, making sure it was clear of stumps, driftwood and any big rocks that would prevent a landing. Our hopes were for a pick-up later that afternoon. The only thing we couldn’t seem to clear out was the rain, which somehow seemed to be coming down harder and harder, even if there wasn’t much in terms of clouds or overcast.

As usual, it was hurry up and wait until finally our transporter was spotted in the distance, then landed with a soft thud on the gravel tarmac we’d built.

Thirty minutes later the Cessna 180 was filled with people, gear and a good part of a 65-inch moose.

A second plane was waiting in the wings, as it were, ready to land to pick up the remaining meat and passengers. To say we were heavy was an understatement, but it was manageable, and getting airborne wouldn’t be a problem.

I had complete faith in my transporter, with whom I had been involved in some pretty tricky situations before but who made close calls look easy as only great Alaskan pilots can do.

It was only as we approached the end of the agravel bar with our wheels still on the ground that I began to worry …

Traveling Alaska 1

 

I’VE HAD MANY EXPERIENCES like the one above – the list seems endless, actually – and each has provided its own excitement. After living and hunting in Alaska for the last 20 years, each adventure has afforded a close call or two, and a few that weren’t so close. Most of them have been either by boat or plane, with a few on snowmachine.

Over the years people have asked me whether I prefer traveling by boat or airplane best, and to tell the truth, both have their benefits. Most people who come to the Arctic to hunt or fish or to Alaska in general usually have only one choice. Sometimes you can combine the two, but it’s rare. For most of us, it depends on several factors and greatly depends on the circumstances and your quarry.

When I first arrived here I had few friends and not many choices in hunting partners. I had no boat and knew absolutely nothing about transporters, planes or gear needed for such excursions. So I attached myself to several locals who had boats and asked them if I could just go along for the ride.

This worked – as did I, helping them with everything from building camp and hauling water to skinning and packing meat to earn my keep. Before long these arrangements became friendships and I was hunting right alongside them.

Boat hunting was my first introduction to the Last Frontier and for me it was about as great as it got. I didn’t know better, as I had never been “flown out” to hunt, so it was all new and fun, and at the time basically all that I knew.

There are many advantages to being on a boat come September, the biggest being able to move when needed or when things are a bit slow at camp. If you’re not getting the action you need to fill the freezer or find the trophy you’re looking for, just jump in, fire up the outboard and head in a new direction. This is a great way to see a lot of country, check out new locations and areas where the animals can usually be found.

Another big advantage is that you can load up the boat and head out on any weekend and in some cases during the week. Gas prices have a lot to do with this, and if times are cheap, it can add up to a lot of great trips spread out over a couple of months in the fall. It also provides for a great family experience, especially if you want to take along the kids for a weekend outing. This is pretty common here in the Arctic and a great way to introduce youngsters to hunting and fishing. A boat experience is something they’ll never forget and for many it’s the only way for them to help in taking an animal or two.

Lastly, you can hunt by boat the same day you’re traveling in one, whereas when you fly, you have to wait until the next day. If you’re boating and locate a caribou or see a moose, for example, you can plan a stalk and make your move within minutes. There have been many times when we’ve cruised upriver after work, found accessible game and been back that same evening with fresh meat.

Even though boating sounds like a pretty safe bet, it does have its disadvantages and doesn’t come without dangers. I’ve been on a boat voyages that turned from seemingly simple outings to downright scary in a matter of minutes – getting stuck on a sandbar for a couple of days and crossing a lake that should have never been crossed to start with are a couple that stick out in my mind.

Most people who get into trouble on boats take risks that they shouldn’t have, and they usually end up paying for it one way or another. Boating is dangerous enough that if you’re not prepared, bad things will happen.

On one of my first boat experiences I was with friends and we had been hunting caribou all day across the infamous Kobuk Lake, which is 30 miles wide and 75 miles long. The Kobuk is a shallow piece of water that whips up when there is any kind of wind. It was Sunday night and we were heading back to be at work on Monday. The open boat was comfortable and the first 10 miles across were easy enough, but then a westerly wind picked up and our ride became a trip from hell. Eight-foot swells pounded us and before long we were soaked. The bottom of the boat was full of water. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least, and we were frozen to the bone.

We turned around and haphazardly made our way back to the mouth of a river, where we built a fire and spent the night. The next day was clear and calm, which allowed us to make our way across easily. Many who push it don’t, but thankfully we survived.

 

Traveling Alaska 4

 

AS FOR BOARDING A small plane and flying out for a hunting or fishing trip, it can be as exciting as it gets. Loading your gear and climbing into a bush plane knowing that an incredible adventure to a remote part of Alaska awaits is the ultimate for some; I know it is for me.

Being able to see country from above and taking in the mountains and tundra from a new viewpoint becomes more like a dream than reality. It’s an experience that you will never forget and will jog your memory for years to come.

Booking a fly-out for a drop-camp hunt or a float trip should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are just too many advantages not to. I believe the biggest is that you can fly into places that you can’t get to with a boat. If the animals aren’t cruising the rivers or migrating in places where they’re boat-accessible, then you’ll have to go to them. Places where they can be found sometimes occur inland and getting there can only be done by plane. Most of the good transporters can land a
Super Cub or 180 just about anywhere, and they know the places where game will be congregating too.

I’ve flown out many times over the years and each experience has been different. Some years we keep close to town and the rides are short, while other trips have found me sitting in the back of a Cessna wondering if we were ever going to land. Each, however, was an adventure that in most cases put us where we needed to be – around animals and/or fish.

One of the big pluses that flying offers is the sense of remoteness and solitude that outdoorsmen love. Being in new country with a rifle or bow in hand with zero camps, zero sound and zero people to disturb us is something that is truly desirable, especially if you have miles and miles of tundra to yourself.

Traveling Alaska 2
JUST LIKE BOAT HUNTING, there are disadvantages to riding on planes, with cost being one of the biggest. Over the years I’ve seen the price of flying increase rapidly. The high price of fuel, maintenance and insurance are among the main culprits, but demand has also played a big part of the increase.

Back in the old days, a trip up north to hunt moose, chase caribou or maybe look for a bear cost roughly $300 to $400 per person. It was fun and it was cheap; if you were a local you could do it a couple times each fall. If we were in luck and we took a couple of animals, then it might cost more on the return, but not much – not like today.

These days it’s a minimum $2,000 anywhere, and can double if a second flight is needed to haul out meat and extra gear. Drop camps are a lot of fun, but fun costs money.

Another disadvantage of flying is weather. Yes, it can affect boat hunting too, but even more so when going airborne. Weather is always an issue in Alaska, especially in September. Rain is a guarantee at some point, and it will be accompanied by dark clouds and limited visibility.

This can keep hunters in camp for days, wondering if the transporter has forgot them or not. Good pilots don’t take chances, no matter the cost, and in time they will usually show up.

If you’re flying instead of boating, you might be limited in your ability to move. Landing strips or gravel bars can sometimes be hard to find. Hunters who land in an area are limited to the amount of country they can cover or see.

Animals have to be in the area or at least coming through, if success is your goal. If not, then it becomes an expensive camping trip. But there are ways to solve this. One is to take a raft or skiff of some kind along. This enables hunters to float downriver (or up, if they so choose), allowing them to move or at least see what is around the next corner.

Another method is to call the transporter and have them fly back and move you. This can get expensive, as another fly-out will be required, adding to your bill. The meat issue also has to be considered when flying. Since most hunts are usually five to 10 days in length, harvesting animals early in a hunt, especially in warm weather, can be disastrous. Warm temperatures play havoc on meat; if you kill too early, you risk losing some if not all of your game.

You hear so many stories about plane crashes in Alaska that you have to wonder about it. I’ve been involved in some close calls: Once, the engine quit and we had to make an emergency crash landing on a gravel bar; another time we landed in a spot that I didn’t think was long enough, only to stop abruptly on the edge. There have been more, but in each case I was with experienced pilots, and lucky for me they are considered some of the best in the business.

Most Alaskans have a boat of some kind and prefer to use it versus booking flights. I’ve done both and can honestly say I do not have a favorite and like them both.

The experience of seeing new country from the air is breathtaking, but being able to navigate a river all day in search of game is about as good as it gets. Whichever you choose, make sure to do your research long before you book a flight or buy a boat. Not all transporters and not all boats are created equal.

 

Traveling Alaska 6

AS THE END OF OUR HANDMADE runway on the gravel bar came into view, my pilot, Matt, pulled the 180 up and we were off. I remember the tundra tires were still wet from river as they passed through the willows on the other side. White-eyed and grinning, Matt looked back at me and mouthed the word “close.”

I sighed with relief as we headed back to Kotzebue with our lives intact. It had been an incredible trip, I thought to myself, but next time I’ll take the boat. ASJ

Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He has written hundreds of articles on hunting big game, fishing and surviving in the Alaskan Arctic. Paul is a monthly contributor in Alaska Sporting Journal.

 

Indoesian National Killed In Kodiak Lodge Fire

An overhead look at the fire on Kodkak Island last week that killed an Idonesian tourist. (PHOTO BY U.S. COAST GUARD)

A fire at a Kodiak Island fishing lodge killed an Indonesian tourist and injured three others. The Alaska Dispatch News has more information:

Silvana Sutanto, 59, of Indonesia, died June 2 in a fire at the Spirit of Alaska Wilderness Adventures Lodge on the western side of the island near the village of Larsen Bay. The lodge is in the historic Parks Cannery facility.

According to a trooper dispatch posted Tuesday, four guests were sleeping in a lodge cabin when the fire broke out.

Troopers wrote that two of the guests — Shaun Gozali, 30, of Indonesia and Taeri Kim, 33, of South Korea — escaped through a window. Danielle Gozali, 22, also of Indonesia, was pulled out of the burning structure by the lodge owner.

Here’s the Alaska State Troopers updated report on the tragedy:

On 6/2/2016 at approximately 2230 hours, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, and a State Fire Marshal arrived at the scene of the structure fire in Uyak Bay near the village of Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island. Because of poor weather conditions in the area, Troopers utilized the Alaska Wildlife Trooper patrol vessel, Cama’i to get to the scene. The “Parks Cannery” is operated as the Spirit of Alaska Wilderness Adventures Lodge. Investigation revealed that the fire had started in the main guest cabin. Four guests of the Lodge were sleeping in the cabin when the fire broke out. Shaun Gozali, a 30 year old Indonesian National, and Taeri Kim, a 33 year old South Korean Nation, were able to escape through a window. Danielle Gozali, a 22 year old Indonesian National, was pulled out of the burning structure by the owner of the lodge. The fourth member of the party, Silvana Sutanto, a 59 year old Indonesian National, perished in the fire. The three survivors were transported to the Kodiak hospital for treatment of their injuries by a United States Coast Guard helicopter early that morning. Shaun Gozali and Danielle Gozali were then flown to Seattle for further treatment. Taeri Kim was treated at the Hospital in Kodiak. The Indonesian and Korean Consulate were contacted and notified of the incident. Next of kin for the deceased were notified. Investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.

The Dispatch News reported the trip was being documented on social media:

My beautiful assistant. ? #Alaska #kodiak

A photo posted by Silvana Sutanto Photography (@silsutantophoto) on

Dall Sheep spotted @ Brooks Range region Alaska. #brooksrange #alaska

A photo posted by Silvana Sutanto Photography (@silsutantophoto) on

Beautiful Brooks Range Alaska during #sunset #alaska #brooksrange

A photo posted by Silvana Sutanto Photography (@silsutantophoto) on

Heartfelt condolences to the famiilies of the victims.

Changes For GMU 22 Caribou Hunters

Photo by Paul D. Atkins

Photo by Paul D. Atkins

The following press release is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

– Alaska residents who hunt in Game Management Unit 22 are reminded that new caribou hunting regulations go into effect next month. Beginning July 1, 2016, the new regulations incorporate several significant changes including a requirement that residents hunting caribou in GMU 22 possess a registration hunting permit. Permits for registration caribou hunt RC800 will be available beginning June 15, and may be obtained online, in person at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Nome, or from license vendors within Unit 22.

The RC800 permit hunt is part of a new regulations package for GMU 22 adopted by the Alaska Board of Game in March. The new regulations, which apply to Alaska resident hunters only, also eliminate a bull harvest closure instituted in 2015, establish an annual bag limit of 20 caribou (five caribou per day, calves may not be taken), and require RC800 permit holders to submit hunt reports within 15 days of taking the legal bag limit or within 15 days of the close of the season.

No changes have been made to GMU 22 nonresident caribou hunting seasons or bag limits. Nonresident caribou hunters are required to have in possession a valid Alaska big-game hunting license, metal locking tag, and general season harvest ticket. The new regulations were adopted by the board in response to suggestions from local advisory committees and are intended to better suit local harvest patterns and to include a regulatory framework needed to monitor caribou harvest and reduce the overall harvest in GMU 22 if necessary for the conservation of the herd.

The Western Arctic caribou herd has a history of rapid fluctuations which can result from variations in weather, habitat, disease, predation and other factors. In 1970 the herd numbered about 242,000 caribou, declining to about 75,000 by 1976. From 1976 to 2003 it grew, peaking at 490,000 caribou. The herd subsequently declined to 325,000 in 2011 and to 235,000 in 2013. Current metrics suggest the herd is declining at a much reduced rate or even stabilizing.

The herd is currently estimated at approximately 206,000 animals based on population models that incorporate recent information. A survey to estimate the population size is scheduled for the summer of 2016.

In 2015, regulations implemented to incrementally reduce harvest were made in accordance with recommendations from the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Management Plan and the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group. This included the establishment of a bull harvest closure, lengthening an existing cow harvest closure, prohibiting the harvest of calves, and eliminating a same-day airborne exception in GMU 22.

Under the new regulations beginning July 1, GMU 22 caribou hunt areas and Alaska resident hunting season dates are as follows: • Unit 22A, north of Golsovia River drainage; remainder of 22B; 22D, in the Kuzitirin River drainage (excluding the Pilgrim River drainage) and the Agiapuk River drainages; and 22E, east of and including Sanaguich River drainage: o Bulls, July 1 – June 30; o Cows, July 1 – March 31. • Unit 22B, west of Golovnin Bay, west of the west banks of Fish and Niukluk rivers below the Libby River, and excluding the Niukluk River drainage above, and including the Libby River drainage; 22D, Pilgrim River drainage: o Bulls, October 1 – April 30; o Cows, October 1 – March 31. • Remainder of 22A, 22C, remainder of 22D, and remainder of 22E: o Seasons and bag limits may be announced based on caribou and reindeer distribution.

Kenai Opens To Catch-And-Release For Kings

Well, it’s better than nothing, right? The Kenai River’s king salmon season, which was delayed until at least June 30, will  have an opening day on Saturday. But there’s a catch (and a release), as the Peninsula Clarion reports:

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order Friday that opens the Kenai River downstream from the outlet of Skilak Lake to catch-and-release only king salmon fishing. Unless altered by emergency order, the river will be open for king salmon fishing through June 30.

The early-run king salmon run has shown strong returns to the Kenai River so far this year, area management biologist Robert Begich wrote in the emergency order. As of June 1, 2,375 king salmon had passed the sonar in the Kenai River, according to Fish and Game’s sonar counts.

Anglers cannot retain king salmon of any size and can only use one unbaited, barbless, single-hook, artificial fly or lure. Fishing gear is limited to barbless hooks when fishing is catch-and-release only in the Kenai River King Salmon Management Plan.

That doesn’t mean that everywhere on the lower river is open to king fishing, though — there are still certain waters that are closed by regulation. For example, there is a total fishing closure in effect between the outlet of Skilak Lake and the mouth of the Lower Killey River, which will be closed until June 11 to protect spawning rainbow trout, said assistant area management biologist Jason Pawluk.

There are also closures to king salmon fishing at the confluence areas of the Funny and Killey rivers and Slikok Creek, as well as closures to all fishing from boats. The Moose River confluence is closed to all fishing from boats, as is the Soldotna Centennial Campground boat launch lagoon and Morgan’s Hole.

Take what you can get.

Father, Son Drown In Fishing Accident

Glacier Bay National Park was the scene of a fishing accident that took the lives of a father and son. (DAVID BARON/WIKIMEDIA)

Glacier Bay National Park was the scene of a fishing accident that took the lives of a father and son. (DAVID BARON/WIKIMEDIA)

Sad report out of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska, where a small fishing boat capsized, resulting in the drownings of a father and son.

Here’s the Alaska Dispatch News with more:

Park spokesperson Tom VandenBerg said Alaska State Troopers were notifying the families of the deceased Tuesday. According to VandenBerg, the Invader, a small aluminum fishing vessel, abruptly capsized in Glacier Bay between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday.

“There was no mayday call or anything,” VandenBerg said. “It happened pretty quickly, and then they were in the water and nobody saw them.”

Jim Kearns, operator of the local charter Fairweather Adventures, helped rescue three of the boaters. The survivors told him they’d been fishing. One of the boaters was investigating a slow leak in the boat when everyone moved to one side to catch a glimpse of a freshly caught fish, Kearns said. He was told that’s when the boat capsized; no one onboard could reach a radio in time.

A statement from VandenBerg said word of the sinking near Strawberry Island, about 10 miles from Bartlett Cove and park headquarters, came in from other crews in the area after one of the survivors made it to shore.

The Associated Press, via the Juneau Empire, released the names of the men who died:

Tom VandenBerg, chief of interpretation for the park, listed the men who died as Larry Roger McWilliams, 75, and Gary Roger McWilliams, 48. Their hometowns were not immediately available. The elder McWilliams carried an Oregon driver’s license, and the younger man was from California, Vandenberg said.

The boat was privately owned, VandenBerg said. He did not know the owner.

The cause of the capsizing also was a mystery. The weather was clear and calm in the area where the boat was fishing.

The boat was near shore on the back side of an island, away from a main channel. One person managed to swim to shore and flag down a passing boat, VandenBerg said.

“That was the only way they were seen,” he said.

Condolences to the families of the victims and to those who survived the ordeal. .

Remembering Our Fallen Heroes

 

 

Happy Memorial Day. It’s a big sports holiday for me – my hockey team opens the Stanley Cup Final and my basketball team rallied to get to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals – but I’ll take some time to reflect about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

On a lazy, rainy Sunday yesterday I watched too awesome movies that reflect what this holiday is all about, Glory and The Best Years Of Our Lives.  

That above video clip from Glory gets me every time and turns me into a glassy-eyed mess.

And the The Best Years Of Our Lives always sucks me into watch and tear up multiple times.

Enjoy your day off and if you’re a Penguins puckhead or OKC Thunder supporter best of luck to your teams. Just don’t forget while we’re celebrating today.

Is This Bear A New Record?

Photo by Chris Stewart

Photo by Chris Stewart

 

Our correspondent Scott Haugen filed this report for Outdoor Life on what could be a record-setting brown bear.

Here’s Scott with more:

Friday the 13th. If you’re superstitious, you likely wouldn’t spend that day perched atop the tundra in Alaska, bowhunting brown bear.

But that’s exactly where Chris Stewart was on May 13, 2016. Stewart has always dreamed of taking a brown bear with his bow. This would be his second brown bear hunt, and he hired Bruce Hallingstad, owner of Becharof Lodge in Egegik, Alaska—a place known for big bears.

“It was day four of my 10-day hunt, and my guide Carl Adams and I sat overlooking miles of tundra,” Stewart recounts. “At 6:30 p.m., Adams spotted a wolf in the distance. It was raiding duck and gull nests, but moving our direction. Soon, the wolf closed from 800 to 350 yards. That’s when I let him have it with my 7mm Ultra Mag.” ….

 The bear’s hide squared over 10 feet, 6 inches, and the skull green-scored 29 8/16 inches. Thecurrent Pope & Young world record brown bear stands at 29 3/16 inches. Could Chris Stewart’s brown bear be the new archery world record? We’ll know in mid-July, after the 60-day drying period.

“I didn’t care how big the bear was,” Stewart says, smiling. “The amazing thing is, in bowhunting, when one little thing goes wrong, the hunt is over. But on this hunt, every single aspect played out perfectly, making this Friday the 13th one I’ll never forget.”

 

Congrats to Chris no matter what the bear gets classified as.

 

 

Size Matters For Smallish Salmon Numbers

Good read in the Alaska Dispatch News, as the Copper River’s sockeye season last week started with kind of a thud:

The first opener produced a catch of 25,000 sockeye and about 1,500 kings.

“It was pretty slow to start. Small fish, not too many of them,” said Kelsey Appleton with Cordova District Fishermen United.

Weights recorded on several hundred samples after the 12-hour fishery showed sockeyes averaging just 4.2 pounds, 15 percent smaller than last year when fish size was the smallest in 50 years. Sockeye salmon normally average 6 pounds.

“It’s bad for our economy and bad for our fishermen,” said Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center. “It’s not necessarily bad for our fish.

“It’s just been astoundingly warm in the entire North Pacific for two or three years now, and for most cold-blooded things like salmon or plankton, in warmer conditions they tend to reach a smaller final body size,” he said.

Of course, the biggest fish story of the week was the price for the first fish — a whopping $6.50 a pound for sockeyes and $9.50 for kings. That compares to starting prices last year of $5.15 and $6.50, respectively.
Those dollar numbers should provide some hope for fishermen as projections are for a much smaller run of fish this season.

A Rookie Skipper Takes On The Bering Sea

 

Captain Sean Dwyer and the crew of the Brenna A.

Capt. Sean Dwyer and the crew of the Brenna A.

The following interview appears in the May issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

BY CHRIS COCOLES  

It was a classic mentor/rookie moment for Sean Dwyer.

In the dangerous world of commercial crab fishing off the coast of Alaska, Dwyer’s debut as a fishing vessel skipper couldn’t have been more pressure-packed. The cameras of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch followed Dwyer’s boat, the Brenna A, during his maiden voyage as a captain. If that wasn’t enough of a welcome-to-crabbing moment, his mentor on this journey was venerable and wonderfully gruff Sig Hansen, who set a 290,000-pound bairdi crab benchmark for the 24-year-old Dwyer to reach during this 12th season of the popular series.

“One of the pieces of advice that Sig gave me is, you’re only as good as your last season,” says Dwyer, who was at even more of a disadvantage given that he didn’t have a last season to measure himself against. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next season. You just can’t predict it. I’d like to think that when I stop learning about crab fishing is when I’ll stop crab fishing.”

But once a fisherman, always a fisherman. It’s the kind of career Dwyer was destined to fulfill from the start. Sean’s dad Pat Dwyer was one of the most respected commercial captains along the Pacific Northwest coast, and Sean tagged along from the beginning, soaking up the lifestyle and dreaming of a similar career path. Fate intervened along the way, but this was meant to be a family business from the start.

Pat Dwyer passed away at age 52 on June 4, 2013 after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Before that, Pat’s dream of his son following in his footsteps became reality when he purchased a new fishing vessel, theBrenna A, which became the younger Dwyer’s home-away-from-home on Bering Sea.

Dwyer, who grew up in and still calls the Seattle area his home base, says he spends at least eight months out of the year plying his trade in Alaska. We chatted with Sean about his father, life at sea and just how difficult the crabbing game can be for both the young and young and heart.

Chris Cocoles So what was the experience like for you – captaining your own fishing vessel and having all of it captured on camera?

Sean Dwyer I don’t know if it was a good year, but it was what I wanted to do. It’s definitely a challenge to do it on TV and being a new captain at the same time. But I think I do better under pressure, so why not bring it on all at once? It was a good opportunity, and whatever it entailed I just couldn’t pass it up. The TV thing wasn’t top priority, but it’s pretty fun. And what I really appreciate is that Discovery and Original Productions have done a really good job of keeping it real. It’s been a lot of fun.

Sean and his late father, Pat Dwyer.

Sean and his late father, Pat Dwyer.

 

CC With your background in this industry, were you preordained to do this too?

SD It’s almost been my passion and dream. I followed my dad around when I was a little kid and I started salmon fishing when I was young, like 12 years old. Once I actually got my feet on the boat and I started working, I knew that’s all I wanted to do – much to my mother’s dismay, initially. Because it was my passion, I’m really fortunate that I was able to share that with my dad because in that, he taught me a lot of valuable information that I used going forward.

CC Can you share one of your early experiences on your dad’s boat?

SD It was during the summer and we used to go out on Jennifer A, which was named after my mom [his current boat, theBrenna A, pays homage to Dwyer’s sister of the same name]. We used to go out on the Jennifer A for two to three weeks at a time. I remember being in Southeast Alaska and there were icebergs and whales; I was just a kid running around in my life jacket watching the big guys work. It was awesome to see the big-boy stuff: the machinery, fish flying around. I think I was probably like 5 or 6 years old. It just stuck with me ever since.

CC What kind of impact did your dad have on you? And it had to be such an emotional time for the family when he was sick and bought the Brenna A.

SD It was a huge impact. He bought that boat after he was diagnosed. It was one of those things where my dad would buy equipment, machinery, 4X4s – whatever – without telling my mom and just show up with them. It got to the point where, once she heard a big truck outside the window, she just hoped it was the garbage man and not my dad showing up with a new piece of equipment. But he kind of did the same thing with the Brenna A. He always wanted to have two boats and he figured no better time than the present. The one thing we all learned through my dad’s dealings with ALS is that time is really valuable. If you want something and have a passion, you should just follow it. And that’s what he did; he just went out and bought another boat.

CC When he passed away was it in your and your family’s mind to be able to carry on his legacy with the new boat?

SD I definitely did. For me, I’ve watched my dad go through that whole thing, and he was always a hands-on guy. And for him to be sitting in his wheelchair for the last four years of his life, not being able to go down to the boat every day and work, it was tough. What he did was teach me to be his hands. I would go down there and take pictures and send them to him midway through the day. And he’d call me and say, “Hey, you need to do this, or, This is in the wrong spot.” We did that for awhile and he taught me a ton that way. And because of the unfortunate later stages of ALS, I think, for me personally, I was relieved when he finally did pass because he just wasn’t happy. He was frustrated but he held his ground until the end. He passed in June and in May I was with one of the boats in the shipyard. And he was still telling me I was spending too much money on paint and I needed to do this and that. Right after that he finally said, “OK, you’re good.” And after that, he passed away.

CC Is there a lot of solace for you in that you’re able to do what he spent his life doing?

SD Definitely. He was proud – he is proud. And it’s pretty cool. Obviously, it’s not a job that everyone can do; and it’s not a job that everyone loves. A lot of people go up there and their heads are not in the game. The thing about it is, you can be the biggest, the strongest and toughest you guy you want. But if your head’s not there, you’re not going to make it. And I think on all those promos – “The Bering Sea will make you or break you” – but what it does is test how mentally strong you are and how bad do you want something. And when he saw that in me, he was proud and he wanted to fuel it because he knew the potential. And it took us a little bit of time after he passed, but we’re at the point now where we’re doing what he wanted – fishing crab – and it’s great.

 

Captain Sean Dwyer of the Brenna A.

Captain Sean Dwyer of the Brenna A.

Brenna A Captain Sean Dwyer.

Brenna A Captain Sean Dwyer.

 

CC You have an engineering degree. But you’re at heart a fisherman. Tell me how it was to be stuck in classrooms when you could have been on a boat.

SD [Laughs] It was tough. I have a two-year technical degree in diesel engines and heavy equipment technology. What that meant was over the course of the two years, basically half the time we were in the classroom doing the books; and the other half we were out in the shop. South Seattle College was where I (studied) and we mainly worked on trucks, though there were a few marine engines and some pieces of heavy equipment. So it wasn’t the field I wanted to go in, but it all applies. Mechanics are mechanics, and having that mechanical mind is really what benefits you. Whether it’s a car or a boat, you can eventually figure it out if you can troubleshoot. The cool thing about the program was that it was from 7 a.m. to noon, so from noon to 5 p.m. I’d go into the shipyard and go work on boats. I was able to kind of do both at once.

 

Cape Caution and pot of crabs.

Cape Caution and pot of crabs.

Captain Sean Dwyer of the Brenna A.

Captain Sean Dwyer of the Brenna A.

CC How challenging was it to hire a new crew for the
Brenna A?

SD It’s tough because everybody has the best intentions. But when you’re out there on the banks there’s nowhere to hide, and like I said, your head has to be in the game. It doesn’t matter how good you talk and how strong you are or how far you can push the pot. If you’re not into it, you’re not into it. What was challenging for me was trying to find guys that, first, were best for the boat and best for us as a team. And I was concerned that I was going to get guys who just wanted to be on TV. But I hired one guy who I’d worked with before on a deck crab fishing; he’s my engineer. And the other guys – with the exception of my greenhorn – the others were just word of mouth or some had left me a card and they said to call if there was ever a spot. So you just start going through the list to see who’s available. I was kind of scrambling but was happy with the way things turned out. We had our ups and downs, but the guys really pulled through at the end. And they came as long a way as I did. It was a learning experience for everybody.

CC Did you have to find your niche as a first-year captain?

SD Definitely. I didn’t go out there and expect to be a Sig Hansen right off the bat. I went out there and I needed to make sure that, for one, we’re safe. And two: to try and figure out and apply all these things that I learned and see if I could catch these crab. I tried to tell the crew that we’re all after the same goal; you gotta work together, and it did take some time for all those guys to find their roles. And once that was established and we knew who was where, things really flowed. It was cool to see that process, because it’s not every day that you just get to
start fresh.

Portrait of Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern.

Portrait of Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern.

Brenna A Captain Sean Dwyer.

Brenna A Captain Sean Dwyer.

 

CC You worked toward Sig’s quota demands. Has he been a mentor for you on the journey so far?

SD He’s given me a lot of really useful information. When we started this thing we really didn’t know each other; I knew of him from the show and outside the show in the industry. We weren’t friends or anything and it was business first. But he gave me some really good pointers, and I think the most important one was just to be honest with the whole TV thing. This show is such that it’s not scripted; you can’t make it up. You can’t take a second to think about what you’re going to say. Even the camera people only get one shot to film these things. But you have to be honest with yourself. When you mess up, you mess up. That was the biggest piece of advice that he gave me and it holds true. To keep it real you make the show what it is:
a documentary.

CC How much did Sig’s health scare – his heart attack – provide a wakeup call for you and your colleagues? He is the epitome of a tough customer, but it reflects what a challenge this life can be.

SD It’s hard on everything – the boat, the crew and your body, and it’s hard on your relationships back home. What we go through to get that crab off the ocean floor and onto the table is tough. Sig and I were the only two boats left still fishing when he had his heart attack. I was a little bit scared for him because it is a stressful job and you never know what’s going to happen; you don’t know how you’re going to react with everything. Unfortunately, sometimes that takes a toll on your body.ASJ

Editor’s note: You can keep track of Sean Dwyer on Twitter (@captseandwyer) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandwyerbrennaa). For more on Deadliest Catch go to discovery.com/tv-shows/deadliest-catch.