4/15/08 Discovery LiveChat:
Monte Colburn of the F/V Wizard
Discovery: Welcome to our weekly Deadliest Catch chat series. Tonight's guest is Monte Colburn, deckhand and relief captain of the Wizard. Prepare to see a lot more of Monte this season! Ask the Deadliest Catch veteran about his Season 4 experience and life on the Bering Sea.
Monte Colburn: Good evening! I'm glad to address your questions and hopefully you'll walk away with some sort of answers to those questions. I'll do my best!
Wizette Mystic: Capt. Monte my heart stopped beating when I saw that rogue wave hit. Was anyone hurt? What kind of repairs did the Wizard require? Thank you!
Monte Colburn: We sustained some damage that night. We had a leak in the house which pertained to the rogue wave that came over the nose that was well publicized. No, nobody was hurt. We were traveling, so the entire crew was in the house.
fellowhawk: I know when I'm on the lake, I worry about engine failure. You guys are in the middle of the Bering Sea! What do you do in extremely rough seas when you have a non-repairable engine failure?
Monte Colburn: Most of the boats, ours included, have several engines that supply electricity and the support systems onboard. If there were engine failure in one capacity you would switch to another engine. If it was the main engine, the propulsion engine, that would be a serious problem for us due to the fact we are a single propeller-driven vessel.
Lhiiiz: Hi Monte! Love the Wizard and all of you guys! I was wondering, are there any superstitions you hold to?
Monte Colburn: The list of superstitions is vast, and some of us are more superstitious than others, my brother being at the top of that list. They say superstitions are an excuse for sailors to be terrified. However minor, we usually hold true to the majority of the superstitions that we have.
webdoc: Captain Monte, just how close did you come to redesigning Guy's face?
Monte Colburn: Well, Guy pushed the threshold to probably the upper end of the envelope. But being a professional mariner and trying to complete the fishing trip we were in the middle of, I had to restrain myself from throwing him down the stairs. The whole crew was capable of operating without him being missed. He was hired as a crewman, but he did not do the job he was hired to do, which was very disappointing to all of us.
primorska: Hello Monte. Great episode! Do the skippers and crews of all the crab boats featured get along well off the show? It seems like the captains all like each other.
Monte Colburn: There's always been a huge competitive nature among the boats, whether in the show or not. The fleet is downsized from what it used to be, but it is extremely competitive to this day. Most of the captains get along reasonably well, at least as well as they ever did.
Jim: What is the deepest you can drop a crab pot?
Monte Colburn: That's a good question. We fish single pots, which have a set of buoys and a line that goes to the bottom of the ocean and every pot. We personally have fished 1500 to 1800 feet deep with a single pot. On average, in the fisheries we're in now, we fish anywhere from 400 to 600-700 feet deep.
whitelion43: What is your most unusual quirk?
Monte Colburn: My most unusual quirk is taking an unreasonable amount of time to go out on deck. I need all my gloves and raingear just right to get outside. I have done that the past ten years; I need to be comfortable at my age.
Jim: Is there a limit to the amount of pots in a string? Do you always drop them in a straight line?
Monte Colburn: Generally speaking, the gear is set in a straight line. There are times you're fishing on the contours of the sea floor to where you might set a string that might have an angle or dog leg or turn to it.
fastboats03: Hey Monte, just wondering...as the season starts, the weather looks mild in port. Is it?
Monte Colburn: Usually, it's hard to say what the weather is going to do. When we're in port, we might not start fishing for 300-400-500 miles from port. So, of course, we have to watch the weather closely and know what to expect 500 miles away versus what you're going to get in port.
clammer: My name is Matt and I live in Massachusetts. I work part time on a clam boat and am trying to get a job on a scallop boat near me. The old crab season used to be short...how long does the crab season run now?
Monte Colburn: The current fisheries that we're in are, thankfully, becoming longer due to the increase in quota. Generally, we are busy about 6 months out of the year.
clammer: How much does a first time crabber make?
Monte Colburn: Well, that's hard to say. Usually, the kids - we always call them kids; most of them are - the kids today, will probably make $40,000 a year for 6 or 7 months of their time.
Hi Waves: How did you get hold of a WWII oiler and convert it for use in the Bering Sea?
Monte Colburn: Back in the heyday of the crab fisheries in Alaska, a lot of older vessels were deployed and converted within the fisheries due to shortage of vessels that were capable of doing what we do. The Wizard, being a large vessel, is perfect for the environment. With its capacity it's the type of vessel that's perfect for the industry.
Brian TX: How many years have you been fishing crab?
Monte Colburn: I have been fishing crab for 22 years, and running crab boats as skipper for the last 11.
Racer says: In bad weather when do you decide it is unsafe for the crew to launch and recover pots ?
Monte Colburn: That's another good question, because the weather really determines what our threshold for operations is. If the gear is set for the weather then they can haul the gear in during stronger weather than we might like. If the gear's not set in the direction it needs to be, then of course you'll need to quit fishing earlier than you meant to. Always, we want to be able to haul the gear safely regardless of what the weather's doing.
Delia: Is there anything you carry with you on board that would surprise us?
Monte Colburn: I don't think so! I hate to answer your question like that, but we don't really have a lot of perks. We're isolated from the media, news, home. We're kind of on an island in a way. But to be sure if you don't have it with you, you're not going to have the means to get it.
Michael C: So do you like King Crab or Snow Crab?
Monte Colburn: Well, King Crab has always been more fun due to the size of the crab themselves. It's always been a rush to handle the big monsters. The Opilio fishery is more of a grind and more units per pot at a lot less weight.
9grandtouring: I'm curious, when is the actual crab season?
Monte Colburn: King Crab commences on October 15 and generally it used to end about Halloween, but now it carries on a little longer than that. Then, traditionally, we would come home for the holidays and the Snow Crab fishery starts January 15.
Jim: I think of you guys every time I stuff crab down my hole. I know you use a lot of electronics. Can you navigate by the stars or a simple compass?
Monte Colburn: That's another good question, because the crew of the Wizard, myself and my brother included, are licensed by the Coast Guard to navigate solely by the stars, which can be extremely tricky and not something that we would care to do. We don't rely solely on our electronics, but at times do take them for granted.
Lhiiiz: Hi Monte! Do you guys dress up for Halloween every year? I loved the Tiger rain gear and Art's hula outfit! What other costumes have there been?
Monte Colburn: Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays and in light of the fact that we are now fishing during said holiday, it has been fun to dress up for Halloween. I guess you'll just have to watch the show to see what's coming up.
nmr1: What was your first thought when the boat was punctured while taking your trip from Seattle to Dutch Harbor?
Monte Colburn: The first thought was, how do you stop it? That's really the million dollar question when a vessel's integrity has been compromised. We were lucky, and able to control the leak in a timely manner.
Headin2Alaska: What is the worst injury that you personally have experienced during crab season in the Bering?
Monte Colburn: I haven't really experienced too many injuries that would be considered major. We've hauled plenty of friends out there, and it hurts to talk about. It's the worst thing you can imagine, having lost a friend in the middle of the ocean.
hangman: What does a person have to do to become a greenhorn on a boat?
Monte Colburn: I think if you are a young buck and a hard worker you would have a pretty good start to being a greenhorn on a boat in the Bering Sea. It's not something easily achieved and it would certainly take a lot of effort to find a job on one of the boats. You'd probably have to fly to Dutch Harbor, pound the docks and hope to get lucky.
Bubba H: Monte, do you think Maine lobster fishing would be a good training for Alaska?
Monte Colburn: Well, I can't really say because I've never participated in those fisheries. It's a smaller boat fishery. I don't think there's a lot of comparison between the two.
Courtney: Hi! I'm a huge fan but I wanted to know, what would everyone think if a girl was to try her luck at becoming a deckhand?
Monte Colburn: There have been a couple gals that were pretty solid deckhands over the years, with a run of success on crab boats.
Skylab: Does the film crew get in the way of your job?
Monte Colburn: Well, more often than not, no. At times, they seem to have a knack for getting in the way when we least expect it. They're pretty good at doing their job and letting us do ours.
Texas Aggie: Hi Monte! Hope all is well! I was wondering how many different species of crab do you guys fish for in a year?
Monte Colburn: Within the current fisheries, it would be three. The King Crab fishery, Snow Crab, and a fishery you're not familiar with which is the Bairdi fishery. That would be the three major fisheries.
Lucy and Carl: Do you consider missing your cup of noodles bad luck?
Monte Colburn: I don't really. I have my own quirks, which we all do. It's something that's important to my brother. If it's important to him as far as whether he's lucky or not, then apparently we need to find a cup of noodles.
Headin2Alaska: What is the longest that you have gone without sleep?
Monte Colburn: The longest I think I've gone without sleep on numerous occasions has been at least 48 hours. Just short of that was in the last couple of years.
Heroic man: What bait do use too catch the crab?
Monte Colburn: Generally, we use a lot of ground herring and as much fresh cod fish as we can catch or buy in town before we set out.
Greenhorn Jay: Monte, what's the off season hold for you? Thanks for letting us in on your profession. Great times for us.
Monte Colburn: My off season generally entails working on my house, enjoying the sunshine in North Lake Tahoe, where I was born and raised and where I am lucky enough to still reside.
Wizette Sheila: Have you ever fished for Brown crab...that looks extremely insane to dodge the lines?
Monte Colburn: Long line Brown crab, I have not. Single pot Brown crab I have. That's a totally different fishery, but due to the depth that the Brown crab live, in 1400 feet of water versus 300 to 400 to 500 we're used to fishing.
dervide: Did Keith make his traditional phone call to his family as you pulled out of Dutch Harbor?
Monte Colburn: Well, I'm sure he did. I wasn't there with him when that call transpired, but I'm sure he phoned his family and they wished him well and a safe return.
Heroic man: Are all the crew on your boat are family too you?
Monte Colburn: Most of the crew on the boats have been on them for a period of time, so yes we could consider them like family - brothers. We tend to have greenhorns come and go. Most of them are good kids and hopefully one day they'll be like family, too.
Sweet Cologirl says: What is the most difficult part of being at sea for so long?
Monte Colburn: The most difficult part is probably being away from home. Most of us have families and it's extremely trying on them for us to be away. As the quotas increase, our time away has also increased, which makes it much more difficult for us to continue to fish.
Lucy and Carl: Do crabs follow thermo-clines?
Monte Colburn: Absolutely! Crab are more depth sensitive than you could ever imagine. Sea temperature plays a big part in where we would look for crab as much as bottom density - mud, sand, rocks. Sea temp is one of the key factors of where you want to sit, what time of year, and where you can expect to find them.
npapandria: How do you fish for different crab? Is it the location or gear?
Monte Colburn: We fish for different crab with different gear scenarios. In King Crab the tunnels are open so the larger species can enter the pots. For Snow Crab, the gear is tightened up so the tunnel dimensions are smaller. But, generally speaking, it's not so much the gear as it is the location.
talkalahti: It seems that your boat has a new greenhorn every year, is there not that much interest in crab fishing?
Monte Colburn: We run a bigger crew than all the other boats you're being exposed to. Therefore, the percentages vary. We expect a lot from the kids, the greenhorns (hence Guy) and you have to go through a certain amount of kids to get to the good ones.
nmr: You and your brother seem like you a very close, I would image that you would have to be. But has there ever been a time when you wanted to clock him? If so, why?
Monte Colburn: Me and my brother are very close. We get along extremely well most of the time, but being brothers we most certainly have our moments.
Wizette Sheila: When we fish for fish...we use fish detectors to find the schools. Is there such technology for crab? Or is it just too deep for that?
Monte Colburn: The crab are a bottom feeders / bottom dwellers / scavengers, so there's really no way to detect them on a sounder, versus a fish that would come up on a sounder, within the picture. Being on the bottom, they're much harder to see and catch with the electronics.
fellowhawk: "Deadliest Catch" has made all of you guys somewhat of a celebrity. Has that changed the way you live or do people recognize you more?
Monte Colburn: It has not changed the way I live. As far as being recognized, it's been a lot of fun. It's been a lot of fun and interesting and flattering.
Micki: I've been out in 15 foot swells, it was pretty intimidating - how do the greenhorns, as well as the rest of you, NOT get sea-sick?
Monte Colburn: That's probably due to our familiarity with the seas that
we work in on a daily basis.
bluedog: Two crabs for the ship, one for the taxman. Do you get any tax breaks fishing out in the sea
Monte Colburn: Generally, no. We're on the same tax bracket as a farmer and we have always paid plenty of taxes, there's no doubt about that.
Jim: Would you ever pull pots by hand if the block broke and there were only a few pots left? Do you carry the gear you would need to do that if it is possible?
Monte Colburn: It would not be possible to pull them by hand due to the weight of the pot itself, even if it was empty.
Miss Kitty: The Deadliest Catch has brought what used to be a mystery into mainstream. Do you think we get a true depiction of what your job is really like?
Monte Colburn: I think the show is put together fairly well. What we do has always been a mystery to people, but it's a lifestyle and a means to an end to us.
Jim: Hi, are there things you can do to help limit dead loss?
Monte Colburn: There certainly are. Crab mortality has always been a big issue on the boats. They're very fragile in their own way, and they need to be handled as such. It doesn't take much mishandling for the crab to perish once put in the tank. As I always like to tell the crew - they're not made out of rubber.
Headin2Alaska: I know that a lot of people think you guys have medicinal help to stay awake and keep energy...is that so?
Monte Colburn: Well, you would be surprised what caffeine can do as far as keeping you awake. We work long hours, and always have. The rush of hauling pots when you're making big money will more than likely keep you awake on its own.
primorska: Monte, how many crab boats are there in the entire Alaskan crab fleet?
Monte Colburn: Well, there used to be about 270 crab boats that could legally fish for crab. The fleet has been downsized to 80-90 due to rationalization and / or quota system that we now operate with.
zigo: Whose ship of all the ships on the show, is the youngest and how long is the life span on them before you upgrade?
Monte Colburn: I would think the Time Bandit is quite possibly the newest vessel as far as being built in the fleet. The life of a vessel is like the life of a car, it depends on how well you take care of it. The Wizard being 65 years old is still running strong due to a meticulous maintenance schedule.
sugarland: How do you guys feel about the popularity of this great show? My best friend says I'm a Bering Sea groupie! Love you guys! A fan in Santa Barbara.
Monte Colburn: The show has gained popularity which we probably could never have imagined. Again, we are just fishermen who now have been exposed to this influx of interest. Glorifying what has always been nothing more than our livelihood.
nokomis: Have you ever rescued someone, or needed to be rescued yourself?
Monte Colburn: I have not ever rescued anyone at sea. To answer your question, yes, I was hauled out of the water myself way back when I was a young buck. I was awful glad someone was there to save me. I happened between boats on anchor in St. Paul in a storm and I'm extremely lucky to be alive today.
guinness: How many of the boats are still run by families
Monte Colburn: Most of the boats within the fleet have some sort of family orientation behind them. The Wizard does not, though we feel like family, it is kind of a newer generation operation. Most of the boats have been passed down from father to son in fishing families.
sentinel88: How often do you update your charts?
Monte Colburn: Well, as often as we can, because there's nothing more valuable than a fresh chart. The electronic chart systems on the boat are updated annually. Most of the charts that we sail with are updated sometime within that same annual realm.
talkalahti: What hobbies do you enjoy? Do you do any hunting?
Monte Colburn: I'm not a hunter, I'm more into woodwork and cabinetry. I'm more of a power tool guy than anything else.
Crab dad: Other than crab, what is your favorite seafood?
Monte Colburn: I would have to say a nice piece of cod or hanging bait.
Jim: Have any of the fishing vessels ever been attacked by "pirates" or attempted to be stolen at sea?
Monte Colburn: Not that I know of. Years ago, when we used to fish Snow Crab way up near the Russian boundary, there were some vessels that were harassed by the Russian Coast Guard for having fished in their waters. Other than that, I think the US fleet operates within a safe realm.
gracie22: What do you do with the boat in the summer?
Monte Colburn: The boat is generally tied up in Seattle and put to bed, eagerly awaiting our return to begin our rigorous maintenance schedule prior to the King Crab fishery.
Chelsea Cay: So why was the start of the Red King Crab season so slow?
Monte Colburn: It wasn't slow for us, I'm not quite sure how the other boats did. We hauled about a 50 average throughout and enjoyed a quick and timely and prosperous season.
Erica: Hi Monte. I'm the daughter of a retired fisherman. I must ask why you all can't wear the life suits at all times?
Monte Colburn: I'm not sure the life suits that you refer to. A survival suit is a flotation device you cannot personally wear doing anything. A life vest may not be a bad idea, the crew wears those working above the deck on the stack for safety reasons. Generally, speaking, most of the current floatation equipment is a little cumbersome for the activity required to work on deck operations.
shootingstar37: Why do you only fish singles instead of trawls? Once you find the crab it seems you could turn the gear over more quickly and still have good numbers.
Monte Colburn: Trawl fishing as with any kind of a net is not a legal means to retain crab in the fisheries that we participate in. They must be a legal pot trap that the crabs must crawl into in order for us to retain them.
B Wells: I see the waitress at the "Local watering hole" has been the same woman for the last two years. Does she really work there or come in special for the show?
Monte Colburn: The waitress at the watering hole is a local gal, she really lives there and does actually work at the bar.
B Wells: I know the show doesn't do it justice, but how hard is it to stay on your feet when a wave comes over the side of the boat?
Monte Colburn: Harder than you would think. It doesn't take a whole lot of water to knock you on your ass. You just have to grab hold of something, and hope for the best.
Patti Cleveland: Thanks for all the hard work you and the entire fleet do...we salute all of you every time we eat crab legs! :)
Monte Colburn: Enjoy, and we sure appreciate you supporting us, because we need your support in order to keep our dream alive.
talkalahti: Who cooks for you mostly on the boat? When you are up for so many hours, who has time?
Monte Colburn: Good question! Generally, nobody. We tend to fend for ourselves. We schedule a good meal occasionally, but we are more concerned with hauling pots than we are with sleeping and eating. The meals are generally cooked by a crewman, because the crew out there have only two things enjoyable in their lives: one being their bunk, and the other being a hot meal.
hurterc: How you doing Monte? On the pilot episodes, we saw the damage the ship took, is it a problem that your ship is more of a "lower level" ship compared to the Time Bandit where the ship is higher?
Monte Colburn: As low as the Wizard may seem, it only appears to be low due to its overall length, which is substantially longer than the other vessels you see on the show. It's a great sea boat and can weather the storms with the best of them, you can be sure.
Discovery: Monte, thanks for being here tonight to tell us more about crab fishing and life aboard the Wizard. Before we have to end the chat, is there anything you'd like to add?
Monte Colburn: I appreciate everybody's support, and I hope you have enjoyed the chat. I'd be thrilled to answer your questions in the future! Continue to root for the Wizard, and we are pleased and proud to be part of the show.
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