Downtime from ‘The Deadliest Catch’ |

Downtime from ‘The Deadliest Catch’

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA collection of Monte Colburn's photos from crab fishing in Alaska.

Monte Colburn has spent much of his life dodging heavy runaway crab pots and balancing on the icy deck of a 155-foot fishing boat in the churning Bering Sea.

Now he does it on national television.

But despite the adventure, the adrenaline ” and now the unexpected fame of the “Deadliest Catch,” a reality TV show ” Colburn’s heart is always in the quiet Kings Beach home he shares with his family.

Every October for the past 22 years, the deep sea fisherman leaves North Tahoe and sets out for Alaska to perform what is deemed one of the deadliest lines of work ” catching Alaskan crab. Millions of Americans tune in weekly to watch Colburn and his crew battle the elements of the northernmost region of the Pacific Ocean.

“I never imagined being on television, not in a million years. It’s still a bit baffling,” Colburn said recently while lounging on his lake-view deck.

Colburn serves as co-captain of the Wizard, his brother Keith’s Alaskan crab fishing vessel, which is featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch series.

But Colburn hasn’t let the public exposure get to his head.

“We’re just fisherman and then all of the sudden they’re filming our boat and we’re on television,” he said. “It takes a little getting used to.”

There are advantages in being a reality television personality, Colburn said. The Discovery Channel provides heavy-duty rain gear for the entire crew, and “throws a nugget toward the fuel bill,” he said.

The duo of cameramen can even hold their own in the midst of 30-foot swells, and Colburn said their footage, though sometimes dramatic, helps to retain the competitive nature of the game.

“The camera guys are good guys … they’re seaworthy and real easy to get along with,” he said. “But sometimes when you watch it, you cringe … you really have no idea what they’re going to use.”

Colburn is deckhand and relief captain onboard the Wizard ” a 155-foot-long solid steel vessel that was converted from a 1940s U.S. Navy yard oiler into a crab fishing boat in 1979.

“It packs 450,000 pounds of crab, which is more than anyone else in the fleet,” Colburn said with a satisfied grin.

But the longtime fisherman said his sea legs didn’t ripen straightaway.

“My first year, I ended up in the water between two boats. I was lucky to make it out of that alive,” Colburn recalled.

The paychecks and extended summers off didn’t hurt in coaxing him back to sea each year, but Colburn said he was mostly baited by the mariner’s lifestyle.

“There’s a magical draw to it,” he said. “Working and living on the ocean is a totally different type of lifestyle. It’s hard to turn away from.”

The job does have its drawbacks, Colburn admitted.

Aside from the weeks of tumultuous rocking, constant sprays of 30-degree saltwater, the occasional rogue wave and ongoing sleep deprivation, Colburn said being way from his wife, 14-year-old son and loyal canine Sally is the real punishment.

“When you spend half your life in the middle of the ocean, you miss a lot of things,” he said. “I missed the first half of the Gulf War. I’ve missed whole music genres … but the toughest part is being away from home.”

And there’s no place Colburn would rather be than his childhood dwelling nestled along the Kings Beach shoreline, where he soaks up life by playing golf, going to the beach, riding his dirt bike and spending time with his family.

“I don’t think I could pick a better place to live than here,” Colburn said.

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