ILWACO, Wash. — It’s blood, hooks, aching backs and sunburned skin. And cussing. Lots of cussing.
A new Netflix series, “Battlefish,” debuted Friday, giving audiences a raw glimpse into the commercial albacore tuna fishery off the Washington state and Oregon coasts.
The series follows five crews from fishing vessels TNT, Oppor-Tuna-Ty, Intrepid, Judy S and Ashley Nicole from the ports of Ilwaco, Warrenton and Westport during the 2017 albacore tuna season.
California-based Pilgrim Media Group, creators of other reality shows such as “Wicked Tuna,” “The Ultimate Fighter” and “Dirty Jobs,” produced the series.
The Chinook Observer interviewed two of the show’s participants: Aaron Walker and Craig Brewer, crew of the F/V Oppor-Tuna-Ty.
Q: What’s the premise of the show?
Walker: The idea is to show people the real side of albacore fishing, what we go through in our daily grind and battle out on the water both offshore and on. It’s the first West Coast tuna fishery show. It’s uncensored, raw, savage — an R rated fishing show.
Brewer: The West Coast really doesn’t have any (reality fishing) TV shows at all. This is the first. It’s “Dexter” meets “Wicked Tuna.” It’s the same producer.
Q: How did you get involved?
Walker: The producer came down for our tuna kickoff party. We took him fishing.
Brewer: They came to us a couple years ago. There were rumors about a Pacific Graveyard show but “Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove” beat it out. They didn’t think we were a good boat at first because there was a rumor that we were sporties (sport fishermen) and not commercial and the series was supposed to be straight commercial.
Walker: But we have a new program, it’s kind of old school versus new school philosophy. Our boat is faster. We go out there, catch all our fish, and bring them back the same day. We provide the freshest albacore in the world to our local community. That’s our goal. None is fresher unless you have a helicopter or a boat that’s faster than ours.
Q: When did the producer first approach you?
Walker: It was the Ilwaco Tuna Club kickoff party two years ago, in June of 2016.
Q: When did filming start and finish?
Walker: The show was filmed during the 2017 tuna season. A lot of things went back and forth like the contract negotiations.
Brewer: There were gag orders. We couldn’t talk about the show, not even a word until today.
Q: Approximately how many days did they film aboard your boat?
Walker: They were on our boat for 41 days of filming. They were down here two months total.
Q: What was it like being in front of the cameras?
Walker: At first it was kind of awkward. But the camera guy just became part of our crew and we just did our thing. You’re mic’ed up all day every day, so you’re just trying not to embarrass yourself.
Brewer: The first week was kind of weird.
Q: Did they pay you? How were you compensated?
Walker: Yeah, they paid us.
Q: How much?
Walker: We can’t talk about that.
Brewer: It’s not millions (Ha-ha). Our face is on TV — that’s the pay right now.
Q: Did they say how much they invested in the production?
Walker: There were rumors of $11 million. They rented a whole hotel in Astoria for two months. They spent some money.
Brewer: They had a lot of guys here. Their ground crew alone was 16 guys. Every boat had their own camera guy.
Q: What is the biggest difference between East Coast bluefin tuna — like that featured in the show “Wicked Tuna” — and West Coast albacore tuna fishing?
Walker: They may catch one fish a week that’s an 800- or 900-pounder. We’ll catch 100 or 200 tuna a day. They crank the handle, but our action is nonstop. We’re going up and over, slamming and jamming and fish flying everywhere. It’s chaos. They’re smaller fish but a lot more action.
Brewer: A lot times they’re anchored up and chumming. We don’t have a hump we can hang on. It’s a big ocean and we have to look for them.
Q: The 2017 season was a tough one for tuna fishermen, right?
Walker: It was a tough year. It’s been another tough year this year as well.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge out there?
Walker: The fishing and the weather. Fishing is never guaranteed, especially on the ocean. There’s just a lot variables. A lot of guys go to work every day, punch in at 8 and go home at 5 and make the money guaranteed every single day. With fishing we’re going to punch in about 6 and punch out at about 11, and hopefully, make some money — maybe. Every day is a gamble with at least $1,500 on the table every time we push off. So you better catch some fish.
Q: Are there any fishing superstitions you follow?
Walker: We never like to say “You’re going to lose that fish.”
Brewer: We never comment on a calm ocean. Because 10 minutes later …
Q: What’s your record for most tuna caught in a day?
Walker: 280 is our single-day record. That was two weeks ago.
Q: The show was posted Friday, have you had time to watch?
Walker: We watched three episodes last night.
Q: What was it like seeing yourself on TV?
Walker: You can tell we’re tired. We’re all beat up. We look like we’ve been at war.
Q: Is there a particular scene that you’re excited to see?
Brewer: I’m excited about the whole thing, just how they did it. We had seven GoPros on our boat.
Walker: There’s a lot of high-definition cinematography, slow motion, underwater, drone footage — It’s sick.
Q: A lot of the reality shows revolve around drama. Did you anticipate that before filming began?
Walker: One thing we decided was we’re not going to talk trash about anyone. And then one guy just lit us up the first episode.
Brewer: They want drama.
Q: Did the producers try to instigate it?
Brewer: No. We’re natural trash-talkers (ha-ha).
Q: So you were careful to avoid the drama?
Walker: It’s never good business to bad-mouth your competition no matter what the situation is. That’s business 101.
Q: Do you think the show will be a success?
Walker: I think it will. I’ve been talking to the guys from Netflix and Pilgrim Studios and they’re proud of it. Netflix named a “Battlefish” conference room at their headquarters. I think everyone is excited about it.