We arrived at 6am in Ketchikan and we had to take a shuttle into the city for our excursion. It’s the only one that was not cancelled! On the way, the driver told us that they have precipitation there 234 days a year. They get 12 feet of rain on average. We were there on a beautiful sunny day. Our excursion? A trip on the Aleutian Ballad. For those of you that don’t watch Deadliest Catch, the Aleutian Ballad used to be a commercial fishing boat that was featured on the second season of Deadliest Catch. It is known for getting caught in a storm and flipping onto its side on camera. Everyone on the crew was fine, with minor scrapes and bruises, and the ship righted itself. They were able to get back into the harbor on its own power. However, after this incident the owner decided to convert it into a tourist boat.
The boat has a stadium style seating on the lower and upper decks facing the area in which the crew demonstrates how they fish, pull up crab traps, and show us various sea creatures. We sat right in the front row. We thought the upper deck might be too windy. It was chilly, but they had heaters running behind the seats and an indoor space to get drinks and king crab as well as merchandise. It was a very calm day so there were no worries about getting sea sick. The first thing they showed us was the hook they throw out to catch the lines of the traps. We got to pretend we were crew.
The first thing Dave and Big D (the two main crewmen) demonstrated was how they would fish from the boat. It was a barrel with hooks all around the outside hooked with frozen fish. Big D explained that most people don’t fish this way because it can be dangerous if you don’t do it correctly, but it is easier to get out and back in than other methods. They first pulled in a barrel that they had put out a few days ago. In it there were rockfish both still alive and one was just bones. Big D explained that it had been eaten very quickly by sand fleas.
We pulled into a cove off of Annette Island. This island is the only Native American reserve in Alaska. It is inhabited by the Metlakatla Indian Community. The Metlakatla have an agreement with the Aleutian Ballad and therefore the crew do not have to follow the same fishing rules for the area. In the cove, we were looking for eagles. They were able to throw fish into the water to entice the eagles out of the tree (this is not legal in regular waters) so we could get some incredible pictures.
After ogling the eagle couple, we headed out to pick up the first small crab pot. They demonstrated how they use the hook and then the pulley used to help pull it in. There was a surprise in the trap, an octopus! (We found out later that is very common. They find a way in the trap and eat everything in there.)
The next move was to pull up one of the bigger crab pots. They needed two pulleys for this one. It was full of rock crabs, which I had never seen before. After they pulled up the trap, they allowed us to hold some crabs. I really enjoyed this part, as you can tell by my giant smile.
The last giant pot was for king crabs. We were not in a place where they catch many king crabs. If they do catch any, they give them to the Native Americans. However, they did have a trap in the water to show us how it would be removed and placed back into the water. Big D was explaining how you need to hook it on the platform to keep it in place, especially with high seas. He said there are many times that the crew is so tired that they forget to do it. The pot, which weighs about 650lbs, will then fly across the boat and destroy anything in its path. It was one of the stories he told us that really hit home as to how dangerous their job is every day. The pot they removed has a bunch of tags on it They are memorial tags that passengers can purchase and write a note for a loved one. The crew attaches it to the pot and at the end of the year they donate the money to a different cause and put the tags on display. Dave read a few of the tags to us. It was a bit emotional.
Both Big D and Dave took some time to tell us about themselves and their journey into becoming fishermen. Big D started on the east coast and when he moved to Alaska and saw how they fished on the Aleutian Ballad he felt like he knew nothing. He commended the crew and how hard they worked on the boat and how he had to watch and emulate them since they could not and would not teach him in the middle of working. Dave told us about being in a band and talking his band mates into getting on a boat to make some extra money one season. When he and his drummer arrived, a crew member got his hand caught in a trap. The drummer left immediately. He also told us about putting on a water suit and needed to abandon ship. Luckily they were all picked up almost immediately. I’ve never watched Deadliest Catch, but now I want to see some episodes to see them in action.
Dave tried to trick us at one point and told us they were going to pull up a trap with a slimy eel in it that was dangerous. It turns out they pulled up a barrel and it had an octopus in it. This octopus had been found in one of their traps and put in the barrel far away for a time out. He took that one out and threw it back into the water and put the one he caught at the beginning of the tour in the barrel. I thought it was funny and a good way to harmlessly move them away from their traps. Octopus are very smart. I think this might disorient them a bit.
The last trap had a giant cod in it. Dave was telling us that they are growing larger than usual earlier on in the trip, so it was really neat to see a live example.
This tour was an amazing experience. I enjoyed every minute. They kept us very busy and it was never boring. I didn’t even want to go to the bathroom in case I missed something! We did get some king crab legs on board. They were cold, but the butter was warm and it was delicious. They were $37 for half a pound, which tracks with the price we paid in Juneau. I also bought a long sleeve t shirt. The prices for merchandise were very reasonable. If you read about this tour online it gets amazing reviews and many people say it’s the best fishing boat tour that you can take. I agree.
This tour was about three hours long. It took up all the time we had in Ketchikan, but I had such a good time that it didn’t matter to me. A little tip about excursions: we paid for this tour on our own, but you end up taking a shuttle with everyone who is on the boat, if your boat needs a shuttle. Make sure to double check times because we didn’t realize we were docking so far away. It was nice to be on a shuttle with the rest of our cruise passengers so we would not be late to board. Of course there is a shop you can buy souvenirs in before you get back on the ship in case you feel like you missed out on shopping.