‘Deadliest Catch’: Jonathan Hillstrand’s Gamble That Paid Off in a Major Way

by Taylor Cunningham

Deadliest Catch famously pits fishing crews against the elements while they battle for major crab hauls. And sometimes, the possibility of a major payday sends the fishers into some questionable situations.

As the series has proven, the job is risky and sometimes deadly—hence the name. And in many cases, captains have to make series gambles to cash in. While those gambles often lead to chaos, they sometimes pay off, which Captain Johnathan Hillstrand proved during season 13.

That year, Hillstrand was heading into retirement, so he was ready to go all-in if it meant going out with a bang. And he did that by taking the Time Bandit on a trip 620 miles away from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to the coast of Russia. But while the rough weather and enemy waters could have given him some terrible consequences, the risk ended up paying off big time.

Once the crew pulled up the first pot, they found an impressive 440 opilio snow crabs inside. The giant crustaceans usually weigh about 3 pounds each. And at the time, they were selling for around $10 a pound, which meant they had already earned over $13,000.

And the money didn’t stop there. With each trap, the crew continued bringing in astonishing hauls. One pot even held 670 crabs.

“Holy moly, my hair’s standing on my neck!” Hillstrand said as he watched the crab coming in masses.

After a few more pots, the captain thanked both Jesus and his beloved “bye-bye kitty” figurine before calling his brother, Andy, and sharing the great news. But when he did, Andy let him know that his luck was running out.

The ‘Deadliest Catch’ Crew Had to Race a Storm to Make it Home Alive

Andy said that Johnathan Hillstrand had “hell coming” in the form of a massive storm. And the Time Bandit crew would have to drive directly into it unless they could make it back to St. Mathew Island with record speed.

Luckily, Johnathan Hillstrand managed to get everyone back to the states alive and well. But to do so, he had to give up on the remaining crabs crawling along the sea floor so he could race for a straight 16-hour trip home.

All in, the captain ended up setting the record for the biggest haul in the history of Deadliest Catch. But unfortunately, the series never shared the actual numbers.

However, the massive earnings may have been the reason that Hillstrand only stayed in retirement for three years. In 2020, he came back to the show ready to make more risky plays. And he remains a part of the cast to this day.