In July 2012, the remains of Keith Anderson, father of Jake Anderson, until recently a deckhand on the crab-fishing boat F/V Northwestern, were found in the forests of Washington State.
The elder Anderson had been missing for more than two years, and fans of Discovery’s Tuesday-night reality hit “Deadliest Catch” had watched Anderson struggle through, first, the premature death of his beloved sister, and then his father’s disappearance.
So, when Jake Anderson — who just got married the previous May — went back to work on Northwestern on Alaska’s Bering Sea last fall for blue-crab season, he may not have been in the best place mentally. After an on-deck dispute, he started throwing punches at fellow longtime deckhand Matt Bradley.
This got him in hot water with blue-crab Capt. Edgar Hansen, and with the boat’s regular skipper, Edgar’s older brother — and Anderson’s mentor — Sig Hansen. At the same time, he was mulling an offer from Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Inc., to join the company and learn the finer points of skippering from the captain of one of its fleet, the F/V Kiska Sea.
While Anderson had soldiered on during his earlier family tragedies, he tells Zap2it, calling in from vacation in Maui, “As you saw during blue crab, being grief-stricken and just burying my dad, I think that stuff just started to take hold of me. With the job offer and everything, it was just a perfect storm for that to happen. It only made sense for a human being to react the way that I did.
“I was just so beat up, and I hadn’t taken time for myself. I’d just been grinding and grinding for years, trying to get ahead. It finally broke me, and we all saw what happened. I swing at somebody I love very dearly, Matt Bradley.”
As presented on the show, the incident put Anderson’s job in danger — but that may not exactly have been the case.
“Matt and I fight constantly,” Anderson says. “So, it’s funny, when Edgar and Sig both say, ‘You’re going to get fired if you fight on deck.’ Well, the truth is, I don’t think any of us on that boat could get fried. We’ve all got fired several times.
“I think, behind the scenes, Sig was quietly laughing.”
But, when it came time for opilio-crab season in January, Anderson decided to take the job offer and moved to the deck of the Kiska Sea — where he ran afoul of a couple of his new co-workers.
“It was a lot different than what I thought. I was hired by the company, so the captain, he came to me with an order from the company. So, he was really good and was really respectful towards me.
“But the crew, they were leery right off the bat. One guy was there for 16 years, and another guy there for five, who was training to try to do the same thing I was.
“So, there were two people that really, absolutely did not want me to be there. The rest of the crew backed me up 100 percent for going up in the wheelhouse, so they trusted me. But for four and a half of the five months we were actually fishing, it was miserable for me.
“Every mistake I made was exploited on deck. From the minute I got up in the morning until the minute I went to sleep, there was a lot of hazing and harassing going on, because they really didn’t like why I was there. I think the other reason was the Northwestern’s reputation of having really experienced guys there.
“They thought I was coming there as a hotshot, and so immediately they wanted to put me in my place and make sure I wasn’t going to get to the top, especially without working for it.”
Since he earned his U.S. Coast Guard Mate 1600-ton fishing license and Master 100-ton license in 2010, Anderson tried to keep his eye on the ultimate goal of captaining a boat of his own. And the Kiska Sea’s experienced captain, Mike Wilson, was there to help.
“I wasn’t there to be a deckhand,” Anderson says. “I was there to learn the operation. I wanted to start at the bottom, figure out how they do bait, figure out how they run the crane, where they stack the pots, go to the engine room, see how that works.
“I didn’t go upstairs. I didn’t try to jump through any hoops, by any means. Yeah, they just didn’t like me. It was a heavy hit to the pride, because I went from knowing virtually everything to not being allowed to do anything.
“But when I went to the wheelhouse, it was fine. The captain let me do anything I wanted to.”
As for the future, Anderson is still happily working for Aleutian Spray, and he’s not sorry he made the jump.
“I couldn’t pass it up,” he says. “It was a must. If I wouldn’t have taken the shot when I could, I’d have been regretting it for the rest of my life. But I’m still with the company; I just don’t know if I’m going to stay with that specific boat.”
He continues, “I can’t really say anything bad about the company or the captain. And the crew was a good bunch of guys, it’s just that they didn’t treat me as a person until the last three days I was there.”