In Alaska, where the majestic beauty of snowy mountains meets the sea, you’ll find practitioners of one of the most dangerous professions. These adventurous souls work in formidable conditions most humans would never subject themselves to. Why do they do this? To catch crab. The reality show Deadliest Catch features the grisly job of Alaska’s crab fishermen. One featured ship, the Time Bandit, captained by brothers Andy and Jonathan Hillstrand, has ties to Lewis County.

Former Ship Engineer Mike Fourtner calls Lewis County home. After living in Napavine for 10 years, he and his family are currently building a house in Adna.

“It is a special world,” Fourtner says. “I loved it. Jonathon and Andy are animals in their own right. Nothing is as awesome probably as pulling a crab pot that is stuffed. It’s pretty cool.” Photo courtesy: Mike Fourtner.

Lewis County was a good home base for the fisherman after attending Lower Columbia College. “It didn’t matter where I was at the time,” he says. “I would be here a week or two and then back to Alaska.”

Originally hailing from Homer, Fourtner starting fishing each summer with his uncle at age nine. After graduating high school in 1998 (in a class of seven), Fourtner left for summer fishing. That winter was his first crab season. From 1998 to 2013, he fished 10 months a year.

When he was home, Fourtner volunteered as a firefighter with Napavine District 5. “Whenever I was home from fishing, I would just jump into firefighting,” he says. “I loved it.”

The switch did take some adjustment. During his first year – all fired up and ready to go – Fourtner ripped the handle off a fire truck. His Chief awarded him a plaque with the broken handle that still hangs in his office today. “I’m a larger human,” Fourtner says with a laugh. “Granted, in the profession of crab fishing on a steel boat, we beat that boat with no mercy. I didn’t have to be so careful and could use a Bering Sea type force. I had to rethink my process for firefighting.”

“I loved that setting and working in that environment,” says Fourtner. “It was so intense when it is 20 below with 35-foot seas, and waves over the side. That core group of guys, I would absolutely go into battle blindfolded and backward with.” Photo courtesy: Mike Fourtner.

His size came into play on another call. During a large fire, he went into the building with his team, but used up his bottle of oxygen more quickly. When he exited the building, the Chief told him not to breathe so much. “I guess when you’re six-foot-six, you need more oxygen,” he says with a laugh.

Time Bandit fishermen are known for their humor and hijinks. “It’s a special world,” Fourtner says. “I loved it. Jonathon an Andy are animals in their own right.”

Although the funny moments were endless, Fourtner recalls an accident that turned into a lot of laughter at his expense. While sorting crab in bad weather, the deck took a monster wave. Fourtner ended up with a cut above his eye.

One of his favorite times on the boat was hiring his entire college basketball team over several summers for salmon fishing. “The average height of crew was 6’ 10”,” he says. “It was awesome. We put a basketball hoop on the deck and had BBQs.” Photo courtesy: Mike Fourtner.

After determining it needed a butterfly bandage, Andy decided to shave that part of Fourtner’s eyebrow so it would stick better. The bald patch elicited a first round of laughter from the crew. Andy stepped back and said, “You look so stupid.” Then he shaved off the rest of the brow. The crew found this hilarious. He then decided to even it out and shaved off the other eyebrow.

The jokes continued for days afterward. Jonathon drew eyebrows on Fourtner’s face with a Sharpie, giving him different expressions. “That was in 2010,” Fourtner recalls. “Even now, every three weeks I have to trim my eyebrows because otherwise, I look like Albert Einstein. They’re a zoo thanks to Andy.”

Becoming a television star was a strange experience for Fourtner. “It was interesting for us, as the show developed, to see how many people watched it,” he says. “We had no idea.”

“I loved crab fishing,” says Fourtner. “Knowing that I was dumb enough to do something that 98.532 percent of the rest of the world would never consider doing. I loved that challenge.” Photo courtesy: Mike Fourtner.

Seeing random interjections of the show into movies and television surprised Fourtner as well. Tom Hanks even declared his love for the show during an interview with Oprah.

Fourtner was recognized by Dale Earnhardt Jr. while standing outside his trailer at a race. “It’s weird that people I would see on television knew who I was,” Fourtner says. “We were convinced no one would watch it. We thought, we’re fishermen, not actors. This will be a flop. That was far from accurate.”

In 2014, Fourtner left the boat to work for Cummins Sales and Service, selling marine engines along the west coast and Alaska. “I never thought I would love something as much as being on the boat,” he says. “I work with the same people just on a different side of the fence. I love it.”

The job change means more time at home. “This location is actually perfect with my territory now,” he shares. “I’m central.”

Mike and crew crab fishing on the Time Bandit. “I have so many memories,” he says. “I do miss the good old days.” In 2004, Fourtner experienced what being the Captain of a large fishing vessel was like. “Getting to be the Captain, that was a big deal. I enjoyed that.” Photo courtesy: Mike Fourtner.

While he works out of Thurston County, he still appreciates the small-town feel of Lewis County. His life with five-year-old twin daughters is very fun. “They’re climbing walls, and very active with soccer and T-ball,” he says. “They like to get up and go but with the attitude of 15-year-olds. I’ll have deck hands in five or six years.”

When he isn’t too busy traveling, Fourtner likes to be involved in the community. He assisted in coaching Adna High School girls basketball. “As the twins get older, I can imagine coaching their sports,” he says.

“I’m a fan of smaller, rural communities,” Fourtner shares. “You couldn’t pay me money to go live in the city to fight for parking spots. The best version of living to me is that I can go pee off my back porch. Get me out in the country, I like it there. I truly do love being away from the city and Lewis County is perfect for that. It reminds me of remote Alaska. It reminds me of home. And when a place feels like home, it’s good.”

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