Johnathan Hillstrand is known as one of the biggest stars of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”, in which we got a glimpse of his life as a crab fisherman. He left the show in 2017, but ended up going back three years later. In this article, we’ll explore what’s happened in his life since he returned, and what is he up to today.

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Jonathan Hillstrand Wiki Bio

The courageous 57 year old, Johnathan was born and raised in Alaska. He and his younger brother Andy were introduced to fishing by their father John Sr, who would often take them on their boat. By the age of seven, Johnathan was already catching fish all by himself, and after matriculating from a local high school, he became a full-time fisherman.

Although today we know him best as a crab fisherman, Johnathan has tried many things through his nearly lifelong career. Prior to appearing on “Deadliest Catch”, he had worked as a lobster fisherman in New England for nearly eight years. He also fishes for salmon during the summer, outside of crab season.

On “Deadliest Catch”, we grew to know Johnathan as the co-captain of the famous “Time Bandit” boat, along with his brother Andy. He was cast in the show back in 2004, and was a regular for 13 seasons, until his temporary departure in 2017. He and Andy were one of the driving forces of the show, alongside the late captain Phil Harris. Furthermore, Johnathan is involved in several business ventures which took off as a result of the show, including Time Bandit Entertainment, Time Bandit Spirits, Time Bandit Gear Store, and others.

As for his personal life, Johnathan has little time to rest – he splits his time between Homer, Alaska, where he works, and Seattle, Washington State where his family lives. The famous fisherman has been married twice – from marriage with his first wife, whose identity is still a mystery, he has two children – Scott and Tae. Johnathan is now married to Heather.

In his spare time, he enjoys riding his Harley Davidson Fatboy motorcycle, and working on his vintage muscle car. He’s also a huge fan of NASCAR, and enjoys watching American Football.

David ‘Beaver’ Zelinski lawsuit

Following Johnathan’s departure from “Deadliest Catch”, many rumors and theories about his absence from the show started popping up online. As there was no explanation as to why Johnathan left the series, a lot of show’s fans grew worried about his health, with some thinking he might be terminally ill. Luckily, this is far from the truth, as Johnathan is still alive and well.

The real reason for his departure mostly has to do with unresolved behind-the-scenes drama. In 2015, he and Andy were sued by David Zielinky aka Beaver, their former deckhand, who alleged that the Hillstrand brothers were responsible for a serious injury to his hand.

The exact moment which sparked the lawsuit was actually shown on “Deadliest Catch” two years prior. Beaver was holding a mortar-style firework in his hand, which ended up exploding and causing an injury. The firework in question is one of Time Bandit branded products, sold under the Time Bandit Firework label. The subsequent lawsuit took another two years to resolve, with the court eventually deciding in Beaver’s favor, and ordering that the Hillstrands pay $1.35 million in damages.

A failed spin-off series

This wasn’t the first time Johnathan and Andy faced legal troubles, as in 2010 they were hit by another lawsuit – this time from the network itself. Discovery Channel sued the brothers for not following through with their plans to work on a “Deadliest Catch” spin-off, “Hillstranded”. According to the lawsuit, the brother failed to show up for pick-up shots and do promotional interviews for the new series, which prompted the network to sue them for $3 million. In response, the brothers threatened to leave “Deadliest Catch” altogether, however, they eventually came to an agreement with Discovery Channel which resulted in them staying in the show and the network dropping the lawsuit. ‘A deal’s a deal. We’re heading up to Dutch Harbor to start filming the new season of ‘Deadliest Catch’ and hopefully it will be the best one yet.’, Andy said in an interview following the situation unfolding.

He returned to “Deadliest Catch”

In addition to a strained relationship with the network, in 2017, Johnathan pulled the plug on “Deadliest Catch” due to his growing desire to retire from the crab fishing business. After more than 37 years of working in the field, he felt that the pressure of exposing oneself to danger – and in front of a camera at that – was enough, and announced his retirement. At the time, Johnathan was also planning on starting a new crab fishery, but unfortunately the plans fell through due to extensive fees and paperwork required to launch the business.

However, in 2020, Johnathan changed his mind about retirement, and headed out on the Bering Sea to retain a fishing quota known as captain’s shares. Following his return to the business, he and Andy also returned to being regulars on “Deadliest Catch”. While the Hillstrands came back, Time Bandit did not; as Johnathan later explained, he had to let go of the ship as the costs associated with it just became too prohibitive. Instead, we saw Johnathan working with Jake Anderson on his boat called Saga.

Initially, he was to be paired with Bill Wichrowski aka Wild Bill, but Johnathan rejected that idea. ‘No, you couldn’t give me enough money to go out with Wild Bill, so I went out with Jake Anderson’, he said in his interview with “Stuff” magazine. He further revealed that it was hard for him to get used to someone else being in charge, but still enjoyed working with Jake. Their pairing proved to be a success for the show, and lots of footage of their antics made it to the final cut, while some had to be left out to make space for other fishermen.

Aside from keeping the captain’s shares, Johnathan had another good reason for coming back to crab fishing. Namely, illegal fishing that’s prevalent in the area has been ruining the local ecosystem, and making it harder and harder to consistently fish every year. ‘They’re actually annihilating those crab stocks because they’re not managing it properly, making it sustainable like we do,’ he stated. ‘We try to keep it sustainable to where we can fish every year.’ Johnathan and his fellow crabbers from “Deadliest Catch” make a point of returning female and little crabs back to the sea, so that the species can survive.

Much of this was featured in the 16th season of the series onward, but the illegal crabbing stays strong in the Alaskan waters, despite the cast’s pleas for authorities to do better.

Jonathan’s favorite prank from the show

During his time of the show, Johnathan became well-known for his natural charisma and joking attitude. He often preformed pranks on his fellow cast members, which included his fake pirate attack, during which he and his crew shot fireworks and paintballs at Captain Sig Hansen’s boat while sporting a pirate flag on their ship. Many viewers also remember the time he convinced one of his crew members to cover himself in tinfoil to help him ‘tune the radar’. Another outlandish prank included the crew of Time Bandit launching 40 Chinese lanterns into the air in an attempt to convince Northwestern that they were seeing UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects).

Among many pranks he performed through his 16 seasons on the show, one remains his favorite. During his AMA (Ask Me Anything) Reddit interview, Johnathan revealed that he still very fondly remembers the time he pranked Phil Harris with a pickup truck he tied to his buoy line. ‘The truck on Phil’s boat. We tied a truck to his buoy line. He thought it was a crab pot, but he pulled up a truck!’, he wrote in response to a fan’s question. This season four prank made the entire crew of the Northwestern laugh, but also earned him the respect of the late Phil Harris, who laughed about the whole ordeal and congratulated Johnathan on a well-executed prank.

He wrote a series of children’s books

A lesser known fact about Johnathan is that he’s also a published author. His first book, “Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea and One of the World’s Deadliest Jobs”, which he co-wrote with his brother Andy and the professional writer Malcolm MacPherson, was published  back in 2008, achieving moderate success. Not unlike the TV show the Hillstrand brothers gained fame from the book also chronicling their experiences crab fishing on the open sea of Alaska.

While Andy hasn’t published any new works, Johnathan didn’t stop there. In fact, in 2013 he wrote, illustrated and published a series of children’s books, including “Adventures of Little Bird” and “Crab Day Afternoon”. Following his bull riding accident which resulted in multiple broken ribs, Johnathan found himself unable to work, and used the time to work on this project, inspired by his two grandchildren who were just learning to read. He often drew for them, and told them stories, so he decided to put his work together and present it to a wider audience. The books became a hit among children and parents, and received praise from the critics.

It’s estimated that Johnathan’s various business ventures have earned him a net worth of more than $2.2 million.

What happened to Andy Hillstrand?

In 2020, the same year Johnathan made his “Deadliest Catch” comeback, his brother Andy exited the show. According to a report by “Distractify”, as soon as he pulled back from the show, Andy tried to stay away from the spotlight, and settled down in Seattle.

Talking about his departure during his “Entertainment Weekly” interview, Andy revealed that he felt conflicted about his time in the show in the later seasons, mainly due to scheduling issues and a strained relationship with the show’s producers. ‘There was a lot of misunderstanding,’ Andy revealed. ‘We thought Discovery had everything they needed, but then they came back and said they needed pickup shots, so our schedule was pretty much screwed. It got to the point in our relationship where something had to change, and we just said enough is enough. So we butted heads for a while.’

Since his departure, Andy has begun focusing more on his own business, Hillstrand Constructions. Furthermore, he’s opened a ranch called Hobby Horse Acres, which he runs with his wife Sabrina, who also provides horseback riding lessons at the ranch.

More about “Deadliest Catch”

“Deadliest Catch” is one of Discovery Channel’s most successful and longest running reality TV series. Premiering in April 2005, the show has been running for 18 seasons, with the 19th season on the way, and no sign of cancellation. The show is set in the waters of the Bering Sea, Alaska, centering on the daily lives of crab fishermen who risk their lives daily, doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The fishermen mainly work in January, which is opilio crab season, and October – king crab season.

Prior to eventually being picked up by a network, the series creator, Thom Beers, had made two pilots for the show. The first was a 1999 documentary entitled “Deadliest Job in the World”. The film starts with the sinking of Rosie G (all five crew members were successfully rescued), and follows the crew of the Fierce Allegiance through the 1999 opilio crab fishing season.

The second pilot was developed five years later, consisting of three episodes which followed multiple ships, including Northwestern, Sage and Arctic Dawn. After this, Discovery Channel finally picked up the series, and ordered eight episodes for the first season.

Although the show has occasionally been criticized for too much focus on personal drama and scripted material, “Deadliest Catch” is nonetheless still known as one of the most authentic reality shows on TV, due to realistic depictions of difficult working conditions the crab fishermen go through. The series also does a good job in portraying the behavior and mannerism of crab fishermen, who have little tolerance for ineptitude, as any mistake could put their earnings or even lives in jeopardy.

Shooting episodes of “Deadliest Catch” is a dangerous endeavor for the cameramen as well. Having no previous experience with crab boats, in the early seasons they ran into many dangerous situations. During his “Jimmy Kimmel Show” appearance, Sig Hansen spoke about saving a cameraman’s life during the shooting of season one, screaming for him to get out of the way as a 900lbs crab pot swung from a crane crossing the space where he was standing. Another cameraman broke his ribs after accidentally stepping into a hole, and falling through an open hatch on the deck.,

Due to its popularity, “Deadliest Catch” has been adapted into two spin-off series, “Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove”, set in the waters of the Oregon Coast during the Dungeness crab fishing season, and “Deadliest Catch: Bloodline”, which follows Phil Harris’ son Josh, as he explores his father’s notes which he wrote about his time fishing in Hawai’i.

One of the most critically acclaimed reality shows of all time, “Deadliest Catch” has been nominated for over 100 awards, winning 28 including two Primetime Emmys.

The series aired on Discovery Channel, and is available for streaming on Discovery+.

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