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Hillstrand brothers delivering business to the region


BRADENTON - Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand are very entertaining fellows - without even trying.

Deadliest Catch
Johnathan Hillstrand, left, his son Scott, and his brother Andy clown a bit for the camera at Sarasota Labels on Monday.

The brothers run a crab-fishing boat out of Alaska into the Bering Sea, and have achieved stardom since their adventures and the adventures of seven to nine other crab-fishing boats began to be chronicled on the Discovery Channel's reality TV series "Deadliest Catch."

Their boat Time Bandit may not be as well-known yet as Jacques Cousteau's Calypso, but give it time and a few more seasons.

At Sarasota Labels on Monday morning, the Hillstrands, with Johnathan's son Scott, kept things light as a printer ran off the first 35,000 labels for Capt. John's Bloody Mary Mix. There were bottles of the new libation all over the place, and the brothers bantered with the news media, business executives and local economic development officials as the tapes rolled and news photographers jockeyed for the best angles.

Andy Hillstrand fiddled with the printing machine and Eric Magel of Sarasota Labels undid what Andy had done, and then the brothers began to fool around with sprays, bottles of ink and more. Soon, they were posing with bottles of the Bloody Mary mix and had even opened one.

Andy, 45, and Johnathan, 46, are the kind of guys you might really want to hang out with at the bar and knock back a few beers and some Bloody Marys, though you might wake up the next morning with no memory beyond the fifth drink, a splitting headache, wet clothes (from being tossed in the pool) and a long-term contract to work as a deck hand on their boat when the next crab-fishing and show-taping season starts in October.

Then again, with unemployment nearing 10 percent, that might be better than the tender mercies of the Agency for Workforce Innovation, and with a lot more laughs.

But it's a serious business, Johnathan Hillstrand said, and the worst thing that can happen to you isn't getting pinched by an Alaskan king crab's pincers. "The Bering Sea is the one that eats the human beings," he said. "Every year someone dies."

Deadliest Catch
Labels for Capt. John's Bloody Mary Mix come off the printer at Sarasota Labels.

On one voyage, he said, they were in 100-foot seas and the boat was nearly laid on its side after being hit by a wave and then a rogue wave. "It was like being in a washing machine.," Johnathan said. He and Andy both thought this was how they'd die, but they boat recovered despite some damage, including a microwave oven that was thrown through a door.

"It's not for the light of heart or soul," Andy said.

Their first big chance

"It's a pleasure for me to be part of something, the whole Discovery experience," Johnathan said. "We meet some really great people. People will come up and say, 'Hey, you changed my whole life.' "

One woman couldn't walk because she was obese, he said, and she said the show inspired her to walk and lose weight.

They had made a video, and they made a two-hour show on the Discovery Channel. The response after it was shown overnight was so good that more shows were ordered, and now it's a big hit.

Their boat is based in Homer, Alaska, and they leave in late September to get the gear ready, Scott Hillstrand said. They have to sail by Oct. 10 from Dutch Harbor, and the season begins Oct. 15. Then it's hard work for the next five to five and a half months.

Their catch is based on a quota, and last year they brought in 270,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab and 600,000 pounds of Opilio crab. The money is good but the conditions include not only high seas but also wind, rain and cold weather.

While Andy is busy with his ranch and a house he's building in Arizona, his brother Johnathan is finding Florida to his liking, especially in the winter, and there's talk of a possible movie with some people down here.

Deadliest Catch
Andy, left, and Johnathan Hillstrand are still getting used to the idea of fame and being recognized. Their boat is one of several on the Discovery Channel reality TV series "Deadliest Catch."

Still, Johnathan said he and Andy never thought they'd be sitting in an office in Florida talking about their Bloody Mary mix.

"I still don't feel like we're celebrity stars," Andy said. "I still shovel horse manure at my ranch. We're just normal guys. Live a normal life."

He's married to Sabrina, and they have two daughters. One works for the production company that makes "Deadliest Catch," and the other is up in Alaska. The latter has two sons.

Both men are grandfathers now, and while they seem bemused at their celebrity, it's still fun.

"It's amazing how popular they are," said Gary Bibler of Trinity Design Group, which worked on the design for the labels. "Little kids think Johnathan's a pirate."

A great catch for business

Eric Basinger of the Manatee County Economic Development Council said he's excited about the new product.

"It's going to be good publicity for Manatee County, I think. So many people watch 'Deadliest Catch,' so this is just neat that they're investing here and doing this work here," he said, adding that he thinks it's a good sign for the area. "We're hopeful that things are starting to turn around. It's good to see that people are getting business now, and this is two businesses getting work right now, and it could lead to more work in the future."

"We are extremely excited to have helped to create the Hillstrands' new brand, and are also working on a crab trap design for their corrugated packages," said Robert Smithson of Trinity Design Group. "This and many other food and beverage products they are producing will keep us busy."

Scott Hillstrand, 27, said he likes what he sees in Florida, and that working with his father and uncle is one of the perks of being in the fishing business.

As for fame, he's a little cagey. "Things haven't really changed a whole lot," he said. "We come from a really small town. Everybody knows everybody so we're real people friendly, get along with everybody."

He feels there's a good future for fishing. "I've always loved being out there. It's a good way to spend time with my dad and get away from everything else in life. You don't pay attention to politics. You're just out there doing your job, you get it done and go home."

And that's when you get to have some fun, he said.

But before the fun, "We work hard like regular guys," Andy Hillstrand said.


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