Three years ago, the Discovery Channel introduced a new captain to Deadliest Catch. Capt. Elliott Neese was just 28 years old when he took the helm of Ramblin’ Rose, and he quickly became one of the show’s most controversial characters. We talked with the now 31-year-old crab fisherman — who could be boating’s greatest TV villain — and learned that there’s more to the captain than meets the eye.
How did you get started in crab fishing?
My dad fished in the 1970s and ’80s, and my first memories are of crab boats. I thought it was fascinating. It’s something only the top 1 percent of people can even do; it’s like being a rock star. When I was 18, I started on the 100-foot Ocean Cape at half share, and then a couple of days later, I was at full share. That was unheard of.
Have you ever been really scared out there?
Oh, yeah. One time, we were setting gear at 3 a.m., and we took a 50-foot wave over the starboard side. Our port rail was underwater, and I was holding onto this greenhorn so he wouldn’t be washed overboard. He’d broken his back, his neck, his teeth … and he was screaming. I’ve never heard anyone make a noise like that. He sounded like he was dying. That’s the most scared I’ve ever been. I thought I’d never see my wife and kids again.
What’s it like to be a main character on Deadliest Catch?
The show itself isn’t too bad until you’ve been up for days, and they’re asking you the same questions, and they film you falling asleep. But it’s all worth it. I’m so glad I got on the show.
You started season 9 at the helm of your own boat, the SV Saga. Was the experience of boat ownership an eye-opener for you?
My partner, Lenny Herzog, and I bought the Saga on Nov. 1, 2012, and we spent $600,000 on her right away: We rebuilt the engines, bought new lines and pots, and added a new sorting table, davit and launcher. Then you have to pay for food and fuel, and fuel is $150,000 each time you fill up. I never realized how much running your own boat costs. When you run someone else’s boat, you just sign the receipts.
What would your crew say about you? Is there anything about you that people might be surprised to know?
I’m loyal, and I’m actually a nice guy. I work really hard to provide for my family. I have a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, and I want them to have a good life. And when I do have time off, I want to be with my family.
How do you feel, then, about being perceived as a villain?
I tell it straight. I don’t appease the camera, and maybe that doesn’t always come off right. But remember, reality TV isn’t real. It’s entertainment, that’s it.
Do the captains get along? Are you friends behind the scenes?
I would say there’s camaraderie. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all gone for most of the year, and we all miss home and our families. We can relate to each other.
After all these years, do you still enjoy being a crab fisherman?
Some moments are cool and fun, but it’s a tough life. Last year, I was home for only six days.
So what does the next chapter in your life look like?
I want to pay off my boat and then sit on a beach in Mexico with my family, go spearfishing every day, maybe travel to Bali, Fiji, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. I wouldn’t mind writing a book someday. ... I’ve had an interesting life. And I love proving people wrong.