The Discovery Channel’s show “Deadliest Catch” is an action-packed, intimate look into the lives of men who dare to brave treacherous waters in frigid conditions aboard 70-foot vessels laden with stacks of 750-pound crab pots in the midst of unforgiving storms — all for a $40,000 to $70,000 paycheck for less than two months of grueling work.
Were it not for the proficient writing of a Battle Ground High School graduate, the show, approaching its 11th season, may never have seen the screen.
Spike Walker wrestled, undefeated, in the heavyweight division all through high school and set a record in the shot put that still stands today.
He took his athletic prowess to Spokane Falls Community College and to Oregon State University. During his college career, his 5-foot-11, 275-pound frame helped him set national shot put records that qualified him for the Olympic trials. He’s since been inducted into three halls of fame in Washington state.
Walker, then a Yacolt resident, went on to attend a deep-sea diving school, which led him to work in the oilfields off the coast of Louisiana. He spent time balloon logging on the Hoh River outside of Forks, and while living in Alaska, he took a ferry to Skagway, hiked the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail, flew into Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, bought a 17-foot canoe and spent a month alone paddling 1,000 miles of the Yukon River. Then he sold the canoe to Native Americans and hitchhiked home.
“I’ve done a lot of things. The more experience you have in life, the better you are to write about it. My path was a lot of adventure and movement,” Walker said.
His greatest adventure began in the winter of 1978 when he arrived in Kodiak, Alaska, with one goal in mind — to secure a spot aboard a fishing boat and cash in on the next gold rush. Within six months, he was a deck hand on the largest crab boat of the time.
“I made $60,000 in 42 days with a bunch of old Norwegians — a tougher bunch of square heads you’ve never been around in your life,” Walker said. “That was the first season. Next season, I made $44,000 in 28 days. One in 60 (fishermen were) dead in 12 months. It’s a world that’s just bigger than life.”
His 1991 book, Working on the Edge, is a culmination of his eight-year tenure fishing in waters as far-flung as the Bering Sea near the Russian border — as well as exhaustive research and interviews with other deckhands, skippers, widows and the like.
So accurately and passionately written is Walker’s accounting that it inspired the creation of “Deadliest Catch” and secured him as a consultant during the first seasons’ production. He also appeared in four recap shows, titled “After the Catch,” shot at the famed Lockspot Bar in Seattle and Crow’s Nest Bar in Gloucester, Mass., with the show’s host, Mike Rowe, storm survivors and skippers.
Now in his 60s, Walker has settled in Amboy and continues to write about his life experiences. Several weeks ago, he began appearing at Moulton Falls Winery in Yacolt, signing books and sharing harrowing memories of his time aboard the Royal Quarry, Williwaw Wind, Rondys and Elusive.
He’s an approachable, amicable man with an eloquence unexpected from a rough-and-tumble logger-cum-deckhand who’s by no means living in the past.
“I hit it just right. It was boom days out of Kodiak and Dutch Harbor and anything was possible. You could make a lot of money or die. One in seven boats either sank, ran aground or had to be rescued in a 12-month time,” Walker said. “In the summer, I can go back (to Alaska), but my time in Alaska is over. The Alaska I knew and the Alaska I captured are in my books now.”
Walker’s other books include “On the Edge of Survival” (2010), “Coming Back Alive” (2002) and “Nights of Ice” (1999). He’s working on a lighthearted book unrelated to his king crab fishing days.
To purchase an autographed copy of one of his books, stop in at Moulton Falls Winery in Yacolt (minors welcome) on a Friday or Saturday evening, when he will appear through the end of February. Moulton Falls Winery is at 31101 N.E. Railroad Ave., Yacolt.