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The Discovery Channel series "Deadliest Catch" began its third season last month. It's the top-rated program on basic cable television. The show follows eight boats fishing for crab in the Bering Sea, and it's made celebrities out of its subjects, in particular the crew of the Northwestern, led by Captain Sig Hansen.

Charles Homans of member station KIAL visited Sig before this winter's crab season to find out what it's like to ride the waves of reality television fame.

(Soundbite of ship engine)

Unidentified Man #1: Get some (unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: Sig.

CHARLES HOMANS: At the fuel dock in Dutch Harbor, the crew of the crab boat, Northwestern, is preparing for a late night departure. Captain Sig Hansen is on his cell phone, figuring out last-minute logistics.

Mr. SIG HANSEN (Captain, Northwestern Fishing Boat): We're at the fuel dock now. Probably just be easier just to leave straight from here.

HOMANS: On this blustery night in early January, Sig is just another captain trying to do his job. But three months later, he'll be on thousands of television screens and this guy will be narrating his every move.

(Soundbite of "Deadliest Catch")

Mr. MIKE ROWE (Narrator, "Deadliest Catch"): On the Northwestern, Captain Sig Hansen is having a season most skippers only dream about.

HOMANS: You're hearing the voice of Mike Rowe, narrator of the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch." The series follows a handful of fishing boats during the fall and winter crab seasons on the Bering Sea.

(Soundbite of "Deadliest Catch")

Mr. ROWE: Crews push themselves to the limit and captains risk everything for a bigger share of the riches.

HOMANS: Crab fishing in the Bering Sea is a dangerous job, but with a pounding soundtrack and ominous voiceovers, "Deadliest Catch" ups the ante even further. Even a trip for the local grocery store in Unalaska is an adrenaline-fueled race against the clock.

(Soundbite of "Deadliest Catch")

Mr. ROWE: The Time Bandit crew hits the market like a band of mercenaries: Get in. Get out. Take no prisoners.

HOMANS: You get the idea. Bering Sea crab fishermen have seen themselves as rock stars for years. But since "Deadliest Catch" rose to the top of the ratings heap during last year's season, other people have started to treat them like rock stars too. The biggest of them all is Captain Sig, whose boat has appeared on all three seasons of "Deadliest Catch."

Mr. S. HANSEN: Me and my wife were in Las Vegas, and you know, everybody is having a couple of drinks anyway, and some gal comes running over - and I'm not kidding - she literally tore my shirt halfway off. And my wife's standing right there looking at this, and I'm like, hey, man, there's nothing I can do about it. It was bizarre.

HOMANS: These days, Sig goes from landing crab to landing talk show interviews. In the past month, he has bagged everyone from Jay Leno to Jon Stewart. Edgar Hansen, Sig's brother and the deck boss on the Northwestern, has gotten his share of attention too.

Mr. EDGAR HANSEN (Deck Boss, Northwestern Fishing Boat): We got an email. His mother asked her six-year-old son, what do you want to be for Halloween? He looks at his mom and says, I want to be Edgar. And she's like, what's an Edgar? And he's, you know, fishing crab. It's pretty flattering when you get a six-year-old who wants to be you for Halloween.

HOMANS: The Hansens haven't started marketing child-sized fishing rain gear yet. But on their Web site, you can buy t-shirts and women's underwear - yes, women's underwear - printed with the Northwestern's logo. Still the Hansens haven't gotten rich yet, and that's important to co-executive "Deadliest Catch" producer Jeff Conroy.

Mr. JEFF CONROY (Co-Executive Producer, "Deadliest Catch"): These guys have a job to do and that's what makes them cool. They have to go catch crab. You know, when they cease to have that as an important thing to do then I don't think the show is interesting anymore.

HOMANS: The Hansen family has been in the fishing business for four generations - two of them in the Bering Sea. Sig says that a little brush with stardom isn't going to change that.

Mr. S. HANSEN: To be honest, it's - we know this is going to be a short-lived deal. It's not like it's going to go on forever. Our intent was never to quit fishing anyway.

HOMANS: Sig makes this point often. The backlash he says he experienced in the fishing community when "Deadliest Catch" first aired has left him quick to downplay his newfound celebrity. But for a guy who says he hates having his picture taken, Sig seems to have gotten awfully comfortable in front of a camera.

For NPR News, I'm Charles Homans in Unalaska.

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